Kerri in Brazil

Kerri is a graduate student in medical anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She is working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a non-governmental organization focused on gender and racial equality.

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Rewarding end to my time in Rio

I’m back in the States experiencing a disorienting mixture of nostalgia, introspection, and intense Texas heat. My three months in Rio is over, and I can’t stop thinking about the people I met and the things I experienced.

My last two weeks in Rio were the most rewarding. I was able to witness and experience an event that one of the women from the workshop had organized for weeks. The theme of the event was youth participation in Afro-Brazilian religions (specifically Candomble, which is the religion that the woman herself follows), and the event took place at her terreiro (the name of a Candomble religious space). Around 20 people showed up, including community members and leaders, members of the terreiro, and of course the women from the workshop.

It was an incredibly welcoming atmosphere, and the conversation was lively. The diversity in the room became apparent after everyone introduced themselves. There was a mix of those who followed Afro-Brazilian religions, Catholics, and Methodists; there were people born in various regions of Brazil; there was a wide range of ages. However, the underlying goal of the conversation was to promote religious tolerance, especially toward Afro-Brazilian belief systems, which have both recently and historically been discriminated against. The general public tends to perceive Afro-Brazilian religions as a type of “witchery,” attributing mystical characteristics to them. In reality, they are quite practical and have extensive practices and beliefs around health, social justice, and everyday life. At the event, many argued for the need for Candomble to become more politically active, a shift that I noticed during my time in Rio.

Discussion

Discussion at the terreiro, or religious space

For me, the most inspiring part of the event was when the woman who organized the event began to speak about how her participation in the workshop has changed her perspective on some of the issues I’ve mentioned throughout this blog. She said that in the workshop she learned to articulate her concerns in a way that brought people together, using a particular vocabulary. This reminded me of when I visited her at her house a few weeks prior, and she told me that many of the women in her neighborhood had no real interest in organizing politically. It was obvious that this event was the beginning of a vision that she had held for a while.

But just like that, a few days later, I had to leave. It’s an odd feeling to make such strong connections with people living so far away, only to continue living a completely different life in less than half a day’s time. But I’m confident that I will go back some time soon and witness that all of the women’s visions for their communities will have been further realized. And now that the women have learned how to use Skype and Facebook, I have a feeling that it’ll be like I never left.

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