21 July, 2018

Why are community leaders so important? Lessons from Brazil

The process of starting a community organizing committee, creating a bond and winning the trust of the residents is one of the biggest challenge for TECHO volunteers in the beginning of our work. Engaging residents, organizing meetings, representing the desires of the population in the local public institutions and fighting for their rights and then sharing all of this news throughout the community is what makes the work progress. One figure is responsible for all of this and is essential to the community, the community leader.

The leader is extremely important in the struggle for the rights of that community because he or she is recognized by the majority of the dwellers as the most capable person when considering the passion and determination that this person has in representing the will of everyone. They are always remembered as someone who has an active voice, that can ponder the different realities lived in the community and that knows how to communicate regardless of who they are talking to.

On May 5th Brazil celebrated the National Day of the Community leader and there was no better way to commemorate this date then to talk to the community leaders and share their stories.

Lia during the II Forum of Citzenship and Poverty promoted by TECHO-Brazil in November 2016.

Lia lives in the community of Vila Nova Esperança (Village of New Hope) and since 2010 has assumed it’s leadership being reelected by the dwellers in 2014. She is an example of determination and will. Thinking about the residents well-being, healthy eating and an increase in their income she developed a community vegetable garden that serves as a reference to all other slums where TECHO works with and that plan on building a similar project. She says that when a person wants to see change, it doesn’t matter if he or she is the leader, the boss, the coordinator, the volunteer or any other role. “The person has to be sure what she wants in life. Have compassion, seek to unite everyone and walk together for an objective that interests the majority”.

The Souza Ramos community, located in the east side of São Paulo is also a good example of leadership. One of the residents, Lane Menezes, 20, says that she became a reference in the community because she was one of the people that most participated in the organizing committee and that she demonstrated commitment. “The leader has a fundamental role of listening to the demands of the community. What people actually need, and because they’re an intermediary, they need to take these points to higher instances to promote the development of the community. Lane explains that she changed her way of thinking after she started representing Souza Ramos. Seeing what happens around her she began thinking more collectively

Gleide Maria, that since 2005 is the leader of Porto de Areia (Port of Sand) remembers that she started doing some jobs in the area, fixing houses for example. Because of this the other residents perceived her as a potential leader. “Being a community leader is sometimes forgetting about yourself and to think about what people most need. I hope the future brings improvements, not only for Porto de Areia, but for all communities in Brazil.”

Gleide talks in the organizing committee in Porto de Areia

The Vila Moraes community located in São Bernardo in the state of São Paulo has an association of residents and counts with the support of three NGOs, that develop projects with it’s residents. The vice-president, Monica Melchiades, says that being a leader is knowing how to negotiate so the community is always improving. On the other hand its also a great responsibility because all of the problems that happen she says she has to think of a good solution that will please the majority. “Being a leader demands a lot of a person, this is so true that in the last elections nobody ran with me and the current president of the association”.

Translated and adapted from TETO-Brazil. Author Amanda Cristina. Link to original article >