This profile was prepared when Kelson Vieira was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Five years ago, Kelson started working with the Catumbi neighborhood association as part of a college research project. His ideas, combined with the enthusiasm of the residents, resulted in significant improvements of living standards in the homes and in the community.Catumbi had been declared a conservation area, and although this title protected it from deliberate destruction; there was no provision in the law to help rebuild the run-down neighborhood or prevent further decay. As Kelson relates, "The residents wanted to turn their neighborhood around but didn't know how; yet I had scores of ideas." Kelson started with small renovation and addition projects that allowed many families living under the same roof to have more space and privacy. Then he and the neighborhood association expanded their efforts to the whole Catumbi area. Their aim was to revitalize the community by better utilizing the space.Enthusiastic about its initial success, the neighborhood association created a cooperative that helps finance construction materials at low prices, and provides jobs. As a center for training, the association creates cottage industries whose profit is returned to the community for continuous upgrade and maintenance projects.Once Catumbi's program is fully under way, Kelson wants to extend the community revitalization program to other neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro and, later, to other cities in Brazil. By creating strong community organizations based on Catumbi's successful formula, neighborhoods can substantially improve themselves.