Estephany Oliveira, 22, a college student whose studies were interrupted by COVID-19, considered those who might be more at risk during the pandemic. She founded Solidarity Laranjal with her friends to deliver food to impoverished and isolated families in Northern Brazil.
In Oliveira’s hometown of Laranjal do Jari, in the state of Amapá, only about 10% of residents have access to adequate sanitation. The average monthly city income is USD $490, but 43% of the population lives in houses with monthly incomes of only USD $97 per person (close to USD $3 per day).
Oliveira turned her focus to the less fortunate in her hometown after moving back there to save money when her classes were cancelled at Amapá Federal University. She is studying to be a secretary.
“When I saw many people starving, people that had to go out to earn a living to buy food, I wondered how these people were coping now. We must do something,” Oliveira told her friends.
She took an academic approach to solidary: conducting research to understand community needs. Her group contacted the local social assistance centre and obtained a list of families that receive government benefits. They focused on the largest families that might also be the neediest.
Oliveira’s group then the visited families and introduced themselves. They got to know the people, took notes about their needs and then started to seek donations for relief.
“We depended on solidarity within the community to help others,” Oliveira said.
Fundraising was conducted online via Facebook and Instagram. Donation sites were set up at a local church and supermarkets.
The first online crowdfunding effort collected USD $18 and some food. The youths also bought more food with their own money.
These donations were used to create care packages with food, face masks and hand sanitizer. The youths included leaflets with information on how to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and a WhatsApp number where people could nominate other families or ask for help.
Estefhany Oliveira paddles a canoe to deliver food in Amapá. The donations are made in partnership with UNOPS. Photo courtesy Laranjal Solidário
Delivering the care packages presented its own logistical challenges due to the local geography. Several means of transportation were used to make the deliveries: a borrowed car, a borrowed canoe and a catraia, which is a canoe with an engine that requires a paid ticket like a city bus. Using canoes allowed them to reach areas inaccessible by bridge like Vitória do Jari and Laranjal do Jari.
Gradually, Oliveira’s group came to complete hundreds of deliveries. The group partnered with Rede Amapá Solidário–an NGO receiving assistance from UNOPS, a United Nations agency specializing in procurement. The joint effort, receiving further support from the Ministry of Labour in the Pará and Amapá states, has now amounted to 4,000 care packages.
Oliveira seeks to develop Solidarity Laranjal into its own independent NGO to provide long-term social impact activities in the area. She sees it expanding into education and public health.
Oliveira draws her passion for helping others from her parents, who led by example. Her father received assistance when he was younger and went from selling bread in the streets to becoming a teacher.