By Chris Lynn, Learning and Quality Leader
Last month, I represented The Reader at a new social intervention event at the University of São Paulo, as well as supporting The Danish Reading Society Laeseforeningen on a course for new Readers in Brazil.
On arrival, I was made to feel very welcome by Sonia from the university who helped me negotiate the vast cityscape to get to my hotel.
There I met with our Danish contingent Mette (Laeseforeningen), Line (anthropologist), Helena (Laeseforeningen), Mai (interpreter) and later Nicolai (Laeseforeningen) who were an incredibly friendly, welcoming team.
I was thoroughly impressed with the passion and commitment of the Shared Reading trainees, who were all determined to use this practice to help people in real need in São Paulo.
They were psychologists, social workers, librarians, people who worked in community libraries to help combat domestic violence, and people who wanted to establish and spread new representations of Afro-Brazilian culture through literature.
They were a thoroughly thoughtful group who did brilliantly in developing their practice and were committed to using Shared Reading to do good in their communities.
Mai, our interpreter, did an unbelievable job translating everything on the course from Portuguese to English – and vice versa!
I was surprised how well the Shared Reading experience translated, and I soon felt a sense of familiarity when we began to read and talk about the Danish classic The Ring by Isak Dinesen.
I delivered a number of sessions during the course, including the one below on group dynamics – can you crack the translation?!
The week culminated with me speaking to a room of around 150 people at the University of São Paulo at an event on ‘using literature as a social intervention’.
I had an hour to speak about The Reader and Shared Reading, equipped with a pep talk from our founder Jane Davis and my very own translator.
I was grateful for the opportunity to speak, despite it feeling quite out of my comfort zone. It was a good lesson in trusting yourself and the great work The Reader does, which often speaks for itself.
I knew I was among friends as I soon learned about local projects that aimed to embed reading in their communities.
They included reading and mediation groups dealing with the very real barriers of poverty and literacy, volunteer-led community libraries being run in rural areas and a project building mini-libraries at bus stops.
One of the projects working with families, schools and children, called Vaga Lume, felt very much like The Reader Storybarn back at our HQ in Liverpool. It was a storytelling experience for children – but in the jungle!
The Danish team also spoke about the brilliant work they are doing with Laeseforeningen. Mette, Helena, Line and Nicolai all spoke deftly about the power and impact of Shared Reading there, especially among young adults with mental-health problems.
I couldn’t take a trip to Brazil without reporting on what I saw there. São Paulo is incredibly vast – the biggest city in Latin America – an endless sea of skyscrapers, but with a mellow, casual air in the streets. It wasn’t as chaotic as you might expect.
On the day I arrived, Sonia invited me to a demonstration – complete with poetry recitals and music. There’s a real sense of everything being politically charged in São Paulo, including our Shared Reading trainees.
It’s an incredibly visual places with colour and art lining the streets. Below is an example of some street art speaking to an emergent political threat posed to indigenous people.
São Paulo has the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, so there’s lots of sushi on offer.
Incredible buffets were a staple – simply weigh your plate and pay by the kilo – and there was a real culture of sharing food at the communal meals we enjoyed together.
The cream-coloured spike in the centre of my plate is the heart of a certain type of palm tree and it was delicious.
Acai is an Amazonia purple fruit, crushed and frozen, served with nuts, and was a welcome coolant in the 40-degree heat! Unlike anything I’ve tasted before.
Before my return, I took a visit to Rio de Janeiro. It’s a vibrant, tropical city surrounded by jungle and sea, full of music and art.
Beach culture is huge here and it was great to see all generations enjoying the beach together. Of course, I visited the Christ the Redeemer statue, and on a very early misty morning, the clouds temporarily cleared to that and the rest of Rio below.
There was something undeniably striking about the whole experience.