Luiz Henrique: Boosting Youth Civic Leadership in Santarém, Brazil
Young changemakers, by the nature of their work, change the narrative and expectations around growing up. Henrique’s story highlights how young people can actively participate in local government to authentically represent their generation. By creating a space for young people in governance, Henrique and his peers are bringing key issues, such as protecting the environment against deforestation and resource extraction, to the forefront of local government.
Born in Santarém in western Pará, Henrique’s parents moved their family to the city of Manaus in the Amazonas in search for a better life. When he was 10, they moved back to Santarém, which had dramatically changed with better education, basic health care, and food security.
Today, his family lives in a riverside community in the extractive reserve of Tapajós / Arapiun. Extractive reserves are government owned land, but the people who live there, known as “Resex”, have the right to traditional extractive practices such as hunting, fishing, and harvesting wild plants.
When he was 15, Henrique became increasingly involved with a local catholic church. He went on to become a youth coordinator of one of their youth programs, recognizing his capacity to lead other young people.
Others recognized this capacity, too, and invited Henrique, 17 at the time, to join the Conselho Intercomunitário Floresta Ativa. This organization is an inter-community council that governs the 20 communities (~5,000 families) in the Tapajós/Arapiuns extractive reserve. Once he joined the council, he recognized a lack of youth representation in local government in his communities and across Brazil.
In response, Henrique organized talks with other young people through his church to express the importance of young people being represented in local government. Through his outreach, he helped create a youth department within the council to permanently include young people in all decision-making processes. Henrique’s talks attracted other young people to become interested in civic leadership as they began to propose new ideas for their community’s development.
Henrique’s changemaking journey was catalyzed by participating in an entrepreneurship course offered by the nonprofit organization, Projeto Saúde, where participants identify problems in their communities and are tasked with co-designing solutions. Henrique and his team sought to address food waste around the river banks as fruit from local trees were falling into the banks and not being utilized. His team decided to create a startup, A Delícias Tapajônicas, to commercialize these products into sweets and liqueurs. Reducing food waste, the startup also works with young people and women in Resex communities to increase their families’ income.
Through his own changemaking experiences, Luiz knows all problems in his community have a solution and all young people have the potential to be changemakers. But, if we all don’t act now, Luiz understands the consequences. “The world today, like we always say, is in constant change and in the Amazon, the communities are no different. If we don’t fight for this now, in 20 to 30 years we won’t have what we have today which is a preserved forest, the fish on our plate every day, the river that we bathe in.”