water is life

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This text was published by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment Sustainable Development - Brazilien Experiences

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WATER IS LIFE PROJECT The SOS Education Program Water Is Life is an environmental education project for the purpose of study and application of an urban river: the Bacacheri river - which cuts through Curitiba and came to be considered practically dead as a result of pollution. The Xama Association, a non-government entity, started the project with a letter in which the Bacacheri river asks for help in its moribund state. Beginning with this letter, a means of educating in an manner integrated with nature was thought up to teach the local population to develop an ability to feel and to relate in a simple but realistic manner to the elements in the preservation of life.   A collection of texts, books, videos and general information concerning water was started to be used in the preparation of materials for schools and to rehabilitate the river. The project coordinators visited each school, explaining the importance of the river and the community's need of it. The children were encouraged to carry our research projects among the older residents and to redeem the history of the river, which at one time was the city's first public swimming pool. Many old photographs were donated to the project during this phase.

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At the end of each work period in the schools, the children presented their work; texts for reflection, poetry, posters, models, newspapers, music, theatricals, musical shows. The best of the work was placed in an exhibition. The Jornal Verde (Green Newspaper) was created as a vehicle for the Xama Association.   From the beginning, the idea was to carry out what was called "life-lessons", outside of the classroom, integrating water and people. Public parades were organized in defense of the river and hikes as far as some of the river sources, where it was possible to drink water directly from the spring. This was a remarkable feat and one of fundamental importance to the participants, because the remainder of the river is pure sewage with an insupportable smell. This served to encourage other hikes and parades, involving an increasing number of people.   Shows with singers of regional music were held at various times. New songs were composed, with the river as their theme. The work multiplied. Committees formed of children, teachers, members of the community and project coordinators sought out the authorities to demand the cleansing of the river, with no result. Some children adopted sources of water close to the school, carrying out self-help community project cleaning and maintenance activities on a continual basis.

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Management Committee   The children's research to redeem the history of the river brought to light various problems facing the community: lack of a sewage collection network and also of garbage collection, open air sewers, excrement thrown directly into the river, lack of housing planning, cutting of woodland, fill-in of valley depths and water sources.   The Management Committee of the Hydrographic Basin of the Bacacheri River was created, comprising representatives of schools, neighborhood associations, authorities, government authorities and citizens in general, in order to make up the lack of information and to make it easier to find solutions to the programs. The committee's object is to forward the solutions to socio-economic and environmental problems along the entire hydrographic basin.   Since its creation, on June 12, 1995, the committee has made many conquests, contributing to the modification of the reductive manner of confronting nature. The committee has contributed to encouraging the need for prior technical diagnosis (Eia-Rima) in environmental interventions. It has called attention to the inappropriateness of channeling as a solution to floods; to the need to de-pollute and rehabilitate rivers, with emphasis on the importance of woodlands and the rehabilitation of the natural riverbed; to the concern and incentive to protection of river sources; to the need for compliance with environmental legislation and the construction of a sewage collection network and treatment system. The committee took over the project for replacement of the woodlands in the hydrographic basin of the Bacacheri river, through a self-help community project, which started to be carried out in the first semester of 1997.

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Concept   "The protection of nature through the rehabilitation of the human being": there is little point in rehabilitating nature without also providing human beings with information, understanding, interiorization and conscientiousness. Humankind must understand that it is an integral part of nature with a relationship of mutual dependence. Nature is not outside humankind, but humankind is diving evolutionally into nature.   The activities of the Xama Association - SOS Education Program, Water is Life Project - gained greater depth as time went by, from the practical observations which noted the lack of basic references to human values. At home and in schools, children were not taught these basic values, which portrays a great void in the formation of personality. Since 1995, the association has been holding lectures in schools to disseminate such values as truth, honesty, justice, cooperation, solidarity, fraternity, beginning with the contents of the waters. Currently the project is working with ten schools in the state and municipal network, reaching 7,500 children.   Budget and funding   From the beginning, the project has relied on donations and the voluntary activities of collaborators and their own coordinators. It had the support of the Bacacheri local newspaper (telephone, fax, computer) and a monthly support of R$100 per month from one of the collaborators. Each one of the coordinators develops parallel activities in search of self-support. Attempts were made on several occasions to integrate the Water is Life Project into the official municipal and state secretariats. But nothing came of this for lack of political disposition.

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Staff   Jürgen Manfred Kobel: industrial production technician with experience in monitoring migration of birds in Germany (DVB), having collaborated in the management of parks in Germany and in the United States and collaborated in educational and photographic documentation projects for the State Environmental Foundation of the State of Mato Grosso. Kobel created Ecoimage with visual educational material on the subject of nature.   João Colbert Bello: accounting technician, former bank employee, radio broadcaster, experienced in community organization and the defense of human rights. Creator of the local Bacacheri newspaper in Curitiba and promoter of local cultural events. Creator of the "ecological battalion" with children in Curitiba, fostering the planting of fruit trees and garbage collection.   Sarah Azevedo Kobel: psychologist specialized and with practical experience in corporal clinical psychology and experience in human resources. Masters degree in Social and Personality Psychology from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Voluntary collaborator in the Kari-Oca village on the issue of indigenous peoples during Rio-92. Has experience with isolated groups of indigenous peoples. Organizer of the First Meeting of Occidental Amazonian Indigenous Peoples in Cuiabá (Mato Grosso). Member of the Civil Rights Movement to Fight Hunger and Misery.

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Location   Municipality of Curitiba, Paraná. Despite the fact that Curitiba is frequently pointed out as the ecological capital, it presents numerous environmental problems and a contradictory lack of political disposition to solve these problems. Despite it being relatively clean, with systematic garbage collection, the city does not have an adequate sewage collection network nor water treatment system.   Lessons learned   It is not possible to do anything alone: community participation is fundamental to the success of any project, especially those concerned with environmental education. Any attempt to impose government projects based on previously established criteria will tend to superficiality and failure. Lack of integration between the public agencies creates a fragmentation of action and ends by making efficient measures more difficult. The machine does not substitute the human being: in any type of education, especially environmental education, human and emotional interchange are essential. Equipment such as computers and televisions are accessories. The state of the environmental degradation of the waters is a direct reflection of the interior degradation and the lack of conscience of the contemporary human being. Taking water as a basis for the work was a great step in the right direction, opening up discussion in the various social segments, including official, which up to that time had not reflected on the subject.

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Protect you fountains! Why it Worked   Because it was based on human principles such as truth, honesty, justice, solidarity, ethics, attempting to provide practical examples and seeking to give value to each human being in its interior essence and in its creative and constructive potential, while remaining an integral part of nature.   Outlook   Beginning in 1997, the Ama Association is developing a project for the Protection of Natural Water Sources in conjunction with the Federal University of Paraná, for the purpose of cataloging, recomposing and monitoring the sources, to officially request their inventorying and preservation for future generations. This is only the beginning of a work the fruits of which will appear in visible form, starting with community interest in multiplying their actions.   Contacts Jürgen Kobel, Sarah Azevedo, João Colbert Bello Associação Xama Caixa Postal 4271 CEP 82501-970 Curitiba-PR Mail: ecoimagem@yahoo.com.br