From the fields of Brazil to the streets of Paris
Yesterday's climate demonstrations in Paris were deeply personal for Rafaela Borges.
The people who see me walking through the streets of Paris this week will see me as a healthy and well dressed 25-year-old woman. Those people will not imagine the journey I have travelled in my life so far and how I have been directly hit by climate change.
My name is Rafaela Borges and I come from generations of farmers in a community on the north eastern edge of Brazil, in a place called Matolotagem. I live with my baby son, my brothers and my mother. My brothers and I grew up often with little to eat and my mother, like many women in Brazil, suffered physical violence in her marriage to my father. The problems we face are problems of poverty which have been dramatically worsened by unpredictable changes in weather.
We live on the Pajeú dry lands where there’s a small amount of growth for half the year which then burns up under the hot sun of the dry season. The land has always been unrelenting but my family knew how to need it and squeeze it to yield food for our table. But since I learnt how to farm as a little girl, the same practices my family used for generations have stopped being effective and droughts are frequent.
The rains which used to wash down on our land from January to June are now no longer regular and predictable. Up until recently, we had not been able to store water for three years in a row, meaning each morning I’d collect what I could for one day’s farming, cooking, washing, drinking and then didn’t know whether I’d be able to do the same the following day. However, while we have such little water, nearby agribusiness wastes a lot of it. And so my carefully tended crops would rise up, only to wilt and die.
Together with a group called Centro Sabiá, a partner of the international organization ActionAid, I have recently learnt new ways to work the increasingly dry soil and methods for storing water. One technique has been to build a cistern alongside my home to catch fresh rain water. Another is to dig water channels alongside the crops, called boardwalk cisterns. Now I am acting as a leader in a group of young people from my community to share what I know, encourage others to do the same and together fight against the farming corporations worsening the situation. Together we are also demanding the federal government improves its policies towards young people.
But I’m keen that what my community and I know about the real and present struggle against climate change does not stay within our rural part of Brazil. My family, friends and neighbours are gradually building up crops and starting to see a future where they may be more secure. But if dramatic changes in weather continue, then we will face the same ruin of people hit by news-breaking super typhoons, except that ours will be largely unheard of and likely concluded as a result of poverty alone.
So I came here to Paris, and to the Conference of Youth, to voice my experience and make world leaders understand that the burden of climate change is real and already extreme. Over the next two weeks leaders need to move mountains to make our lives better and help generations cope in the future. My wish is for my baby son to live in a fairer world and for our stories to change leaders’ damaging decisions long after I’m no longer walking through the Paris streets and have returned home.
Rafaela Borges is a Brazilian activist in Paris for the climate talks.
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