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Vila Velha


Conservation benefit: Conservation of 30-acre mangrove and beach area with clean-ups and reduction in organic pollution for 15 years

Community benefit: Clean water for 30 families; composting equipment; cultural and environmental workshops for children; ecological tours for visitors

Date Approved: 06.2022


This project protects mangroves, which trap more CO2 than any other kind of forest and as a result, slow global warming.

The people of Vila Velha depend on their island’s thick mangrove forests, which provide fish, shellfish, and other staples of their diet. The forests shield the community from storm damage. Their natural beauty and abundant wildlife attract tourism, the islanders’ main source of income.

Ties to the mangroves are especially close for the Vila Velha Cook Masters. These women, who operate small restaurants that serve traditional food, harvest oysters in the mangroves. This is a long tradition in Vila Velha (Old Village), which was founded more than 500 years ago. But plastic trash and organic garbage, along with household waste, threaten the health of the mangroves and the community’s water supply.

This project with local organization Grupo Pirilampo tackles the trash and organic pollution problems in several ways. There are regular mangrove and beach cleanups, workshops on how to build inexpensive household compost bins, and environmental tours for visitors. A demonstration evapotranspiration tank, which can cheaply and safely process waste from household toilets, will provide a model for people to follow. People will also learn how to create “banana circles,” spots for growing bananas and other fruit, nourished by compost and kitchen waste water.

This grant will fund urgently needed water filters for families actively involved in the project. Vila Velha water now comes from a well and is salty and smelly. The filters will give an immediate boost to public health, especially that of children, who are most vulnerable to pathogens in dirty water.

Finally, the grant also supports the culture of this ancient village with workshops for children and youth. In addition to environmental education, they will learn about traditional music, visual art, literature, dance, and cooking. The island is famous for the “Firefly Maracatu,” a dance with deep roots in local culture.

Project Updates

June 2024

The rest of the household water filters will be delivered by the end of the month. The community recently held its seventh mangrove cleanup. The village is still in the process of getting permits and licenses for the waste treatment side of the project. They expect to be able to begin work in July or August.

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February 2024

The first 10 household water filters have been installed; after a test period, another 20 will be bought. Drinking water will be provided for the whole community. An ecological trail has been mapped out, and many tourists are visiting the community and nearby mangroves. Mangrove cleanups, in partnership with schools, continue. The community is also exploring wants to prevent waste from getting into the mangroves in the first place, such as floating river barriers.

The waste treatment side of the project is, however, a tale of red tape. Because Vila Velha is an official historical site and an environmental protection area, the community cannot build a treatment pit for household effluents and compost site without getting licenses from four separate governmental bodies. Environmental, engineering, topographical, and archeological reports are required. They are persevering.

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June 2023

Children in the community have been attending workshops on traditional dance, cooking, and guitar, as well as engaging in mangrove cleanups and education. Our project partner is in the process of getting permits to move ahead with waste treatment facilities and has built a community composting bin—all part of the “Vila Velha is Zero Waste” campaign. They are also working with an engineering company on analysis of water from local sources and planning an improved water delivery system.

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February 2023

The community’s first mangrove cleanup got youth, women, and community leaders engaged. A workshop on installing the pilot sanitation module with banana trees will be combined with another cleanup in March. Our project partner is also promoting workshops for children and youth, which cover traditional cooking and dance as well as mangrove conservation.

Community members have submitted water samples for testing and are determining the best way to remove contamination from the water. An engineer is helping with the proposals and budgets needed to hire a company to provide the filtering technology.

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