A group of Yale alumni traveled to Brazil last week to plant trees in the Atlantic Rainforest and ask the government to provide better health care for Brazil’s minority communities.
The group of 16 worked with Instituto Terra, an environmental non-governmental organization that works to preserve the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The group, which included alumni from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, split into teams to work on three areas: reforestation, an audit of Instituto Terra and public health.
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“It took [the local community] by surprise to have a group like us from America, and from universities like Yale, MIT and Harvard,” participant Donna Culley said.
The reforestation team worked in the field with Instituto Terra, planting trees and learning about sustainable forestry. A second team tried to find ways for Instituto Terra to receive carbon credits for its reforestation work. Because Instituto Terra is small, the team recommended that the organization team up with similar groups in Brazil and abroad to hire an organization with expertise in international law, participant Elise Rindfleisch FES ’09 said.
The third team met with the health minister of Rio Claro, a city in southeast Brazil, to improve public health access. The group organized a town hall meeting with the health minister and members of the Quilombola community, the descendants of African slaves. Culley, who was a member of the public health team, said the residents felt that they had been neglected by the government.
“The [government] did acknowledge that over the years the people had been neglected, and they wanted to help the people,” Culley said. “By having the people come and express their anger and their fears, we caught the government’s attention.”
Culley said the local government has agreed to send a doctor to the Quilombola community twice a week instead of just once.
The public health team also held a clinic for local children, where James Downey ’56 saw 17 patients for complaints ranging from toothaches to pneumonia.
The two participants interviewed said they hoped their visit had an impact on the community.
“I feel like we really did make a difference,” Rindfleish said. “It’s hard only being there for a week — I would love to be there for longer, but I think that we made really significant progress in the time we had.”
Both Culley and Rindfleish said that they hoped to continue working with Instituto Terra. Culley said that she will propose extending the partnership between Instituto Terra and the Yale Alumni Service Corps, which provides international service opportunities for alumni, at the corps’ Nov. 20 meeting.
While most of the trip was spent doing public service, the participants spent their last day sightseeing and hang-gliding.
“I always joke that it’s our dirty little secret that we get more out of it than the people we go serve,” Culley said. “I would recommend it to anyone.”
The trip, which cost $2,500 plus airfare, was organized by Global Imprints, a company that arranges service trips for universities and corporations. While the trip officially lasted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8, some participants, such as Rindfleish, chose to stay for several more days.