Planting the Seeds of Sustainability in Brazil

By ANGIE CHEN, FORDHAM NEWS. This summer, a group of Fordham’s Global Outreach (GO!) students teamed up with a local community from a rural province in Brazil to learn about deforestation and promote food sustainability. The trip was part of GO’s program in the small Brazilian town of Colinas do Tocantins. In late May and early June, eight Fordham students and chaperone Ann Marie Boccuzzi, assistant director for alumni relations, worked with locals to start a community garden near the Sao Sebatiao Church where they stayed.

For Boccuzzi, GABELLI ’10, a former GO! executive board member, chaperoning the project gave her a chance to “help students immerse themselves in a new culture while also facing challenging social justice issues.” “My own Global Outreach trips were best experiences of my college career,” she said. “ When I returned to Fordham in a professional capacity, I wanted to give back to a program that had given me so much.”

Samantha Norman, a rising sophomore at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, said the trip’s focus on deforestation was important to her as an environmentally conscious vegan. “There is not a lot of access to healthy produce and vegetation for the people in this area,” said Norman, who noted that much of what little natural resources the area has in the way of plants is being genetically modified for use as livestock feed.

In addition to providing food for the village, the garden will serve as an educational facility where residents can learn how to start their own plots. At some point, said Norman, the locals would like to open a kitchen and eating area near the garden, where villagers can receive cooking lessons.

The students and the community joined hands to prepare the land by uprooting clay and soil. Then, in order to encourage the growth of indigenous crops, they planted seeds for cassava, pineapples, guava, cherries, and green beans.

For Allison Lee, a rising senior who is studying biology, working with soil and seed was surprisingly fulfilling. “When we got off the plane, it was hot. I couldn’t even imagine building a garden in this weather,” said Lee. “But I really enjoyed getting in the dirt and [working with]the community.” In order to make the most of available materials, the students recycled items like tires and plastic bottles to use as planters, as well as in sectioning the areas of the garden. “People from the town would ride up on bikes and drop off all of these water bottles to use for the project,” she said.

The community garden will be an ongoing 5-to-10-year project that future GO! volunteers will have a chance to work on.

Norman said she was deeply touched by the sense of community in the rural town, and she learned a lot about the people she met. She plans to stay involved with outreach programs at Fordham and hopes to participate in a domestic project for her next trip.

Lee said her first GO trip to Romania last year played a major part in reaffirming her decision to do the Brazil trip and to work in the field of social justice. When she graduates next spring, she intends to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “It was an emotionally tumultuous decision [to make], but I knew I was doing the right thing,” said Lee.