Participants in the Tree of Life project

Tree of Life (Árvore da Vida) bears fruit and the community takes the reins

Program created by Fiat in 2004 formalized into an NGO, now managed by the community

February 23, 2018 - Thirteen years ago, FCA began to plant a very special tree in the community of Jardim Teresópolis, in the vicinity of the Fiat Automotive Plant, in Betim (MG), Brazil. This tree had the objective of growing as a symbol of life and generating fruits of transformation. Thus, it was baptized as the Tree of Life (Árvore da Vida). It began as a social project by Fiat, grew solid roots and has just completed its emancipation. In December 2017, following a course of maturity and protagonism, the program became the Instituto Árvore da Vida (IAV) or the Tree of Life Institute, a non-profit association composed and managed by members of the community itself and people who participated in the program throughout its history.

The original proposal for the program (which in 2012 was elected by the United Nations Development Program as one of the 50 best Brazilian practices contributing to the UN Millennium Objectives) still goes on: generate opportunities for human, social and cultural development of the Jardim Teresópolis region, through the offer of socio-educational activities and incentives to generate employment and income. But now the community, through the institute, will make its own decisions and define its own partnerships, be it with the FCA, with governments or with other companies, which broadens the possibilities of development of the initiative. This transition is the achievement of one of the most challenging objectives since the beginning of the program: to give the community the leading role in building its own citizenship.

In these 13 years, the Tree of Life has generated hundreds of fruits that connect directly to its history and give meaning to this new cycle that begins. Now, another chapter of this story is being written and everyone is invited to join in the building of new dreams and conquests.

Fernando is referring to Bianca Aragão Esteves, now a 22-year-old psychologist. She was 13 years old when she started at the Tree in the singing workshops. And today, when the program turns 13, she will take over the presidency. Bianca learned about the initiative when beneficiaries of the program visited the school where she studied. "I always enjoyed singing and I wanted to learn how to do it better, so I decided to attend the show after watching their performance at school," says Bianca.

“To my surprise, my twin sister Beatriz went into this with me. We even performed in big events with big audiences. The show with Andrea Bocelli was a milestone in our history. With an audience of more than 80 thousand people listening to us together with the greatest tenor in the world, was awesome! It was so emotional that there is no way to describe it”, she recalls.

“Throughout these 13 years of history, we’ve been strongly engaged in social development in diverse areas such as education, culture, sports, employment generation and income,” says Fernando Elias, Social Project coordinator at FCA. “Through workshops in football, choir, judo, and singing, with CD and DVD recordings of the Zeropéia and Do Outro Lado works, for example, and offering professional training courses, in addition to partnering with companies for employability, we have achieved improvements in important social indicators”, he explains.

For Fernando, the leadership that the community now exercises with the Institute is a great achievement. “In 2014, when we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the program, we did some planning with the community for the following 10 years. We gathered about 30 people, including institutional managers, kindergarten teachers, cultural entrepreneurs, public school principals, representatives of associations, in short, a very heterogeneous selection of representatives of the community. At that time, it had been decided that the community would take the lead in the initiative. FCA maintains its support, but it is now a community program for the community. The people who are now part of management are those who have already benefited from the program. Bianca, the new director, is the greatest example”, he says.

“In addition to the meetings for the development of musical skills, all the students participated in the ‘CreSer Course’ (Percurso CreSer), a moment to talk about and reflected on our community, our families, our interpersonal relationships and even about who we were or, should I say , who we wanted to be”, she explains. “What I learned and what grew in me during those meetings became part of my life as a daughter, as a student, as a citizen and as a professional”, she says.

Alex Martins de Oliveira is the same age as Bianca and was also one of the children who took part in the Tree of Life. “I started in February 2006, one month before I was old enough to join the program, which was 11 years old, but my insistence was so great that they made an exception,” he laughs. “I started the percussion classes and that year I had the opportunity to participate in the presentation of the Primeiro de Maio Fiat (Fiat’s May First Day) at the Mineirão stadium, Minas Gerais, Brazil. It was unforgettable”, he recalls. Today, Alex is a Fiat employee “for the past two and a half years.” He says he has seen many places while enrolled in the program, attended the sports workshop, income-generation classes and joined FCA for the first time as a young apprentice.

As a young apprentice at Fiat, Alex has taken professional courses in mechanics and as administrative assistant at the National Industrial Learning Service, Senai. “I concluded my contract with Fiat with the feeling of accomplishment. Then, four years after leaving the Tree of Life, I returned to do a course for tow operator. I thought it was just another course, but then I discovered that some of the students who stood out had a chance of getting into Fiat. God blessed me and on August 19, 2015 I was hired and here I am till today”, he celebrates.

At the age 15, Bianca was invited to be a monitor for the Singing Choir Workshop and it was there that she began to build her first professional experiences. She completed High School and then her Psychology degree. With the new training, Bianca took over the activities for Human Training (the CreSer Course) for the 50 or so students who were monitors. She later left the program to do her internships, including one at FCA that lasted two years. “Those two years at Fiat were also a rich learning experience. I conducted trainings, projects with young learners from the transportation sector, I helped with the Retirement Preparation Program, psychological care in the factory and other activities”, she says.

“Now, as a psychologist, I look at each of the experiences I’ve had in the Tree and I see how much those first four years there were important for my personal and professional development.” The Jardim Teresópolis community, which is often marked by marginality and criminality, is actually rich. Rich in residents who believe and fight for better days, young people and adolescents who seek new perspectives for life”, she concludes.

Words: Daniel Schneider

Pictures: Marketing

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