Cultivating Leadership in Brazil

Sustainability. Leadership. Integrated Development.

These words and phrases have entered into the lexicon of international development, overwhelming us with their ambiguity and scope. In the abstract, they are meaningless. But in action, they have transformative power.

Implementing such notions through comprehensive programs – whether it’s in education, environmental conservation, community development, or other fields – is challenging, but worthwhile. Several of TRF’s local partners, including last week’s Regional Education and Gender Equity Seminar host Fundación Origen, have weaved these themes into their methodologies and missions.

Since 2007, TRF partner Sítio Esperança in Brazil has worked to educate a new generation of leaders through programs that emphasize holistic learning. The organization’s first initiative, Programa Florescer, has helped special-needs children through contact with nature and organic horticulture, and has continued to develop over the years to incorporate activities on natural sciences, agro-ecology, personal consciousness, sustainability, the interdependence of ecosystems, and appreciation for social, cultural, and natural diversity.

Seeing the need to promote positive personal and ecological values, Sítio Esperança expanded in 2010 and created an infant education (ages two to five) and primary education (ages six to 11) school with a curriculum that incorporates the agro-ecological methodology. In addition, the organization continues to advocate for the inclusion of sustainability concepts, holistic education, and diversity awareness in Brazil’s educational system. Preschool teacher Michele de Fátima Ribeiro explains how Sítio Esperança, and other organizations like it, can serve as a model for education and sustainability leadership:

“In my eyes, Sítio Esperan­ça is very much like a small, simple seed – but not any normal seed, a good seed. All good seeds, when planted in good land, grow into trees that produce food and shelter for many creatures; and later, that tree’s seeds spread and repeat the same process.

The School came from a small and simple desire to help others. And despite being small, it was put in good earth and developed: it grew its roots, formed its trunk, spread its branches, and sprouted its leaves, flowers, and fruit. Every member of the School is a small part of that tree.

You’re thinking: ‘but it’s just one tree in a huge ecosystem!’ Yes, it is a small piece of a giant organism. But just as a single tree produces new seeds and new trees, so can Sítio Esperança grow and bring its vision of sustainable development to other places, and to the benefit of the entire world.”

The education process at Sítio Esperança exemplifies the theme of this year’s Earth Day, “It’s Our Turn to Lead.” At the agro-ecological school in Lambari, Minas Gerais, our next generations’ leaders are growing up with interdependence – between humans, as well as between humans and nature – as the linchpin of their early development and perceptions of the world. Promoting programs with such values is imperative if we are to create a sustainable society – and to ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

To close, we offer some insights into the impact that Sítio Esperança has already had for its students, and invite you to consider the impact such programs could have for others:


“Before coming here, I didn’t know that I was capable of learning so many things; no one had ever had told me that I was smart enough. Studying at Sítio Esperança has taught me that, with effort, will, and dedication, I can learn anything. I’ve learned that I can choose – I can choose if I want to be happy or sad, I can choose between helping someone or always waiting for others to help me, and I can choose which path to follow to give myself the best chance at life.” – Cleberson, 12 years old

Poliana“I’m good at math, but I’ve always had difficulty learning to read and write. Unlike teachers and students at other schools where I’ve struggled, my teachers and classmates [at Sítio Esperança] treat me with care and help me to overcome my challenges with patience and respect. I take reinforcement classes with a speech therapist and a homeopathic doctor, and I love them. Little by little, words are becoming less of a mystery for me, and it’s life-changing to know that I am capable of learning just like everyone else.” – Poliana, eight years old

To learn more about Sítio Esperança and similar programs in the TRF network, please visit our website’s Interactive Map, or contact us directly.


By Daniel McCown, TRF’s Reporting Associate