Our work at the Veterans of Hope Project is to help people of all ages recognize that there are deep resources of community, history, culture and spirit that generations before us have used to create and sustain efforts toward justice, compassion and reconciliation. Those of us who share a concern for continuing the work of healing and furthering the development of democracy and peace have many models to draw on.

Select a Model

A Southern African American Organizing Model

Created by activists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and others in rural Black communities.

Explore

A Brazilian Environmental Education Model

Developed in Bahia Brazil to integrate civic education, anti-racism and environmental consciousness.

Explore

A Model of Reconciliation

From the Vietnam War describes the actions of former US soldiers who removed mines in the 1990s they had planted 30 years before.

Read More

Feeding the Ancestors

Reflects on the Vietnamese tradition of expressing gratitude to those who have passed on by preparing meals in their honor.

Explore

Related Wisdom

Valdina Pinto, an activist and Candomblé priestess from Brazil helped design the "Environmental Education Model" described on this page. Here is an interview with her conducted in June 2004 by a journalist at the World Cultural Forum in Brazil.

The Words of a Scholar: Interview With Valdina Oliveira Pinto

by Luciano Matos
English translation by Rachel Harding

Academics, intellectuals, students, artists, entrepreneurs.  All stop for the words of a small lady in colorful headwrap and reading glasses. With rich experience acquired through more than the 60 years in her community of Engenho Velho da Federação, in Salvador, Bahia Brazil, where she is a ritual elder (Makota) at the Tanuri Junçara Candomblé terreiro, Valdina Oliveira calms and captivates anyone who hears her speak. Thus it was during a panel at the Brazilian Cultural Forum, in Rio De Janeiro, where she broke with protocol, got up from the table and came to sit at the edge of the stage, eye-no-eye with the audience, and spoke in sensible, humble and certain terms. "Do we climb the stairs of life paying close attention to each step? Or do we jump sometimes and take two at time? And could it be that the step we jumped over is the one we need?" With thoughts and words like these, Valdina, as she is called, shares in this interview a little of her knowledge and vision of the world. She is a wise woman.

There is a debate about culture. Why is it debated and defended?

To talk about culture, we have to be specific. For some, culture in Brazil means the culture of the academy, of those who search for academic knowledge. They separate that which is "cultured" from that which is popular or folk. Well, does this mean that only those who pass the university entrance exams are cultured? Is popular language not cultured? They are defining a standard of culture by which the Indigenous and African cultures are relegated, treated as folklore, minimized, not allowed entrance into the standard. Culture is much more than this. Culture is the way you be, do, live, feel. I find my foundation in the culture of my way of being, my way of life. I return to my ancestral path which is not a materialist perspective. The things that one experiences, sees and feels, at material and immaterial levels; the way you to believe will guide you in the way you live with other people. This is what develops culture. Some neighborhoods have their own culture which is a dynamic thing, it is not static. When I say this I am refering to my own community, which has been transformed.

Say a little about your community. How was it transformed?

I've lived here (Engenho Velho da Federação) for 60 years. Years ago there were only woods here. There were few houses and all were made of taipa. There was no development, no busses ran there, we walked all the way to Campo Grande to get transportation. We had many difficulties. All houses had a terreiro (candomblé temple) nearby, a yard, a hen house, gardens, we ate more healthily. We didn't know anything about the city, only when our mothers went shopping (always in the Baixa dos Sapateiros). We got together to do things. We had a more collective life. People helped each other more than they do today despite the current advances. There was a culture of collectivism. To build a pathway or a house, in parties, everybody got together. Each one brought something and shared it with everyone else. It's not so much like that today. Today's generation is influenced by different things. Right now we just had the celebration of the feast of Saint Anthony. Young people of that time went for the party, but also for the faith.

What do you think caused these changes?

A culture of the individualism imbedded itself, which meant that we lost the collective thing. When young people got together it used to be to do something collectively, they joined together just to help each other. Today, they are not constructing, they are destroying. Today, the young ones get together at times to use drugs, to go around with guns. Things we didn't used to have here in the neighborhood. The younger ones used to obey their elders. We did not have radio or television, we made our own leisure. Capoeira (a martial art/dance form) wasn't for tourists, it was for us ourselves. When I was a child, our joy was to get dressed up on Saturdays and Sundays and go out for a stroll, as if it were a party day.

So do you think that radio and television have had a negative influence?

They started to show other things. When they appropriate our culture they do not show us acting as subjects, but acting in another way. The mark of our subjectivity is missing. TV is a knife that cuts two ways. It does good things, but TV taught car stealing, kidnapping. They say that in the old days education was very rigorous, but we have moved now to libertinism. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other, parents didn't know how to relate to this. There was no middle ground that could break the formality but keep things from running off to where they are now. We lost the meaning of family, the role of the father, of the mother, the uncles, the elders. Even before, the neighbor was respected, it was as if he or she was a relative. These values are being lost. And then another culture as been embedding itself. Those who are born and see only this now, think that this is the right way.

And how does one survive against this?

It is a struggle. You row all the time against the tide. One has to survive creating ways of demonstrating other means of living, creating alternative moments. There are the samba circles. Not these fabricated samba groups. Our samba circles do the traditional samba, because that is our root. These groups today are not samba. Let's change a little and talk about Ilê Aiyê (a black cultural-political Carnival organization) -- what Ilê has done for the Black community, from 1970 until today. Ilê is based in a Candomblé terreiro. It is founded in a collective spirit, something that we experienced here. The neighborhoods of Liberdade, Cosme de Farias, our neighborhood -- in places where there was a black base, a black way of life created a culture, not only of samba and capoeira, but a way of living day-to-day. This culture, this way of doing things, of living, of being, was also influenced by what people believed. Brazilian culture needs to pay attention to these various ways of being and living. In Bahia, in the Recôncavo, we have this extremely strong black presence and going toward the inland areas there is more indigenous influence.

And does the population, the media, the government recognize this diversity?

To speak of Brazilian culture one has to look for these things. I was in the state of Goiás. There I had a chance to see the congadas (festive ritual processions), which are different from what happens in the state of Minas Gerais, because the weight of indigenous presence is heavier. Brazilian culture needs to consider all this diversity. The Indian of the coast is different of the Indian of the interior. There is no single indigenous culture, but various indigenous cultures. One must also talk about Afro-Brazilian cultures in the plural, you cannot reduce everything to orixá culture, there are other cultures too. That is minimizing. Putting everything inside of the same box. Our wealth (that of Brazilian culture) is precisely because we have the influence of various indigenous, African and European cultures. In the same way that one does not force all European cultures into a single fit, you can't do this either with indigenous and African cultures. When someone speaks of Candomblé, people think of orixá (West African, Yourba), but the Bantu languages, for example, influenced the religion much more, not only in the vocabulary, but at the structural level.

Brazilians don't know themselves and don't want to know themselves. Who am I? I am all of this. The black parts are not just for blacks, nor are the indigenous elements only for the Indians and the European parts just for Europeans. Is it not so that the great majority of the Brazilian people, even if biologically they do not have black or indigenous hereditary influence, have cultural influence? One would have to be very isolated for this not to happen.

In order for us to discover ourselves, we have that to be open to what we are and we have to get rid of prejudices. Not to think in terms of superior or inferior, but to see it as difference. This thing of globalization... Alright, let's globalize. But I enter from what point of reference? I have that to go toward the macro, knowing what my micro is like. The cake is there, but we have that to know what we are going to use to bake it. It can be delicious, we have to know about milk, about baking powder. It is important to approach the batter, the mixture, knowing what it has and what it does not have. Everybody must think about it; not to set oneself over and above anyone else, but knowing what you have, who you are, what you have to contribute.

Copyright © for Cultural Fórum World-wide Network All rights reserved.