Sometimes I’m caught in these moments of quiet disbelief. I catch myself, lost in a moment and thinking, ‘this time last week I was… oh right, in the favelas of Rio, visiting one of the most amazing, humble, change making women I have ever met in my life.’

Me, Lucia... and Sangay outside EDUCAP

Me, Lucia… and Sangay outside EDUCAP

Her name is Lucia Cabral. She was born in the North East of Brazil but was 6 months old when she came to Rio de Janeiro. At 9 years old she learned to read and write. That is when she realized her calling was to share her knowledge with others. She says that is when she started doing social work. At 12 years old her father built a room on top of the house to let her continue educating others. She would teach people in her community to read and write in her little room. In 1998 her father passed away due to an infected wound he received when clearing the community streets of waste that would cause flooding during a storm. That event deepened her awareness of community health issues and renewed her desire to help her community. Now, at 47 years old, Lucia is the President of EDUCAP, a community based organization in Alemão (one of the largest favelas in Rio) still working on literacy but also health education, human rights, working to end violence against women and other important areas. Lucia is an elected leader serving on national councils, including the human rights council of the state (and Amnesty International). Moreover, Lucia is a true agent of change with the will to take care of her community, even when it seems impossible (there is no government funding for this organization).

Otto asked Lucia, what are the conditions necessary to do what she’s done, to create social change? She answered:

  • Family support
  • Leaders to implement it 
  • LOVE
  • Role models
  • Institutional help/training
  • Collaboration

Most importantly she said, “Dream and believe that it is possible. Have the will power to start something!

What inspired me about Lucia, in addition to her words, was that she acts based on the vision that she sees and feels for her community. She needs a safe community for her children – one in which they do not have to fear for their lives, so she creates it. She does not wait for someone else to do it, she steps out in the world and makes it happen. In many ways she seems to be a mother for the community, assessing the needs of the people and finding ways to get those needs met. She is an embodiment of the characteristics of leaders we need for all communities, including the global one of which we are all a part.

After returning to my little work station in Westchester County, along the Hudson which is not quite the Amazon, I work on gearing up the application process for the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute, a leadership program for high school girls. When I pause for a moment, I think about Lucia, humble and strong, caring for her community with her will to make a difference and I am inspired.

For an in depth article (from the Financial Times) on the history of the favelas in Rio and the pacification process click here. ALSO: EDUCAP was built out of recycled shipping containers! See a video of the construction: 

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