Indigenous Brigade: Expanding Horizons

Women's brigade receive award / Photos: USAID
The Xerente Indigenous Women's Fire Brigade won the 2024 Brazilian Women Who Make a Difference Award

April, 2024 – "Being a firefighter means opening horizons." That's how Ana Shelley Xerente summarized her experience after participating in the 2024 Brazilian Women Who Make a Difference Award, granted by the United States Embassy in Brazil. Ana Shelley was in Brasília alongside Simone Xerente and Sandra Xerente to represent the Xerente Indigenous Women's Fire Brigade. The brigade, considered the first of its kind, originated in Brazil and received their first award this year.

The award recognizes women who stand out, demonstrating boldness, a pioneering spirit, and a creativity that drives them to transform the country. 

The Xerente were the first Indigenous Peoples to form an all-women fire brigade in 2021. They formed during the “Volunteer Fire Brigade Training Program on Preventing and Combating Forest Fires.” delivered by PrevFogo/IBAMA in partnership with the United States Forest Service, the National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (FUNAI), and the Xerente Indigenous Firefighters Association (ABIX). USAID supported the activity under the Brazilian Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program.

In addition to contributing to environmental education, the brigadistas work on forest restoration projects, reintroduce native species to degraded forest areas, and participate in firefighting efforts.

Read what Ana Shelley, brigade coordinator and ABIX president, shared at the event:

What does being a brigadista mean to you?
Ana Shelley – “It means expanding horizons. When we go to some communities for environmental education work and talk about the importance of water, taking care of nature, the children look at us and get inspired. For me, it's wonderful. Nature calls for help, and it's our responsibility to take care of it.”

What is firefighting work like?
Ana Shelley – “At first, it was difficult., and after the first firefighting event, we realized it would not be easier. We entered the forest to put out the fire at four o’clock in the afternoon and came out at midnight. Just when I thought it was ending, the fire came back, and fighting at night was harder. Even so, when the work was finishing that day, a colleague asked me if I was sure that was the life I wanted, and I said yes.”

What does the award represent for you?
Ana Shelley - “We were amazed. Seeing that my dream has also become that of other women and inspires others is a recognition. Additionally, the United States Forest Service and USAID's support for our restoration projects motivates us a lot. One day I heard from an elder: "Do your best." What we're doing is putting that into practice.”