Rhenan: Mobilizing young people to speak up for the Araguaian region in Brazil

Passionate about the environment, Rhenan strives to ensure the health of ecosystems and communities along riverbanks in his community.
Rhenan AYC Brazil 2019

Changemakers’ visions may start local, or even within their own home, but can expand regionally and globally. Starting with an initiative to clean up the local river, Rhenan and his peers are beautifying the riverbanks and advocating for environmental protection policies to ensure the health and longevity of the Araguaian region. His story explores how his environmental passion is scaling to become a regional movement for a sustainable, cleaner world.

Rhenan, was born and grew up in the city of Araguatins, in the interior of Tocantins, Brazil. He also spent several years growing up in a rural community. Since an early age, Rhenan’s curiosity peaked in his science classes, especially when learning about the environment.

One dreadful day during his father's daily work routine, his father accidentally collided his tractor with a pole. The pole fell and caused an electrical fire that destroyed their entire family farm, including all the vegetable crops and animals. This catastrophe, according to Rhenan, was the moment he realized he felt compelled to act on his environmental passion.

When his family moved back to Araguatins, Rhenan was amazed by the pollution along the river bank that ran through the middle of his community. The Araguaia River, one of the great Brazilian rivers, spans more than 2,000 kilometers and covers four Brazilian states. Guaranteeing the livelihood of thousands of families and ensuring the water supply for both cities and farms, the surrounding ecosystem depends on the health of the river to survive.

However, over the last few years, agribusiness, overfishing, and the informal housing along the riverbanks. Rhenan was distraught by the predatorial relationship established between humans and nature, destroying biodiversity and provoking environmental pollution.

Motivated by a vision of a sustainable and cleaner world, Rhenan organized a team of schoolmates to clean the banks of one of the tributaries of the Araguaia, the Brejinho stream, that cuts through his town. He named the project the Brejinho Creek Revitalization Project. The initial result of their collective work was the removal of nearly 1 tonne of waste from the banks.

Today, his project is focused on mobilizing more young people to clean local rivers, engaging with local government officials to support environmental protection policies, and beautifying the space surrounding the river through the creation of an ecological park. He partners will social actors across the region, such as the police, the mayor’s office, environmental agencies, and universities, to transform his vision into a reality.

There are no words to describe the feeling, the happiness in seeing that my project is engaging more kids to have projects of their own and that everyone has the power within them to be a changemaker.

Resolute, Rhenan is becoming a national advocate for the environment. He was nominated as a delegate at the State Environmental School Conference in early 2018. Demonstrating his seriousness and capacity for mobilizing young people, he went on to represent his region at the national stage of the Conference in the city of Sumaré, Sao Paulo.

It was there that he met Edgard Gouveia, an Ashoka Fellow, who inspired him to expand his work. Since September 2018, Rhenan’s team generates environmental awareness to more communities across the Araguatins region, focusing their attention on river pollution, actions to combat diseases like dengue and leprosy, and the mobilization of young people to participate in the International Climate Strike.

Rhenan’s impact is rapidly expanding, involving more young people with his charisma and changemaker qualities. “There are no words to describe the feeling, the happiness in seeing that my project is engaging more kids to have projects of their own and that everyone has the power within them to be a changemaker.”