Playing for Change

Sometimes it takes something silly to accomplish a serious goal. Lucy Martinelli is on a mission is to get Brazil's population exercising its civic muscle. Her strategy is to start with young people who make up one fifth of Brazil's population.  Her plan of action?  To invite them to play a big game.

Martinelli challenged 300 students to join Gincana de Cidandania or “citizenship relay games.” Working in small groups, the students started their own social projects to tackle problems they identified in their community. The projects were small and large -- from garbage cluttering a slum’s streets, to the city’s exclusion of young voices in its civic plans.

Brazil has serious problems.  Thirty two percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 25 million live in extreme poverty, lacking even the basics needs.  But few of its 180 million citizens know how or what they can do to make a change.  A history of political and social repression has left Brazil’s citizens “out of shape,” says Martinelli. The organization she founded is called Aracati: Agency for Social Mobilization, and it is designed to put young peoples’ creativity to work on solutions.

At each step in the process, the groups received jigsaw like puzzle pieces that challenged them first to identify a social problem they wanted to change, define a goal, make a plan, take action and evaluate the results. 

Students nicknamed the puzzle “Wilson” for being, in the words of a student, “like an imaginary friend who supported us and guided us” – much as the imaginary friend -- a Wilson brand volleyball --  in the movie “Castaway” did for Tom Hanks. 

“The Gincana showed us not only how to launch an idea, but really how to do it, step-by-step,” says Joao Felipe Scarpelini who joined at age 16.  He learned, he says, how to write project proposals, raise funds, manage money and even speak in front of the Santos city council.   “I went in thinking it was just a game and came out a real citizen,” Scarpelini says.

“Gincana taught us how to go after our own dreams for ourselves and our community” says Darline Rocha whose group “Attitude” launched a project to remove 300lbs of garbage from her neighborhood streets.

Along the way, Martinelli enlisted the cooperation not just from schools, but also from the city government and the local paper.  The city responded with plans to build its first youth center with input from young people themselves. The newspaper published a series of 52 articles on the Gincana over two years, publicizing their work to readers all over the city.

Since the games ended, many of the students have gone on to work for social change under new auspices. Currently one option is Jovens em Acao (Youth in Action), an Aracati project that partners social organizations with young people who have benefited from their work.  Martinelli’s aim is to make these citizen organizations incubators for the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

“Social participation is the key to a healthy democracy,” says Martinelli.  For the young people touched by Arcati’s work, “learning how to be proactive citizens today carries over into the families they will have tomorrow.”



What do you think?

For young people it is especially important for their own development and motivation for them to see they have an impact. Is it necessary to direct them to projects that are assured of having a positive outcome?

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