This story was originally written by Alessandra Toniazzo and published by VEGA Member Global Communities here.
CONVENING IN THE SQUARE
On a sunny Sunday morning, a group of more than 40 volunteers, all wearing identical shirts to show their solidarity, arrived at the Colato Community Square before 8 AM eager to begin work. The square used to be a popular recreation spot for families and friends over the weekend, but over time, the site was abandoned. So volunteers sought to transform the neglected square into a clean, inviting and cheerful place that all residents could use and enjoy.
The revitalization project was conceived by the community as part of a community development certification course conducted by Global Communities under the Sowing Futures program, a partnership between Global Communities and the John Deere Foundation which is helping underserved communities located near John Deere operations throughout Brazil. By identifying and prioritizing needs and mobilizing resources, the program is helping to build the capacity of community leaders and local institutions to carry out community development projects.
During the course of the day, the volunteers repaired broken benches, walls and stairs. They weeded and cleaned up flowers beds, preparing them for new seeds and plants. “Once again, we see the power that volunteering has. Everyone has the same goal to make social development a reality, to make improvements in the square and to grow personally,” said Vagner Martins de Oliveira, a community leader and John Deere employee.
Vagner’s nine-year-old daughter Marina watches him attentively as she helps clean the beds and plant the new flowers. She has been accompanying her parents to their meetings and projects as part of the John Deere Volunteer Committee for years. As a result, even at this young age, she understands the importance of being an active and engaged citizen. “I want to show her how important and rewarding it is to volunteer to transform the society in which we live,” explained Vagner.
“Through these types of initiatives we are developing new community leaders and showing them that they each have a role to play in supporting volunteer work. It is important to be open to development. We want to restore life to the square and leave it a beautiful space to welcome the entire community of Horizontina,” expaned Vagner.
The project ended up reaching further than just the neighborhood of Colato. Residents from other communities and John Deere employees participated in the project, as did local businesses Top Service, a cleaning company and Divina Gula, a restaurant. Rose Cristiane Jacobi is a logistician at John Deere and lives in the nearby neighborhood of Alvorada. She had never been to the square before but signed up to help with revitalization because she believes that space belongs to everyone. “It’s not about what neighborhood you live in, it’s about having the desire to help and make the place look better. Being able to do something for the community and city where I live makes me fulfilled and happy,” she explained.
“Once again, we see the power that volunteering has. Everyone has the same goal to make social development a reality, to make improvements in the square and to grow personally”
UNITED VOICES MAKE CHANGE POSSIBLE
The revitalization project was initially conceived in 2017, when community leaders, supported by the Sowing Futures program, learned about the priorities of residents in meetings and assemblies. One of the first needs the residents identified was revitalizing the square, which they described as forgotten and dirty. “We got to hear what the residents wanted, we got a group of volunteers together, we looked for help and we got our hands dirty. Now the community is seeing and experiencing the transformation of our efforts. This space belongs to everyone, for everyone,” says Marlei Milbrabt, a retired teacher and community leader. Now that the square has been cleaned up and repaired, it has once again become a place to meet and gather.
Empowering communities and providing technical support to civic leaders to identify priorities and develop projects like this one in Colato are some of the goals that the Sowing Futures program has been working on Horizontina. “The planning and implementation of improvement activities promotes the quality of life for the entire community and helps the neighborhood become more empowered itself,” explains Giovana Kuhn, Sowing Futures Community Development Specialist.
“The planning and implementation of improvement activities promotes the quality of life for the entire community and helps the neighborhood become more empowered itself”
HAPPINESS THROUGH HELPING
As Sandro Luis Haezel, coordinator of the John Deere Volunteer Committee in Horizontina, collected garbage and made repairs, he explained, “Coming here on a Sunday morning and leaving with a job well done is moving. Those of us who use this space, we will remember who helped with affection and those who took part will feel satisfaction that they were there to help. The committee’s goal is to engage more John Deere employees and bring volunteering to the communities in need. The gratification of being a volunteer impacts us everywhere—inside and outside the company,” said Sandro.
It was this feeling that spurred Eduardo Maron to volunteer once again in yet another project. Eduardo is a community leader in the Ouro Verde neighborhood and a John Deere employee. He has lost count of how many times he has volunteered in the neighborhood where he lives and other neighborhoods throughout the city. “I volunteer and it makes me happy. The collaboration between the neighborhoods makes us think of the city as a whole. When we saw the square was clean, we felt good as people. I know other people and friends who volunteer for the same reason. It’s gratifying,” he says.
The community’s efforts to revitalize the square extended well beyond that first clean-up weekend. The community then successfully lobbied the local public power agency to improve lighting in the square and to prune the overgrown trees. These accomplishments, along with the clean-up and repairs, have allowed to the community to reclaim the space and discouraged drug users from frequenting the location, making it safer for the entire community. To ensure the new seedling and flowers survive, different neighbors adopted the beds near their homes, while community leaders are busy planning for the next steps for continuing to improve the space, including additional landscaping, creating a playground and installing handrails on stairs to improve access for the elderly and disabled residents.