Research fostering institutions and federal universities help build paths to recover cities hit by human and environmental tragedies. UFMG and UFSM have experiences that have changed their relationships with society
If we asked you a question about the role of the university in society or in communities around it, what would you say? The range of answers is possibly varied, but one way to find the relevance of educational and research institutions might be to look at what they currently do and see how they impact people, organizations and academic communities. This becomes more noticeable at critical moments such as humanitarian or environmental tragedies or at times when lives are lost. The tragedies that occurred at the Kiss Nightclub, in Santa Maria (RS), in 2013, with the death of 242 people, and the one in Brumadinho (MG), caused by the the rupture of a large Vale company‘s dam, which killed another 270, were some of these episodes in which the relationship between the universities and the community proved to be robust and created bonds that helped to ease the pain of the losses and also to project a future seeking for reparations and some perspectives for cities affected by these events.
Since the collapse of Dam I at the Córrego do Feijão mine, in 2019, the Brumadinho UFMG Project has helped the Justice of Minas Gerais to evaluate the impacts of the disaster. The project coordinator at Fundep, Thiago Mariano, explains the lines of action. “It is made up of subprojects, grouped into four thematic areas: Environment, Infrastructure, Socioeconomic and Population Health. It currently unfolds into 67 subprojects that have different aspects and dimensions of the multiple impacts, losses and damages, material and immaterial, economic, social, cultural and environmental, inflicted on populations affected by the collapse of the dam in Brumadinho”, says.
The main idea, according to Mariano, is to identify and assess the emergency needs of the affected populations, resulting from socioeconomic, environmental, health, education, urban structures, material and immaterial cultural heritage and losses.
Fabiano Teodoro Lara, Master and Doctor in Law and member of the technical-scientific committee of the Brumadinho UFMG Project, defines the relationship between communities and the university as “transversal, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary”, broadly capable of solving complex problems. But, before finding and presenting a solution, he explains that it is insertion and integration into the communities that represents the essence of the social development sought by the project.
“In states or places that have managed to get out of challenging scenarios and put themselves in more comfortable positions, in which people invariably win, we can observe that knowledge centers, universities, play a very important role. It’s not that developed places have good schools. These are places that have good schools that develop them. So, it’s important that the university make scientific knowledge available to the community. Knowledge is not closed in on itself, it needs to be able to solve real problems and learn with the reality”, explains professor Fabiano Teodoro.
From an institutional point of view, for this to be possible, the professor emphasizes that the support of Fundep and the Dean of Outreach Programmes is essential for various perspectives from within the university to produce useful knowledge for the population. The national and international reputation gained by UFMG over the years also helps to create a favorable environment for the relationship between academia and society. “The university trains people so that they can solve real problems, in the private market or in public policy. This transdisciplinary mechanism, of observing reality, is the essence and great mission of UFMG. The institution has a history and other projects that created this environment”, he explains.
Among the initiatives that built UFMG’s reputation with the community is Project Manuelzão. Created in 1997, it took medical students to communities in the interior of Minas Gerais to improve not only the health of vulnerable residents, but also the environmental conditions that influenced their way of life. Today, it still monitors the conditions of exploration in the State’s rivers and cities.
As in the Brumadinho UFMG Project, other universities across Brazil show that the relationship between knowledge, research and solidarity can go hand in hand. It was in the midst of a feeling of duty to the community of the city of Santa Maria, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, that the Integrated Care Center for Victims of Accidents (Ciava) project emerged, linked to the University Hospital of Santa Maria. All of it belongs to the Federal University of Santa Maria (USFM). In 2013, a fire in a night club called Kiss killed 242 people and left 680 injured. From this episode on, a group of health professionals working at Ciava was formed, including doctors from different specialties, physiotherapists, speech therapists, social workers and psychologists, among others.
Integrated Care Center for Victims of Accidents (Ciava)
Psychiatrist and professor at UFSM working at the center since its creation, Vítor Calegaro, says that shortly after the tragedy, groups of victims, parents of students and people who wanted to see changes in the legislation that dealt with the security and well-being at closed environments and demanded punishments were formed. From them, members of Ciava began to outline ways to approach people and follow up on those who needed help. The fact that the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM) is a center of knowledge and assistance for the region, made the relationship with its surroundings to be strengthened.
“There was a collective mourning process, yes. It was wakes, seventh-day mass, mourning in Brazil, the city was in mourning and so was the University”, says the professor who clarifies that he remembers the incessant noise of helicopters in those days, people making donations of medicines and the solidarity in the sending of food by merchants who were ready to help in whatever way they could the members of the security forces who worked in the municipality.
Members of Ciava also started to proactively search for people who were going through grief but did not know how to find shelter. Only years later there was a change in “people’s social behavior” from residents to students who arrived from other parts of the country and the state to study in Santa Maria. Although the institutional arrangement and support from municipal, state and federal government bodies were relevant for the maintenance of Ciava, according to Vitor Calegari, the role of people from the academic community was preponderant. “The organization came from the top down, but not from outside the hospital. It was the heads, professors and employees who had some role already in service, organization and management of the hospital. It was a project they created; they lost a few nights. It became very consistent and a reference in psychosocial care in the city”, he says.
After more than eight years of operations, Ciava has not only grown but expanded its reach. It has seen more than 21,000 people who have had problems from pulmonary complications to post-tragedy psychiatric symptoms due to the Kiss Nightclub fire. In 2017, the group also worked in the care of people affected by the fire in a day care center in the city of Janaúba, located in the northern region of Minas Gerais, which left 14 deaths and 34 injuries.
Outside the country, also in 2017, professionals from the center went to Portugal to help format a service similar to the one that exists here in Brazil. The trip to Europe was to support victims of fires that killed 64 people and left more than 100 injured in Portugal.