“When different organizations come together like we have done here today, we will have a new world,” said Ari Jose Vanaze, mayor of Sao Leopoldo, Brazil, speaking at the Mutirão.
Mutirão, a word from Tupi Guarani, an indigenous language of Brazil, translates as a group of people who work together to create something that benefits all.
More than 150 volunteers and local and national officials participated in the Mutirão, which celebrated 40 Days of Solidarity, a name given to Habitat for Humanity of Brazil’s Lenten project, which provided homes for 40 families in Sao Leopoldo.
In Latin America, solidarity is a vital concept that means to show love to those less fortunate.
Walter Altmann, moderator of the World Council of Churches and President of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Conference in Brazil, spoke of the changes that can occur when people work together. “This building project is a strong witness of what is coming in the future with the new heaven and new earth,” he said, referencing an image in the Old Testament in the Bible. “This will be a time in which people will live in complete harmony with each other.”
Expressing the support of the Lutheran church, Altmann also said that this project has shown how important it continues to be to work with people all over the world to foster cooperation.
“It was unique to see churches of different faiths coming together,” added Ademar de Oliveira Marques, HFH Brazil National Director. “For what? To make a statement that no person should endure inhumane living conditions. The mission of the church is to fulfill the dignity of every person so that they can grow into all God intended.”
One of the recipients of one of the new homes described her feelings. “For me, having a house is a dream come true,” said Leni, the new owner. “I never thought I could have one. I couldn’t even think of the possibility. The dignity of life is expressed by having a home. Now I want to volunteer and help others in less fortunate situations.”
The morning Mutirão ceremony ended with the passing of grapes. “These grapes are a reminder that like grapes grow together on the vine, so we volunteers have come together for a common purpose,” said Sonia Gomez-Mato, a local Presbyterian pastor.
Later in the day, volunteers came back together for additional motivational words, congratulations and meals.
This Mutirão celebrated the final stage in the event which began in late February with the start of Lent. Hundreds of people from the local community as well as international Habitat teams have arrived in Sao Leopoldo, a city approximately 40 kilometers (30 miles) from Porto Alegre, the capital city of Rio Grande do Sul, a state in southern Brazil. Many of those involved with the project seemed to have learned more than they expected.
“It was cultural shock to see all of the volunteers,” said Luis Henrique, pastor of the independent, evangelical church in Sao Leopoldo that opened its doors to provide food and shelter for the hundreds of volunteers. “It was a great lesson that love for neighbors is not just talk but also action.
I have never seen a doctor carrying stones, a bishop laying bricks, a businessman moving dirt in a wheelbarrow. I never thought this way; I always thought blessing was about accumulating from God. This was a great lesson in humility.”
While Habitat for Humanity was not the primary organizer of the 40 Days of Solidarity, the involvement of the ministry was clear. “This is a great example of Habitat being a catalyst for transformation,” said Jose Luis Villaseñor, international church partnerships manager for Habitat for Humanity. “What has been achieved here has been the work of many partners.
Yet Habitat has played a key role to unite forces to together build something new. Like the yeast in the bread or the salt in the food, Habitat’s role in this project while many times invisible, has been the key substance providing flavor and accelerating change.”
Before this project, Habitat had no presence in southern Brazil. However, the 40 Days of Solidarity ended with the signing of an agreement with the Sao Leopoldo municipality to begin construction of new homes.
Since the project started, 10 local governments have approached Habitat about building homes. Habitat plans to open an office in the near future in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.