The people of Vila Velha depend on their island’s thick mangrove forests, which provide fish, shellfish, and other staples of their diet and shield the community from storm damage. Their natural beauty and abundant wildlife are what attract tourism, the islanders’ main source of income.
Ties to the mangroves are especially close for the Vila Velha Cook Masters, women who operate small restaurants that serve traditional food. They harvest oysters in the mangroves, continuing the tradition of Vila Velha (Old Village), which was founded more than 500 years ago.
When the women collect oysters, however, they find lots of plastic trash and organic garbage. This pollution, along with runoff from household kitchens and bathrooms, threatens the health of the mangroves and the safety of the community’s water supply.
This project with local organization Grupo Pirilampo tackles the trash and organic pollution problems in several ways, with regular mangrove and beach cleanups, workshops that teach people 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 waste water from kitchens.
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 eliminate contamination, providing 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.