Environmental education against poverty

A project helps to improve the living conditions in communities

Almost every month some members of the Association of Women of Espírito Santo do Turvo journey the more than 300 kilometers which separates their municipality from the São Paulo State capital. They come here to exhibit and sell the artisan work that they produce in their town. In this way, and with a donation from the Levy Straus Foundation, they have already guaranteed the construction of the headquarters of their association. This is only one of the diverse practical results of the thematic project: Environmental Education Via Social, Academic and Working Class Representations. Sponsored by FAPESP with a budget of approximately R$ 200,000.00 for three years and coordinated by Myriam Krasilchik, Director of the School of Education and the former Vice- Rector of the University of São Paulo (USP), the project brings together close to 20 researchers in scientific areas around Espírito Santo do Turvo and Vera Cruz – towns with respectively 3,000 and 13,000 inhabitants situated in the western region of the State of São Paulo.

In spite of having in common poverty and environmental degradation, with damaged lands, the reality of the two towns is very different, which amplifies the results of this project. “In the end, this difference between Espírito Santo and Vera Cruz was important for the diversity of information of the data banks which we are forming and for their comparative analysis”, says Nidia Nacib Pontuschka. She is the assistant coordinator of the research, a professor of Teaching Methodology of Geography at FE and has carried out research into environmental education.

Begun in March of 1998 and with a finishing data forecast for the second half of 2001, besides the members of the FE, the project is the responsibility of the researchers at the College of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq) and of the School of Public Health (FSP), both units of USP, and of the Agronomy Institute of Campinas (IAC).

The work involves agronomy, civil and forestry engineers, biologists, historians, geographers, sociologists, as well as educators. “This diversity is a richness for the team, because it demands the construction of a common language and an understanding of the different methodologies”, explains Myriam.

Diagnostics of the region
The work developed at IAC, for example, led by Professor Pedro Donzeli, carried out the diagnosis of the physical resources – data relevant for the planning of the agricultural use of the lands in a sustained manner. Besides the basic planimetric maps, the study contains information relative to the present use of the lands and its natural vegetation, as well as about problems of erosion of rural roads, the complete characterization of the soils, their classification and mapping, among other information which led to the production of an atlas for each of the municipalities. The mapping was also carried out and also a diagnosis of the state of native conservation existing in the two municipalities and the monitoring the different species of fauna and flora –of birds alone, 64 species were identified, in a study coordinated by professor  Álvaro Fernando de Almeida. From the collected data and discussions with the population and the municipal authorities, modifications were suggested in the network of the infra-structure of the sanitation, in the pavement of the roads, the cases of disease and general information about the municipalities such as the water network, roads, urban areas, district boundaries and the size of urban land plots.

This study is a consequence of the project UNIR, which began at the beginning of the 90s with financing from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Within the UNIR, in 1995 a participative diagnosis was carried out to get to know the relationships of the population of the rural and urban areas with those of the municipalities. The base of UNIR was rural, with intervention in the population of the two cities and of the research. The data collected at that time was secondary to this second project whose character was of a survey to collect necessary data on the changes of representations of the local populations. The objective is to create conditions for an increase in the family income and an improvement in the service of the public services for the inhabitants of Espírito Santo do Turvo and Vera Cruz.

To advance in the process, it is fundamental to involve the residents of the town. “The environment problem is serious, but there are crucial questions which involve other areas such as education, health and the generating of jobs,” says Myriam. More conscious of their needs, the citizens themselves unleashed a process of economic, social and political development for the improvement of the quality of life with the sustainability of the environment. “When the project reaches its end, they themselves will have grouped, associated and been conscious of how they must continue working”, explains Nidia.

Periodically the researchers help reunions with the residents’ associations, headmasters and school teachers, representatives of the municipal executive and with community organizations. It was in meetings of this kind, for example, that the inhabitants of Espírito Santo do Turvo were able to obtain with the municipal authorities, the clean up, erosion control and the draining of the Rangel creek for which the replanting of ciliary vegetation and a playground for children is being projected. The recovery of the creek is one of the 14 items that are contained on the list of the primary necessities of the urban environment for the town, detailed in the project. The municipal authorities also have just purchased a 19th century house. They will convert it into a home of culture with the participation of the university, in order to safeguard an archive that may record the history of the municipality. Espírito Santo do Turvo is a district of Santa Cruz do Rio Pardo and became a municipality in 1992. The population lives off rural work and a local distillery which produces sugar cane alcohol, the Sobar. It offers jobs to a large part of the population, and at harvest time, attracts as well rural workers from other municipalities.

In Vera Cruz the situation is different. The municipality lives basically from coffee growing and has the growing of passion fruit as an alternative and is ten times more populous. Contrary to Espírito Santo, this municipality, situated 10 kilometers from Marília, is considerably older and was prosperous during the coffee era. “With the fall in coffee, the local economy became decadent and changed to the fruit growing”, explains Nidia. “The problem is that they planted too much and, and on top of all, a sickness came up which is being researched by a group led by Esalq.”

However, with the collaboration of the inhabitants themselves who understood the project, there were unleashed a series of actions, such as the electing of representatives to discuss the environmental problems of the town with the intense and ample presence of the team from the School  of Public Health, coordinated by professor Helena Ribeiro.
Once checked out the need of the infra structure of basic sanitation, a selection of priority actions was taken in the environmental area. The quality of the distributed water was registered as were the sanitary conditions of the households of that population and its wastage and morbidity.

As the project involved the schools as a point of approximation and discussion with the population of both towns, the turnover of the teachers became a problem. In the state school of Espírito Santo do Turvo, for example, the teaching staff was considerably changed as a result of the public concourse carried out by the State Education Department, and by the municipalization of the lower years of the primary school. “This demanded new efforts to begin again the formation and their involvement”, explains Myriam.

The Educational Environment project has been publicized in the scientific world through various national and international meetings. Academic works are being developed at the level of graduation and post-graduation originating in reports, masters dissertations and doctorate thesis. It is hoped to produce a book in which the data of the integrated work of the groups, so varied, will permit an analysis of environmental problems which will produce guidelines for political policies for municipalities with similar characteristics.

Environmental Education Via Social, Academic and Working Class Representations
Thematic project
Myriam Krasilchik – The School of Education of USP
R$ 200,000.00