Muda Maré: University partnership for environmental education and urban agriculture in the favelas of Maré [PROFILE]

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This article is part of a series of profiles of initiatives in the sustainable favela network of Rio.

Initiative: Muda Maré (“Maré Seeds of Change”)
Contact: Blog | Facebook | E-mail
Foundation year: 2011
Community: Maré complex
Mission: “To promote, through the knowledge accumulated by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in the fields of environmental education and agroecology, a transformative interaction with the community of Complexo da Maré, while aiming to unite different segments of society, promote the exchange of information as well as the development of collective actions, and contribute to the sustainable development of Maré.
Public events: Public courses, workshops, film screenings and collaborative work projects
How to contribute: Participate in a workshop or volunteer to help with a collaborative project

For Ruth Osório de Lima, Maré complex has always been at home. Born and raised in this complex of sixteen favelas in Rio de Janeiro North Zone, Osório calls Maré a “complete city”, where residents can find everything they need, from schools to supermarkets.

While Osório’s earliest memories involve spending time with his family and play in the streets of Maré, she also remembers dark times of gunfire and violence, and says residents can get used to such a reality. Likewise, says Osório, sanitation problems in Maré are accepted as normal. Since garbage on the streets, open sewers, flooding of sewers due to lack of proper drainage, and the proximity of homes to waste disposal sites plague all residents of the community, they are often accepted as part of the sstatus quo.

Osório also notes that due to Maré’s proximity to downtown Rio, the area lacks green spaces. “It’s kind of a concrete jungle. There is only construction. Growing up, she said, “There were no trees or recreation areas.” While favelas often serve as solution for those who need housing, Osório believes that many residents have been forced to abandon green and natural spaces to find accommodation. “It’s like people don’t even have the right to a tree. People want to have trees. If you ask someone who lives in Maré, they will tell you that they want green spaces, more beautiful spaces.

Faced with these challenges, the inhabitants of Maré often support each other, working to improve their community. This spirit of solidarity inspired the creation of Muda Maré, a project based at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) on environmental education and urban agriculture in the favelas of Maré.

In 2010, the community NGO based in Maré Redes da Maré (Maré Development Networks) formed the initiative Maré Queremos (the Maré that we want), resulting in the creation of the Forum of Inhabitants’ Associations (FAM), which meets monthly, bringing together the presidents of the 16 associations of Maré inhabitants to plan projects aimed at improving the quality of life local. In 2011, seeking to help the FAM to tackle environmental and health issues, three students from the UFRJ decided to launch Muda Maré as a university extension project. For their first activity, Rua da Muda (Seedling Street), Muda Maré collaborated with community members to plant seedlings along Sargento Silva Nunes Street in the community of New Holland. It was then that a teenager Osório first became involved with Muda Maré, officially joining the organization in 2015. Now, as an engineering student at the UFRJ itself, Osório is the member the oldest of Muda Maré, managing projects and integrating new members into the organization.

Muda Maré was launched with the aim of strengthening the spirit of exchange between the university – located just in front of the swamp on Ilha do Fundão – and Maré. The seven student members of the initiative, including Osório, as well as their teacher supervising UFRJ, all strive to build the partnership between the UFRJ and Maré. “The knowledge produced within the university must be exchanged with the people who live outside,” explains Osório. “The extension project is for everyone to have access to what is happening within [the university]. “

Muda Maré often works in collaboration with Redes da Maré, especially in the field of education. This collaboration includes the teaching of environmental education courses for children and young people enrolled in university preparatory courses at the headquarters of Redes da Maré, as well as field courses designed to take students out of the classroom. These courses, which cover everything from biomes and waste management to water and energy, aim to help students better understand their classroom teaching as well as the relationship between humans and the environment.

Muda Maré strives to approach these topics from a residents’ perspective, paying attention to the specific issues the community is currently facing and how residents are implementing solutions. Both in the classroom and in the field, the members of Muda Maré stress that the environment is not simply an object to be examined. Osório believes that she and her colleagues are playing more of the role of facilitators because the students in their classes already have extensive knowledge of environmental topics.

In addition to leading environmental education courses and field courses, Muda Maré also collaborates with Redes da Maré on the Tide of Sabores (Maré des Saveurs), a one-semester course on gastronomy and gender designed to enable local women to become certified chefs and achieve financial autonomy. Since 2013, students from Muda Maré have led workshops for Maré de Sabores on food security, nutritional sovereignty, pesticides and unconventional food plants (UFP, or PANC in Portuguese). The workshops also include a theoretical part focused on issues relating to the environment and the diet of the human body, as well as “demystifying eating habits” such as vegetarianism, veganism and entomophagy (consuming insects ). Members of Muda Maré also lead women from Maré de Sabores on tours of the UFRJ campus, visiting university projects and spaces dedicated to agroecology.

Outside of Redes da Maré, Muda Maré started teaching environmental education classes at João Borges State High School. Located in a formerly abandoned building, the school was created by teachers and students who occupied the structure with the vision of fostering an environment dedicated to participatory education and collective knowledge. As in Redes, members of Muda Maré teach classes and lead projects at João Borges High School, focusing on environmental education and environmental issues.

Apart from Maré, Osório and other members of Muda Maré are still involved in the activities of the UFRJ. At the university, Muda Maré is a member of the Agroecology Network as well as 17 other extension projects. As a member of the network, Muda Maré participated in the organization of the Regional Conference of Agroecological Groups (ERGA) last year in Rio de Janeiro. In addition, Osório and his colleagues organize welcome receptions for new students in agroecology every year.

Reflecting on all of Muda Maré’s activities, Osório says the initiative strives to maintain a comprehensive view and critical approach to environmental issues in Maré. Underlying the initiative’s activities is a vision of sustainability as living in harmony with the place where you reside. “You identify with the territory. You recognize yourself as part of this space, and it automatically comes with respect [for your territory] and a harmonious coexistence, ”notes Osório.


* Muda Maré is one of the more than 100 community projects mapped through Catalytic communities (CatComm), the organization that publishes RioOnWatch, as part of our parallel ‘Network of sustainable favelas” launched in 2017 to recognize, support, strengthen and expand the enduring qualities and community movements inherent in The favela communities of Rio de Janeiro. To verify all the profiles of the projects mapped here.


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