Published by Kerry on 05 Oct 2009 at 05:30 am
When Theresa Williamson, Executive Director of Catalytic Communities, was searching for a place to build her online community, she turned to WiserEarth. Now with three free WiserEarth Groups (Portuguese, Spanish and English) that work alongside CatComm’s own website, the organization can direct more of its energy toward helping Brazilian favela communities.
Theresa Williamson, the founder of CatComm, took some time out to talk to us about her work and how her organization is using WiserEarth. The story starts in 2000, when Theresa moved back to her roots in Brazil to conduct PhD research in city planning. She visited squatter communities, called favelas in Portuguese, and became inspired by their self-sufficiency and can-do attitude. The number of favelas has since grown from 600 to 1,000.
Theresa explains, “Communities were doing everything from setting up daycare, living centers for the elderly, soup kitchens, environmentally-friendly brick manufacturing, HIV prevention programs, fluoride treatment, to their own sewage systems, just about anything you could think of.”
She realized that no one was aware of the creative ways these communities were addressing their needs. As the internet began to spread to Brazil, she founded Catalytic Communities to network these communities together and increase their visibility.
She and others, initially on a volunteer basis, started an outreach office and community center in Rio, along with a website focused on community solution-sharing. Eventually they developed a site to support community social networking. However, their approach did not have as many information-sharing capabilities as they had hoped for, leading them to seek other options. Soon they discovered WiserEarth, which already had much of the functionality they needed, plus a community interested in what CatComm had to share. Theresa says, “We were very excited about finding WiserEarth, because we were spending lots of money and time on developing a complicated website. Using WiserEarth means we are reaching new audiences and we can focus on our mission of outreach, direct support, and technical assistance to communities.”
So starting this summer, Catalytic Communities began to port their solutions and communities over to WiserEarth, while maintaining their branding and identity with a simple organizational website. They have already loaded an impressive 250 solutions into WiserEarth and set up three WiserEarth groups for each language in which they work. As a result, they have had the extra time and money to develop a complementary blog-based organizational website that launches today. Check it out!
Along the way, CatComm has also contributed to WiserEarth’s goal of global accessibility by spearheading our site’s translation into Portuguese. Seven volunteer translators have been hard at work and we are scheduling a launch around January 2010. CatComm will also be managing the site in Portuguese by providing a full-time Portuguese Chief Editor (like Bowo for our English version). The unreleased translation of WiserEarth in Portuguese is already being put to good use, as Theresa explains: “I just got back from doing a training in the Amazon with indigenous community leaders, and I used the beta Portuguese site to set up a group out there.”
Theresa also shared the fascinating story of Neuza Nascimiento, originally a cleaning lady from the Rio favela of Parada de Lucas, who learned to read by cleaning house for someone with a wonderful library. She began her own project when her nine-year-old son, with nothing better to do, declared his intention to go the community Funk Ball, an unsavory party in the street run by drug traffickers. On that day, she said she would take him and friends on a field trip instead. She took them to a park, and the next week the kids asked her excitedly where she would take them next. She slowly built a project, attended training, found mothers to help, arranged discounts with museums, circuses and buses, and, with the help of CatComm’s network, raised funds and formed her own nonprofit. That same field trip project, A Look Into Other Things, is now on WiserEarth.
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