“Things are almost always more complex than they seem…” Blog Post Number 3, by Patrick McGrath, GLSS Brazil Delegate

Things are almost always more complex than they seem.

A slight change of pace from my previous two posts but as we rise over the Amazonas and make our way to Rio de Janeiro, I of course reflect on our time in Manaus and two experiences really embody the sentiment in the title for me. First, our trip to an Indigenous community about 90 minutes up the River Negro outside of Manaus. I, like others in the group, had mixed feelings about the experience. The community seemed happy to have us there, warmly welcoming our group and demonstrating some traditional dances, accompanied by an explanation. After the performance we were offered the opportunity to purchase hand-made goods produced by local families, though it was stressed that the community was already compensated by our tour agency, and that we should feel no pressure to buy anything. I must clarify, the tour agency who hosted us are well-reputed and my concerns aren’t that this community is being exploited on a micro-level, as they were paid for services rendered. But what of those services?

Is it authentic? If the community still lives a ‘traditional lifestyle’, whatever that might look like for this group of individuals, and wishes to share its culture with visitors, from around the world, then I’m cool with that. If this community dresses up and puts on a show about how their ancestors lived for tourists 3 times a day as an important income stream for a rural these families and when the day is over goes back to their houses to watch Brazil’s Got Talent, I am also on board with that – just tell me.

Is it exploitative? As above, I don’t believe that to be the case in this instance. In many others, it clearly is, where tourism agencies are the ones profiting from the exchange, to the detriment of local communities and where tourists are none the wiser, taking home a memorable photo.

Then why do I feel uneasy? In short, I’m still not sure. At home I have a photo of when I visited Scotland and saw a guy belting it out on a set of bagpipes, I love that photo, he’s wearing a kilt and has a fierce beard, what more could you ask for. The fact that I have no qualms about that photo must mean that part of the answer lies in the inequity of the exchange – I am a coming from an affluent, developed nation to purchase a piece of another culture.

This segues well into the second experience I want to briefly touch on. On Monday morning we visited Fundaçao Victoria Amazonica (FVA), a local non-profit organisation which works on a variety of projects aimed at promoting sustainable bio-conservation, from public policy in Brasilia to empowering indigenous communities in the Amazon. We spoke with Fabiano, who described exploitative schemes in the past where an intermediary would offer isolated communities items (e.g. industrialised farming tools) in exchange for future goods (e.g. Brazil nuts). The issue being that the intermediary had the power to set the prices of both (high for the tools, low for the nuts) and communities would be locked into an endless cycle of debt. He spoke of the work FVA is doing to redress this power imbalance, such as processing their Brazil nuts in the community, dramatically increasing the price their goods may command in the marketplace and reducing the need to farm so widely.

Fabiano spoke of the challenges around funding in the NGO sector. He recalled a time when FVA’s largest donor was Ford, and the organisation chose to no longer accept their money because they were attempting to influence the direction of the organisation’s work. Or the fact that some of the communities FVA work with are 7 days away by boat, but it can be hard to convince donors to stump up for petrol money. And that whilst the Brazil government is happy to pay for the transportation and logistics costs associated with the projects it funds, it refuses to pay for the wages of any of the 15 staff that work for the organisation to deliver the projects.

I certainly don’t claim I am the first come across these issues and I come to them as a Psychology student who has done only one development-related elective. I’m guessing that’s kind of the point of these trips though. Those in the development and NGO fields are already aware of these issues. It’s wider society in our collective role as consumers of tourism experiences or as donors to NGOs that has the power, and it’s not until we understand these issues, that we are likely to see any real change.

P.S. We also saw a sloth and it was amazing and swam with dolphins. Life’s great.

sloth

PATRICK McGRATH, BRAZIL, PART 2

PATRICK McGRATH, BRAZIL, PART 2

Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!!!

Oi, os homems e as mulheres,

The second day of program started as the first for with an early start and a delicious buffet breakfast, a popular choice being the profiterole-esque sugar coated treats or the generous spread of tropical fruits and juices. Fortunately our morning activity was a walking tour of the old town of Sao Paulo led by our in country guide Filipe. We wandered the physical and historical birthplace of Sao Paulo, taking in, among others, the City Theatre and Sao Paulo Cathedral.

We saw Sao Paulo City Hall, affectionately known as the “Engine room of Brazil”. This municipality oversees the mammoth Sao Paulo state and city economy which when viewed on its own is the second largest economy in South America, ahead of neighbours such as Argentina and Chile and only behind Brazil itself. Our tour finished with a view of the city from the rooftop of its’ oldest skyscraper.

After a 10 minute pit-stop at our hotel to change into business wear we battled the notorious Sao Paulo traffic to arrive on time at the Australian Consulate for a briefing with Sheila Lunter, Australian Trade Commissioner. Sheila shared with us some unique insights as to the role of the trade commission in facilitating Australian businesses to engage with the 2.4 trillion USD Brazilian economy. Sheila also told us her story which began by completing an undergraduate degree in literature studies in her birth country of Holland, through working with international businesses in Europe and her Australian Trade Commissioner post in Singapore culminating in her current role in Sao Paulo.

briefing

I’ll skip ahead to my favourite part of the day which was going to a top flight football match in Sao Paulo where we SAW RONALDINHO PLAY! It was an incredible sight to see 30,000 fans turning up to a game being played at 10pm on a Wednesday night. The experience of being amongst a crowd of incredibly passionate supporters will not easily be forgotten and we were fortunate to see Sao Paulo FC win 1-0, a rare sight this season (unfortunately that meant Ronaldinho lost). The stadium erupted in celebration of the first-half goal but the enthusiasm of that cheer was almost matched when the score updates for other games being played that night rolled across the screen and revealed that cross town rivals Corinthians lost 2-0. It was some-what confusing phenomenon for the less football inclined amongst the group who had been following the play on the pitch with interest and were at a loss to explain the raucous cheers and jeers. We arrived back our hotel at 12.45am weary but satisfied with the events of the day with the job of packing, sleeping, eating breakfast and checking for our 8am departure for Manaus.
Most took the opportunity to grab some much needed catch up sleep on the flight to the gateway to the Amazon that is Manaus, with a population around 1 million people. We stepped out of the airport to temperatures of around 35°C, quickly forgetting the chill that had hung over Sao Paulo in the days before. Our schedule was light, checking into our hotel with the usual feverish hunt for the Wi-Fi password before lunch.

soccer

Our afternoon activity was tour of the Manaus city centre, the focal point being the marble Opera house built in the late 1800’s. The commanding structure a remnant of a decadent period at the turn of the 20th century when Manaus was the centre of the global trade in rubber. Its’ marble floors sourced from Italy, much of the glass throughout the building from Paris, the wood a combination of British and Amazonian oaks and cedars.

Our day finished as it should in the hot and humid Amazon with a night time dip in our hotel pool, overlooking the Negro River with its’ waters having floated down from Columbia to the meeting of the rivers here in Manaus.

By Patrick McGrath

Patrick McGrath is currently in Brazil on the GLP Symposium. Here is Part 1 of his experience…

Hey there my GLP brethren,

 

I’ve no doubt that most of you have seen the emails advertising this year’s GLP symposium to Brazil. I’m excited to let you know that the symposium is underway and a group of 11 students from Mac are currently in Sao Paulo, under the guidance of our fearless leader Chloë Spackman. We have just completed our first day of formal activities that began with breakfast at our hotel at 7:15am and has just wrapped up at 11pm.

 

This morning we travelled about 40 mins outside Sao Paulo to visit Natura, one of the largest cosmetic companies in the South America, although it’s possible you haven’t heard of it before as it doesn’t sell its products in Australia. The easiest way to describe the ethos of the company is to think if Google owned and ran a cosmetics company in Brazil. The welfare of the workers is well looked after with childcare and medical facilities onsite. It is a company that the residents of Sao Paulo wish to work for, a recent advertisement for 100 positions saw 65,000 people apply. The company also managed to sell 303 million products last year without a single store in Brazil. The products are all sold through consultants or ‘reps’ with a strong emphasis on relationships with their consumers. And this is all before I start on their commitment to a series of environmental and social goals, needless to say I was impressed, if you want to find out more, you’ll have to come along next year.

 

We then came back into Sao Paulo for lunch before attending a couple lectures at EPSM, an exceptionally well reputed business school here in Sao Paulo. We had the opportunity to learn about Brazilian culture and Brazil’s growing role in international politics.

 

We were then given a tour of EPSM’s Junior Enterprise program offices. It’s an incredibly impressive student-run business that employs undergraduate students to complete project work for Sao Paulo businesses. We heard about a group of students working on a project to create an online store for a wine distributor and heard that these students would see this task from conception to completion-  a fantastic model for internships and workplace experience.

 

You might be thinking that this qualifies as a full day of activities but not on a GLP trip. We had a brief moment of respite in the form of dinner, which gave us the necessary fuel to power throw the still present jet-lag of a 13 hour time difference. After said meal, we filed duly back into our van to head to aptly named Unique Hotel in the centre of the city. We enjoyed a quiet beverage in the lobby bar before heading upstairs to enjoy the view of Sao Paulo atop the Skye bar. I will let the photo do justice to the stunning décor (check out the chair) of the hotel that my words simply could not.

 

I hope to keep you as up to date with our activities as possible but I also know that tomorrow we will set off for a walking tour at 8am and our last activity, a football match, commences at 10pm so it may be a couple of days.

 

Patrick McGrath (GLP Student)

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Photo; Patrick McGrath

 

 

-Stay tuned for more in-country blogging from Patrick- Georgina (GLP staff member)

From my culture to yours…

Hello my name is Georgina Rullis and I am an Indigenous Cadet working for the Global Leadership Program. I’m of Torres Strait Islander descent, (not Aboriginal as you might be thinking) and it will be my responsibility in the coming months to moderate, maintain and post new stories onto mqglp.wordpress.com.

 

My hope is that by reading the coming stories on this website you will be inspired and motivated to complete some enriching and fulfilling activities as part of your Experiential Credit/ Cross Cultural Practicum. GLP students are doing some amazing things for themselves, for others, and their future careers and some of our alumni have gone on to have great success in their careers (more on this in coming months).  This blog will also serve to inform you guys about the opportunities that are available to you should you really make the most of your time in the Global Leadership Program. Volunteering, going on exchange overseas, and attending domestic and international conferences (just some examples), will all change your perspective and help you to grow and develop as a person and a professional. They will also mean that at the end of your degree you’ll have a great resume rich in experience as well as academic qualification(s).  

 

To tell you a little bit about myself, I’m really passionate about Indigenous affairs and advocacy. I am on the executive board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Student Society, the only student group at Macquarie run by, and for, the Indigenous peoples of Australia. I’m also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Representative on Macquarie’s new Student Advisory Board (formerly known as the Macquarie University Student Representative Association).  In my capacity as the ATSI student rep I’m currently organising a festival to be held on campus which will celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and raises awareness of both the Aboriginal community at Macquarie and the issues which are faced by the Indigenous community at large. I also mentor Aboriginal high school kids at Mount Druitt as part of Macquarie University’s Aboriginal Outreach Program.

 

As well as being a GLP staff member I’m also a student in the program myself. I’m currently studying for a Bachelor of International Studies, majoring in Modern Greek, as I’m really interested in Greek history and culture, particularly Greek mythology.

 

One memorable GLP experience that I’ve had was last year’s Canberra symposium trip. I enjoyed seeing Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard at Question Time and had a great time shopping at the bus depot markets. As I want to one day work for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), or some other such governmental job where I have the excuse to travel, it was really interesting for me getting to see all the different embassies and diplomatic residences that are in Canberra. I can’t recommend the trip enough, staff member or not.

 

I hope to see you around uni,

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