Story posted July 15, 2013
A Reflection by Teona Williams, class of 2012.
While on my Watson Fellowship, I wanted to reach out to organizations that are committed to social change as I travelled from country to country trying to understand how developing communities understand their environment. One of the countries that made it on my list was Brazil, where I was fortunate to connect to Bowdoin alum Joanne Durchfort ’99.
Joanne co-founded and directs The Institute for Local Integrated Development Casa do Jardim, an education and local development organization that serves youth in the developing community of Jardim Canada, located in the outskirts of Belo Horizonte Minas Gerais, Brazil.
The organization works with youth age 6-14, providing academic support, sports and arts activities, capoeira angola lessons, local and personal identity projects, and community integration events for the students, families, teachers and partners. Casa do Jardim works closely with each student’s family and local public schools to develop the learning potential of each child. The organization also conducts research on the Jardim Canada region, documenting history, socio- demographic data; mapping local resources and analysing challenges and threats the region faces. Joanne was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and decided that the area was the perfect place to start an organization that could help an already resilient community face the challenges of recent development. I decided to connect to Casa do Jardim because I thought it would the perfect to observe how tradition and local identity can be integrated into social change, and to participate in a community based organization that uses puts ideas into practice in order to accomplish a goal. While working with Joanne I have been able to forward my personal project, while contributing to the mission of Casa do Jardim.
My time at Casa do Jardim has been bitter-sweet. On one hand, I see how passion and dedication to a cause can further a dream. While working at Casa do Jardim, I have met so many people committed to improving their community. I have met women staff members who worked their way through universities. Against some of the biggest odds, the children excel at capoeira, and dream of brighter futures. I worked closely with Joanne, and saw how her shared vision with her partner Arubio has blossomed into a beautiful space where children can really focus on their development. On the other hand, running a small organization in Brazil is not without its challenges. I have seen Joanne juggle many responsibilities. During my own travels, I often linked up with small organizations that had a small team to handle the management aspect of their organization. This was my first organization where I saw one of the founders take on roles of three different staff positions. She directs, fundraises, plans, manages, and helps to teach classes. She is constantly working towards a way to consistently fund and maintain the standards of excellence that inspire seventy two children to excel mentally, physically and emotionally. The staff at Casa do Jardim also tirelessly work towards creating a safe and challenging place for their students to grow and develop. They all are role models of how, no matter what your current circumstance, with focus and patience, anyone can achieve their dreams. It was an honor to take time from my own personal journey to connect to a Bowdoin alum, and learn about different issues facing Brazil. I have learned so much about consistency and commitment while volunteering at Casa do Jardim, and I realized from watching Joanne that, one day, I too will be able to find a way to implement social change. I am sad to leave such a passionate organization, but I am happy to know that all over world you can find Bowdoin alumni who are committed to social change.
For more information on Casa do Jardim, or to learn about the many ways you can contribute please visit the Casa do Jardim website at casadojardim.org.br
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates of "unusual promise" a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel -- in international settings new to them -- to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.