ARQMO director is granted a U.S. Embassy Brazil award for her work with quilombola communities

“What I most want is to keep showing the world that Oriximiná, a remote corner of the Amazon, has a strong organization that enables quilombola people to fight for their dreams.” This was how Claudinete Colé de Souza, coordinator of the Association of Remaining Quilombo Communities of the Municipality of Oriximiná (ARQMO), summed up her feelings after receiving her award.

Claudinete was one of eight winners of the 2020 Brazilian Women Who Make a Difference Award, granted in late November by the US Embassy and Consulates in Brazil. The award pays tribute to women who are having a positive impact on their communities in Brazil, and who are an inspiration to others. 

The actions developed by the winners include economic and environmental initiatives, civic engagement, inclusion and rights of migrants and refugees, and policies related to religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, women with disabilities, and other historically marginalized groups. “We would like to express our gratitude and admiration to these eight incredible Brazilian women, who work tirelessly to support and develop their communities,” said US Ambassador Todd Chapman in an interview published on the Embassy website.

Claudinete has been a member of ARQMO since 2015 and played a leading role in the development of the Sharing Worlds program in Oriximiná. The program was jointly implemented by ECAM and Google Earth Outreach, with local support from ARQMO and the National Coordination Office of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (CONAQ).

Using an innovative methodology, the Sharing Worlds program carried out surveys and data analyses on quilombola communities in six states of the Legal Amazon region. Unlike most studies on these populations, Sharing Worlds trained community members, especially young people, to do the research themselves.

The objectives included supporting communities in the search for records of their history, strengthening ties with other groups, and facilitating access to public policies. Their efforts resulted in the publication (read here): "Quilombos and quilombolas in the Amazon: the challenges of recognition" (in Portuguese, there is a play on words and the title reads “(re)conhecimento”, joining recognition and knowledge).

“The association had virtually no documented information on our people. Through Sharing Worlds, we were able to collect data, interview residents, and tabulate all the information to understand the priorities of our communities. Building on that, we were able to identify tools and partnerships to promote improvements. The result was very positive,” said Claudinete. 

Oriximiná lies about 820 km from Belém, capital of the state of Pará. It includes 8 territories and 37 quilombola communities, with a population of around 8,000 people. Under Claudinete's coordination, ARQMO has implemented social projects in the areas of education, sanitation, the environment, and family agriculture. 

So far, their efforts have resulted in improved communication, and the development of management tools that help communities to work on their needs. “Before Sharing Worlds, communication with some communities was very difficult because of the long distances. They are very far from urban centers, and in many cases, the only access is by boat. Now, thanks to the internet, communication has become much easier.” 

For Claudinete, several challenges still need to be addressed, such as the provision of quality education for children and young quilombolas, and the fight against threats of invasion. A mother of three, she points out that women have been long seeking recognition of their role in society. “Women are very good at managing their time and fighting for their space.”