By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Through their partnership with the US diplomatic mission USAID (United States Agency for International Development), American companies in Brazil are leading a fund-raising initiative to rebuild and revive the devastated town of São Luiz do Paraitinga, 182 kilometers from the city of São Paulo.
This public-private alliance known as + Unidos (Mais Unidos) is working with United Way Brazil, as well as local military police and civil defense to provide assistance in food, water, bedding, hygiene and cleaning products, and to help raise funds for the reconstruction of the town.
Heavy rains in early 2010 all but washed away the town, which was almost entirely flooded. “The center of the city was totally destroyed,” says Alexandre Alves, coordinator for corporate social responsibility projects at USAID. According to local news source Folha Online, over eighty percent of the town’s historic area was permanently damaged.
The Institute for Technological Research reports that 300 buildings were destroyed. Roughly 9,000 of the town’s 10,500 residents were affected, the majority having to evacuate their homes, with around half that number having no prospects of returning to their houses.
“Every business is doing what it can to help,” Alves told the Rio Times. Companies such as Alcoa, DuPont and HP have held internal campaigns to gather donations. Proctor and Gamble provided cleaning products, and DuPont also provided pressurised water to help clean the city. FedEx held a campaign at the Police Battalion and raised over 500 pounds in food, clothing and hygiene products.
United Way was established in Brazil in 2001. The organization uses private sector resources to invest in projects of social institutions dedicated to education and youth training. USAID works to implement projects in partnership with local governments, civil society and private sector the objective of which is to promote equitable economic and social development. Established in 2006 by the US Ambassador to Brazil, + Unidos helps promote corporate social responsibility in Brazil, while also promoting the visibility for members’ investments in environmental and socio-economic projects.
“Through Mais Unidos we motivate businesses to continue donating and support them in this process,” explains Alves, regarding the participation of USAID in the initiative.
According to United Way Brasil, the destruction of São Luiz do Paraitinga not only has infrastructural but cultural and heritage repurcussions. The town, considered an important colonial patrimony, was known for its long-established festivities and Carnival practices in the historic part of the city. Additionally, several religious buildings had to be torn down due to water damage, including two churches, the São Luiz de Tolosa matrix and the Chapel of the Mercês.
USAID and United Way are not alone in their efforts. The governor of São Paulo, José Serra, has promised funding to help with the clean up and reconstruction.
In March United Way Brasil is expected to release initial reports on the effectiveness and progress of the initiative. “There is still much work to be done,” Alves said. “It will take another year and a half to two years to rebuild the town.”