“The month of July 2017 marked 20 months of the day when the mud from Samarco reached the ocean. Twenty months of mud and struggle. Today we get together to remember, we get together to feel, we get together to pray, we get together to act for the regeneration of the Rio Doce river. We chose life. We want more Maim Le Chaim: water for life.” –Rabbi Uri Lam
The Areal Community, in the district of Linhares in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil, was one of the communities affected by the mineral residues from the rupture of the dam of the Samarco mining company in 2015. Located in the mouth of the Rio Doce river, the community, made up of 250 indigenous inhabitants, was deprived of the only leisure activity that the population had: swimming in the river and lakes. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) together with the Unidos Pela Vida (UPV) (United for Life) Institute visited the region in December 2016 during the 1st Tamar Tikkun Olam Seminar. At that time, young Jews from Brazil helped renovate and revitalize the headquarters of the institute. With the objective of strengthening our relationship with the community and providing continuity for the project, a new visit was planned. In preparation for this visit, our partners visited the community various times to find out what their main demands were. Among the many necessities, they identified that there was an urgent need for an alternative leisure activity to occupy the people’s free time, mainly the children’s, in a healthy and productive manner. Based on the children’s request, we decided to build a soccer field.
The WUPJ fundraised during the semester before the trip to buy the equipment necessary and sent a team of 14 volunteers from all over Brazil that worked together with the local community to build the soccer field. Other collaborators also participated in a special way: the Jewish Agency of Intercultural Exchange with financial support; architect Julia Herszenhut who drew the blueprints; local companies who sponsored the uniform and the Corinthians soccer club that supplied the soccer balls.
Tamar, the young adult movement of Netzer Olami of the WUPJ, and Marom, as well as the Rio Hillel, collaborated by advertising the program, which also had the support of the KKL in Brazil. The chief of the tribe, José Barcelos, brought the community together to help build the field.
On Sunday, July 30, the field was handed over to the community. The event was attended by Fabiano Eller, retired fullback and left fullback, who played for Fluminense, Flamengo, Vasco, the Brazilian National Soccer team, Atlético de Madrid and other soccer teams. He kicked off the game that inaugurated the field. That day, Andressa Ledermann Pomeroy, a dental student and volunteer from the Tikkun Olam Seminar, gave all of the children in the village a dental hygiene kit with toothpaste and toothbrush and taught them hot to correctly conduct dental hygiene.
The team of volunteers from the Tikkun Olam Seminar delivered five suitcases filled with books donated to the village’s library and the headquarters of the UPV Institute. The structure will be used as a sports court for the school (that has 60 students from kindergarten and elementary school) that does not have a location for their physical education classes. The field will also be used as a meeting and social interaction place by the community since it did not have a public square before.
In their own words, participants shared these reflections and impressions of their participation and volunteerism:
“It was an amazing experience and I hope to take what I learned for the rest of my life. I met people that really became part of my life…” –Pedro Fontoura, Belo Horizonte
“The first time we helped to renovate the Casa Rosa, a community space where they conduct various activities and it was very nice to see that the Casa is full of life! This time we went to build a soccer field. I hope to be able to participate more times!” –Vitor Malak, Rio de Janeiro
“The soccer field turned out beautiful, I could not imagine the result, even knowing that God was on our side since the rain always stopped so that we could work and began again after we finished for the day.” –Marcelo Schapochnik, KKL
“Knowing the reality of the native community of Areal from a Jewish viewpoint made us “dive” into the Rio Doce river, question the role we have to make this world a better place – for all. By participating on the reparation of the world, we fulfill a Tikkun atzmí process, of internal, personal improvement. Unforgettable.” –Rabino Uri Lam, Belo Horizonte
“It was something done with the physical body, soul and heart. I felt part of that community, at the moment when we all grabbed the tools together to build that soccer field (…) all of this made me realize that yes we can help build a better world.” –Karen Cherman Schvinger, Rio de Janeiro
“How should I start a testimony about an incredible experience when there is a lack of words and an abundance of feelings? Carrying hoes and tools until my hands were full of sores (…), and at the end see the smiles of the local population with their eyes shinning from so much gratitude. Sometimes we search for happiness in large and futile things, however the real happiness is in the special moments lived with emotion.” –Andressa Ledermann Pomeroy, Rio de Janeiro
“Last time [in December 2016], I left Areal with the feeling that I should have done a lot more; being able to contribute with a soccer field, planning and building was very little next to what I would like to do, seeing the happiness of the community and the hope in the eyes of those who are victims of this tragedy gave me more strength to go forward and continue on the task of changing the world a little at a time.” –Julia Herszenhut, Brasília