Over the years, Breda University of Applied Sciences has developed a strong partnership with Brazilian Institutions. These partnerships have resulted in several types of collaboration. One of them is with Quilombaque, an NGO situated in Perus, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of São Paulo. Quilombaque is currently developing leisure and tourism as a means for local development (Schroeder, 2018).
Another one is with the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), through institutional partnership with the Tourism Faculty. In December 2018 fieldwork was organized to provide the opportunity to a group of students and supervisors from the Placemaking & Shaping Destinations course as well as from UFSCar University to learn about Quilombaque’s innovative approach to destination development. At the same time, this fieldwork gave the students a chance to apply their learning by being in the field connecting with stakeholders, with local culture and economic challenges.
This paper reports on the fieldwork activities and learning by briefly describing the region visited, the initiatives being developed by the community, concluding with some lessons from the field that might be resource for inspiration in future interventions elsewhere.
The destination presented also serves as an illustration of how tourism and leisure can support creating a sense of place while at the same time increasing the liveability of the region. Collaborating with such locations, through fieldwork, for instance, can be a source of expanding learning beyond the classroom while simultaneously contributing to local development (Do, 2006). Furthermore, the partnership between Universities, NGO’s and communities can help to create resilient destination projects (Ahern, 2011).
The region of Perus and Quilombaque
Located in the northeast of São Paulo, Perus is not a well-known Brazilian community. The region has always suffered from lack of governmental attention. Perus struggles with poverty, violence (Pagliaro, 2016), and black youth genocide (Nascimento, 2016), as well as with the threat of displacement of indigenous communities (Toledo, 2012; Mota, 2003). Although it is a poor area, it features important history and many interesting stories.
One curious story is about its own name, which is related to an important moment in the history of the country. This is the first region in Brazil where gold was discovered and exported to Europe (Carneiro, 2002). Explorers called it the “Peru of Brazil” in reference to the country (Peru) where gold had already been found. Many believe that the name Perus comes from that time. Another story associates the name, Perus, with Dona Maria, a woman who lived in the area and served food to the troops passing by heading for the interior of the country. Dona Maria cooked turkey (Peru in Portuguese). She came to be called, “Maria dos Perus.” She became a reference in the region; troops passing through would say, “I’ll go where Maria dos Perus is.”
Perus is important, as well, in the history of the economic development of Brazil, having had one of the first train stations in the country, as well as the first cement factory, which led to the arrival of thousands of migrants at the beginning of the 20th century (Siqueira, 2001)
Quilombaque, a local NGO founded in 2005, builds upon the rich history and stories of Perus to create a collective to resist and to transform the community into a safer and more productive area. Quilombaque uses storytelling, art, culture and local resources to transform Perus into a liveable place and a creative destination.
Creating and managing the destination
Quilombaque has engaged in extensive work to build an “intangible heritage” of the region, a territorial museum, promoting Perus as a destination. The NGO manages this “Intangible heritage” in a strategic as well as creative way. They occupy abandoned places and areas in the neighbourhood and they redefine the meaning of these places by transforming them into cultural establishments. These places become meeting and learning spaces for locals, as well as a destination for visitors to learn about the local history and culture.
This territorial museum is organized as a series of trails (trilhas in Portuguese), taking visitors to different points of interest within the neighbourhood. The trails highlight the cultural, historical, and recreational aspects of the community. They are about the past, present, and future of Perus, and offer a pathway for exploring the area while also sharing important history and local folklore. The trails are managed by the NGO, which takes a relational leadership approach by creating and facilitating a strong community networks, where each member can offer his or her own expertise and be a leader of a specific space or topic. That makes a great example of community building and destination management. It is becoming a rich region for learning and therefore a great partner with which Breda University as well as UFSCar in Brazil can collaborate.
Shaping Destinations: Community and University collaborating together in place-making
The partnership of Breda University of Applied Sciences and Quilombaque aims at promoting spaces and encounters for new ideas to be discussed and new projects to emerge. The simple fact of having students moving around the community already gives more visibility to the places as the locals turn up to check what is happening and what those places are all about. These spontaneous encounters promote interactions and new opportunities for the communities. It also produces academic benefits as the application of concepts in real life transforms knowledge into practice, feeding-back into new insights for the field.
The two-day project had NGO, community and both Universities experimenting together. The territorial museum via the historical/cultural trails was visited. The students engaged in the activities offered along these routes as a way to learn and provide valuable feedback to the community.
The NGO, as the local host, shared an overview of who they are and how they are becoming an example of (what they call) “resistance tourism” (Belmonte and Silvestre, 2018). This name is used in reference to their history of resistance, which started with workers’ activism in the old cement factory (Ansara, 2001; Gonçalves, 1989) and continues today through the engagement in many actions designed to fight social inequality, race, poverty, etc. Their approach to tourism also serves as a way to remind locals and visitors of their struggles as well as their resilience.
Through the design of experiences and storytelling, Quilombaque inspires visitors to learn and engage with their culture. For example, the official opening of the project was a ritual called “mandala with the drums,” an African ritual that represents the beginning of a relationship. The students were introduced to the Jongo, a cultural “wheel dance” from Africa that helps people integrate and connect. In a circle, Quilombaque members started playing the drums and the students danced, clapping and singing. They use this art-approach in all meetings and projects as a form of honouring their ancestors, as well as keeping their culture alive, and sharing with visitors.
Visiting the trails – sharing values,empowering communities
During the fieldwork there was the opportunity to visit two trails. The trails are created as a path through the neighbourhood passing by places that represent great value for the community. Beside the entertainment that those places provide, their ultimate goal is to reframe the public realm by occupying spaces, strengthening connections among people and places, generating thriving neighbourhoods (Heller and Adams, 2009).
Trail 1 – The reframing trail: Subverting discourses and the emergence of new narratives of a place.
This trail features places that were occupied and reframed into meaningful cultural areas for residents. One of them is the Hip Hop house, a house that has transformed the surrounding neighbourhood. The area used to be an abandoned zone with high criminality and it was well known as a dangerous place. After the occupation and the reframing, the locals were encouraged to visit the place and started to look at it with different eyes. As a result, businesses emerged: for example, locals built some stalls where they sell food, drinks and other small items. The hip hop house became part of the territorial museum, where the community and the visitors have the opportunity to see the transformation and the empowerment of the community in the area. By converting an abandoned and violent place into a cultural center, the discourses of the place were subverted and new narratives could emerge, creating positive actions and new possibilities for the neighbourhood.
Trail 02 – The queixadas trail: developing tourism and values.
This trail is built around ruins of an old cement factory in the region. The name queixadas is in honor of the group of workers at that factory who are known to be one of the first organized workers’ movements (Bezerra, 2011). The workers named themselves queixadas and adopted a non-violent strategy to fight for their rights. The NGO is heavily inspired by the queixadas and their movement. The ruins of the factory are now part of the territorial museum of Perus and the trail was designed not just to give the visitors historical knowledge about the factory but also to share the values of the queixadas through stories, inspiring people to fight for their own rights and the rights of their communities. This trail is a great combination of making places that engage people in their history while inspiring them to continue pursuing their dreams and their rights.
After exploring the trails, a final dialogue between the NGO, the Universities, and the community was organized to close the fieldwork. All the participants had the opportunity to share their experiences, insights and knowledge gained from the visits. Students shared the ideas that had been generated during the visits, giving some advice based on their learning from the Placemaking & ShapingDestinations course. The fieldwork ended with the ritual called “closing the mandala with the drums,” again honouring the ancestors and being grateful for the relationships that had been created.
Lessons from the field
By connecting the local wisdom with the academic knowledge and by experimenting together, new ideas and concepts could be shared and discussed, exploring practices that can support the destination to expand their business while at the same time that can be incorporated into education back to the Universities.
Bellow, some lessons from the field are shared. Those lessons are innovative approaches developed by the community that might serve as inspiration in future interventions elsewhere.
1) Build from what is available. The development of the territorial museum occurs in a strategic way by reframing places there are already there, but not being used. The NGO searches for opportunities that is present in the community, going straight from envisioning to implementation, taking concrete actions to realize their vision. In this way, cultural and educational spaces can be created. Their innovative way of creating a destination and managing a place is a great illustration for the field of placemaking and tourism management. By embracing the opportunity of what is present, they can promote more spaces of and for social inclusion. One action from the approach “build from what is available” that could be seeing during this fieldwork was how the NGO connected the community, students and supervisors with each other. The families connected to the NGO hosted participants on the fieldwork in their own houses, offering bed and breakfast. Furthermore, they also set up a restaurant at the NGO where lunch and dinner were offered during the two days work, having people from the NGO cooking for everyone.
2) Learn by doing; create by experimenting. The NGO uses active experimentation of places and spaces to try new opportunities, looking for what develops and then co-creating from there. By experimenting bit by bit, the NGO monitors which approach flourishes and from there they choose directions to invest. Quilombaque has been doing this very well and the students could also contrib- ute by experimenting with all the activities first hand. The experimentation during this fieldwork generated some ideas that were openly shared. One idea that emerged from students was about the translation of the stories shared (from Portuguese to English). The students experienced the long translations as tiring and disengaging and as a result they recommended the creation of performed stories in which not everything need to be expressed in verbal language. They suggested the sharing of stories through acts of performances, which is very close to what the NGO does. This way, participants from other languages can understand the message and connect better with the place.
3) Collaborative practices to strengthen the community. All Quilombaque’s actions involve collaboration with the community. By inviting people to participate and to share stories they strengthen their cultural identity as a group and their place as a destination. Collaborative practice is also an important approach of placemaking. According to Ketonen-Oksi and Valkokari (2019) collaboration focuses on participatory processes that are co-created in real life increasing the potential to innovate. The authors emphasize two principles in which innovation in a destination can happen: one is having a clear vision and a shared value of the place and the other is to facilitate place and people to make new connections and to share knowledge in tactical ways. The residents involved in this project have been developing connections and sharing values among themselves while remaining open to others. The collaboration with the University, for example, also contributed in this direction. By having the university present there, residents became curious and joined the trails, helping the guides, enhancing stories from their perspective and invigorating their relationships.
How can people live in a place forgotten by the government, the media, far from the center, dealing with serious structural and social problems and still find energy to resist and fight back?
The community of Perus, together with the leadership of Quilombaque, uses their own resources and their own locality to empower their citizens and to enable local business. They believe in the power of fighting together, creating a community identity, becoming stronger, and increasing the livability of their region.
Through developing community-based tourism or what they call, “resistance tourism,” new opportunities for economic development are emerging. By raising financial resources, more capital is generated that can then be used to improve local conditions. Beyond that, it places the region on the map as a valuable community to live, to visit and from which to learn.
These two days having universities, NGO and community • together have been a unique learning opportunity to observe, to experiment and to comprehend the topic beyond the classroom and the books (Noriega, Heppell, Bonet, • and Heppell, 2013). Furthermore, the partnership between universities and local communities, such as the collaboration between Breda University of Applied Sciences, UFSCar and Quilombaque, creates the opportunity to combine • and to apply academic knowledge with local wisdom, which is crucial for tapping into socially complex issues.