#5 Handmade urbanism and ACAIA Institute, São Paulo, Brazil

“Handmade urbanism is the way of providing urban change carried out by local residents in their own neighbourhoods or communities, with their own hands and means. It starts with the residents recognizing a problem, followed by the active realization of an idea to solve that immediate issue. Community initiatives evolve from those active gestures and support the citizen’s active participation at the local scale” (Rosa, Weiland 2013: 1).

In 1997 a Brazilian sculptor, Elisa Bracher, who had her workshop in Vila Leopoldina, just few minutes away from the biggest vegetable market CEAGESP in São Paulo, opened her studio for children from nearby favela to offer them carpentry classes. This private engagement that initially purposed from a pure will of bringing some different, positive aspect to difficult lives of those kids, within the time transformed into highly organized and successful institute that work with municipal secretaries, other NGOs, and number of professionals to enhance the quality of living of those socially unwanted and margined. The next big step of ACAIA is launching their own primary school, which in contrary to other public facilities, will provide a high level of education and wide range of  diverse activities, which are already undertaken in a dual scheme (children have their morning classes until 11 AM and youth after their school, around 1 PM).

At the beginning the initiative was privately financed and after five years of gaining consistency in executed work and liability in the eyes of municipal, the institute began its collaboration with diverse secretaries. During first 7 years, all workshops and classes took place only in the limits of institute. It was until 2004 when “(..) a boy arrived with the message from the community saying that from that moment on we could enter the favela (..)” (Camargo: 1). From this moment, the careful planning and organisation of activities started and one year later the first weekly art classes came into the community’s routine. Within the time, new sorts of help and support were offered, including building the shared laundry, organising a small plaza in the middle of the slum as well as maintained nursing, as there were “(..) many people who do not have access or who are not authorized to use the public health system” (Camargo: 1). In addition, the institute purchased the previously collectively cleaned plot inside of the favela and established there a community building where the children together with their families receive the ACAIA’s workers for daily activities. Due to financial freedom enabled by Bracher’s family, ACAIA could authorize their own rules when supported from the municipal side. (cf. Rosa, Weiland 2013: 80-81). “(..) the projects themselves define what to do, and are not created to fit the interests of a sponsor. We are not flexible in that, since it could jeopardize the work” (Camargo: 1).

Those small investments are socially rich and establish the trust towards guardian party that works on a progressive change of one’s space. In those processes, it is substantial to create an awareness that every outcome is possible only through a participative engagement of the residents. And that this engagement must be earned. “In the early years, we [ACAIA] had little support from the community and many years later, having lunch with a community agent, she explained something important to me: it is believed that when people go to the communities, they think they know what community needs. (..) Action is always caused by observation and a demand that does not come from us, but from the process. (..) Their support is crucial, since the work only exists if it is aligned with community interests, with their desire, and that makes sense.” (Camargo: 1).

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