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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Learning to tell their stories

Kerri with group members

Kerri with Criola group members

I am now in my last month here in Rio and not at all looking forward to having to leave soon! The project that I am helping with at Criola is at its height. The women have participated in social media workshops and a photography workshop, and have planned their own community events around political topics of their choosing. They take photos and videos at these events and post them on the group’s blog and Facebook. So far there have been two events, and there will be more in August and September that I will unfortunately have to miss.

The women of the group and I have become very close. I’ve visited some of their houses a few times, where they made delicious food, told me dozens of stories about their lives, and introduced me to their families. These visits have helped me put the project’s goals into perspective. For example, I visited the house of Conceição, one of the group’s participants, who lives in a city of around 500,000 residents about an hour (by bus) outside of Rio. The first thing that I noticed when I got there was that few of the residential roads were fully paved, and that many people were riding on carts pulled by horses. A major change of scenery from Rio! But many of the city’s residents work in Rio, including Conceição. She told me that she has worked in Copacabana for 30 years cleaning one family’s house and doing their laundry. Her husband died 15 years ago, and although she lives alone, her daughter’s family lives a few houses down and her five-year-old granddaughter is aways at her house.

A group member learns to Skype

Group members learn to Skype at a workshop

But these facts about Conceição’s life don’t even begin to describe the powerhouse that she is. The second time I visited her house, she told me that she ran for city council a few years back and showed me her campaign poster. She mentioned how difficult it was for her as a black woman to do so, and how her family still tells her that she should be in politics. She expressed her hesitance, saying that she enjoys working and didn’t want to live the life of a politician. However from our conversations I know that she has very poignant criticisms of her city’s governance that are based on her own personal experiences and challenges.

Reflecting on my conversations with Conceição, I can easily see the benefits of Criola’s project. I see how so many women in Rio de Janeiro have profound stories to tell, but are never given the chance and/or the outlets to communicate their insights. I think about how each time I visited Conceição’s house, the Internet was not working regardless of the fact that she had paid for it. Or the stories she told about helping women in her community who had been victims of domestic violence when local law enforcement did not help. Whereas before, conversations around these issues may have only occurred at home or among close friends, now these conversations are recorded, photographed, and made public to a global audience by the women themselves. I’ve happily spent hours translating their blog and reports of their events into English to make their work accessible to a wider audience, and I hope that more people will stop to listen to what they have to say.

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