Youth with a cause
Civic education is bolstering social capital in the Southern Bahia Lowlands
Written by: Vivian Barbosa
Photos by: Almir Bindilatti
Décio Carvalho, from the IDC, with Tutelary Councils in training: awareness of his role in society
The questioning nature of Décio Carvalho, 25, is intriguing for those who don’t know him very well. “I’ve heard it said that I’m a Devil’s advocate, but I think there are advantages in seeking several points of view when you have to evaluate something.” The young man says he is not satisfied with just experiencing events: driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he wants to gain an in-depth understanding of the world around him.
Born in Ituberá county in the Southern Bahia Lowlands region, Décio was already contributing to his family’s income by the time he was 18. He thought his life was hard, but he was also aware that, not far away, there lived destitute people with more complex wants and needs. When he joined the Discovering the Southern Lowlands Project in 2000, he began dealing with those people’s realities first-hand. Going from community to community, he and 200 other young volunteers used questionnaires to arrive at a diagnosis of local socioeconomic conditions. Organized and run by the Odebrecht Foundation, the program also taught the basics of civic education.
The most serious problems the volunteers detected at the time included a lack of basic sanitation and good-quality education. Also, nearly 30% of the populations had no civil documents whatsoever. They belonged to a Brazil that had no name. “The young people taking part in this project were motivated and aware of the challenges that came with the territory. We came to realize the kind of role we would have to play in order to change things,” says Décio, who has made it his life’s work to fight for public policies that will benefit youth in the Southern Bahia Lowlands.
“All this experience has helped turn me into the kind of citizen I am today. I’ve learned to get in touch with different media and sources of information. Whenever I do something, I’m totally committed to the cause,” he observes. Décio’s maturity and professionalism are currently at the service of the Rights and Citizenship Institute (IDC), the Civil Society Organization of Public Interest (OSCIP) that is responsible for developing social capital through the DIS Southern Lowlands Program. Décio is working in the area of Citizenship Education, which focuses on training Municipal and Tutelary Councils, joint government and community organizations set up for the protection of young people.
Created in 2002, the IDC has reached the mark of 275,000 services provided, including issuing civil documents, regularizing property ownership, mediating conflicts and providing legal aid. “Our mission is to help the public exercise their full rights as Brazilian citizens and thereby help build up a more just and compassionate society,” explains Décio. In 2008, the institution achieved two important milestones. The first was introducing the Citizenship Portal with the support of the Comptroller-General of Brazil in Bahia, a reference center that provides information to help the public exercise their civic rights. The second was the inauguration of “Ponto Cidadão” (Civic Spot) on July 26 in the town of Presidente Tancredo Neves. The result of a partnership between the State of Bahia and the municipal government, it is an outpost where people can request and obtain key civil documents such as birth certificates and identity cards – a process previously facilitated by the IDC. Documents that once took 60 to 90 days to obtain are now arriving in less than two weeks.
“I’m very happy to be taking part in this moment in the IDC’s history,” says Décio. “We are working to spread participatory democracy, and young people have a key role to play in that process. We must stop seeing youth as a means; as people who represent the future. We are the present, and we can make the difference today.”