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Vanessa Sarmiento

See more by Vanessa Sarmiento

Photo of an elderly man walking near tramway tracks in Lisbon, Portugal
Society

Aging Cities Of The Future — How Urban Planning Can Factor In For Dementia

As the population ages, the likelihood of diseases such as dementia increases. That means we need to rethink how we design and build cities for the future. A look up close from Lisbon.

LISBON — For Maria Manuela Maia, there are routes in Lisbon that are hard to forget, like the one that connects her home to the parish. But there are others where memory fails her. “Manuela is more or less autonomous,” says Orlando, her husband. “But the problem is when you change streets. Then she no longer knows where our house is.”

That's when she gets lost. And when she meets other elderly, homeless or lonely people, she talks to them. "Need something? You can come to my house and I'll help,” she says, trying to help them. Her husband, Orlando, calms her down: “That gentleman doesn't need anything, don't worry, let's go. Let's walk,” he says, guiding her through the streets.

Maria Manuela and Orlando met more than 50 years ago when Orlando was serving with the troops in Angola. “I corresponded with 22 girls,” he says. Of these 22, I would only choose one: Maria Manuela.

After so many years, the battlefield is now a different one: Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, which leads to a progressive deterioration of cognitive functions. One of them is memory.

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Photo of a man carrying food packages as residents of a favela in Santa Cruz, Brazil, receive aid.
Society

To Tackle Hunger, Brazil Needs To Tackle Racism First

The fight against hunger should be a top priority in Brazil — provided it's addressed as a whole. And to do that, the country needs to face its structural racism issues, an issue newly-reelected President Lula da Silva vowed to tackle.

It’s 2023, and over half of Brazil’s population is impacted by a hunger crisis. That is the shocking news from the Brazilian Research Network on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security (PENSSAN).

After making strides in the first part of the 21st century, by 2020, hunger in Brazil had returned to 2004 levels. But now the problem is even worse. According to PENSSAN, 125 million Brazilians, or 58% of the country, face food insecurity, defined in various stages of severity by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, with technical “hunger” being the most severe. The number of Brazilians facing hunger has jumped from 9% to 15%, a return to 1994 levels, which corresponds to 33 million Brazilians.

This stunning step backwards has occurred in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic is not solely to blame. An economic crisis, lack of agrarian reform, inflationary effects on the cost of food, and a systematic dismantling of public policy to assist poor families have combined to make a bad situation worse. In Brazil, already one of the most unequal countries in the world, that has meant that in the past two years an additional 14 million people have found themselves dealing with hunger on a daily basis.

In the 1940s, the doctor and anti-hunger activist Josué de Castro called Brazil “a country of the geography of hunger.” In Brazilian history — from the colonial period to the development of capitalism and the formation of the Republic — high prices, deprivation, a lack of access to basic rights, and hunger have been present in the daily lives of working people. Concentration of land-ownership and wealth in the hands of a few have marked Brazil’s history.

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Photo of a man riding a bicycle in a lane reserved for cyclists.
Future

Out With The Car, In With The Urban "Super-Island"

Barcelona architect Ton Salvadó explains how a new way or organizing urban areas might lead to greener, more peaceful cities.

There's no pristine white sand and palm trees framing turquoise water on Ton Salvadó's "super-islands." When the Barcelona architect uses the term, what he's referring to instead are chunks of city, in nine-block groupings, whose interior streets are closed to cars, forming pedestrian "islands" where foot traffic is king.

The idea for super-islands first emerged when Salvadó became director of Barcelona's Urban Model, at a time when the city was embroiled by civic protests over the high price of housing. After some initial success, Salvadó, a Barcelona-native, might have the chance to revolutionize his city's pedestrian geography with 500 additional super-islands in the future.

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Photo of a case of eggs a chicken farm in Brazil
Economy

Cracking Food Prices, On The Front Line Of Brazil's Egg Rush

With the price of meat on the rise, Brazilians have turned to eggs. The country is now producing 55 billion eggs a year, presenting challenges for farmers and raising questions of animal welfare. And in Brazil's "Egg Capital", the climate crisis is complicating matters further.

CURITIBA — "After the 15th, it's almost impossible to eat meat," says salesperson Cristina Souza Brito, as she leaves a supermarket in Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná in southern Brazil.

“Chicken or beef is only available when the salary comes at the beginning of the month," she adds. "Then we get by with omelettes, fried or boiled eggs."

Since the beginning of 2021, this has been the routine in the house where she lives with her daughter, a niece and two siblings. Brazilians might be replacing meat with eggs because of their budgets: meat has increased in price above inflation and, in April 2022, it cost 42.6% more than in early 2020, according to the Institute of Applied Economic Research.

The group Food for Justice pointed out that at the end of 2020, eggs had been the food that Brazilians had been consuming more of (+18.8%), and meat recorded the biggest drop (-44%), which reinforces the idea of substitution between the two foods.

Health and economic crisis aside, Brazilians have never eaten as many eggs as they do now. Egg consumption in the country has more than doubled in the last 15 years, rising from the annual mark of 120 eggs per capita in 2007 to 257 in 2021, according to figures from the Brazilian Animal Protein Association. The current level of eggs consumed by each Brazilian over the course of a year is higher than the world average, which is 227.

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Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality
Society

Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality

The death of a young child left alone at home while his single mother was out shocked a community. Now, single parents have banded together to offer support to each other. And they're succeeding in the face of overwhelming challenges.

SINTRA — The large and curious eyes of Gurnaaz Kaur reveal her desire to understand the world.

This four-year-old Indian girl doesn’t speak Portuguese yet. A few months have passed since she left her country on the family adventure across the European continent. She uses a few gestures to try to express herself and greets people with a “bom dia” (good morning), one of the few expressions he has learned.

Nahary Conniott, 8, is also looking for ways to interact. From Angola and on the autism spectrum disorder, she has already experienced difficult situations and was asked to leave the private school she attended. In the other schools in which the mother enrolled her, the refusal was always justified by the lack of vacancies.

Children with such different paths found the support they deserved in the Colo100Horas project. Started in 2021, it is a self-organized network of women who came together to help immigrants with their immense daily challenges in Sintra, in western Portugal.

The long list of problems meant they banded together to look for a solution: the strenuous routine of caring for children (still imposed in most homes as the responsibility of women), low salaries, the overcrowding of daycare centers, excessive work and the difficulty with shift schedules, which is common in jobs in the catering and cleaning industries.

A tragic case that occurred recently in the neighborhood that drew attention to the need for greater support for families: a six-year-old boy died after falling from the ninth floor of the building where he lived. He was at home with only his two little brothers, while his mother had left to go to the market, a few meters away.

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a man standing in front of a building
Society

Pascoal: Born In Portugal, Citizen Of Nowhere

Born 32 years ago in Portugal to Angolan refugee parents, Pascoal has never been granted Portuguese nationality. Too many people like him live under the threat of being deported to a faraway country they’ve never known.

LISBON – When a team from the European Commission visited Cova da Moura, a suburb of Lisbon, in September, they challenged young musicians in the area to rap about what Europe meant to them. As a reward for their work, the Commission offered a trip to Brussels. But three of the musicians, Pascoal, Hélio, and Heidir, couldn’t even think about it: they didn’t have passports or any form of national ID.

Adriano Malalane, an attorney, says that in the case of Pascoal, “a residence permit is the most he can aim for.”

Pascoal’s birth certificate – the only ID document he has – proves that he was born in the heart of Lisbon. And yet, Portugal does not recognize him as a citizen, and so he lacks any form of national identification

The lack of sufficient ID documents has blocked him from everything from school trips, to sports, to work — or at least, made it very, very difficult.

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Picture of people sorting out through trash in Brazil
Green

Meet The Brazilian Waste Pickers Working In Dumps That “Don’t Exist”

Despite being forbidden since 2010, rubbish dumps are still a common feature on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It's time to know the lives of those who scrape out a living there.

Brazil's Gramacho dump is the largest wasteland in Latin America. And yet, though millions of Brazilians know its name, for local and national government agencies, neither this nor any other dumps exist.

Many others are also large enough to have names — Itacoa, Morro do Céu, Niterói, Maré, and Praça do Lixão — and the waste pickers who work there and the poverty they hold is as real as the trash.

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photo of black women demonstrating in sao paulo
Society

Race, The Great Unspoken Issue In Brazil’s Elections

Brazil is the country outside Africa with the largest black population. However, blacks have been shut out of Brazilian politics for generations. This month’s Congressional elections showed some signs of getting better, but it could also get much worse with another Bolsonaro victory.

Damazio Santana dos Santos, known as Mazo, was running for Congress in Brazil when his house was sprayed with the words Fique na senzala: “stay in the slave quarters.”

For the 43 years-old candidate from the northeast region of Bahia, the September 20 attack was not the first time he’d been targeted, having received multiple racist calls complaining about his candidacy. “I've been through so much in my life that I'm kind of num to it. I can handle it,” he told O Globo daily. “Now imagine someone who can't handle that. For that, it’s important to continue running for office, since many in our society do not want to see black people in a space where they think we don’t belong.”

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For LGBTQ+ Who Fled Bolsonaro’s Brazil, The Fear Of “Homophobe President” Winning Again
LGBTQ Plus

For LGBTQ+ Who Fled Bolsonaro’s Brazil, The Fear Of “Homophobe President” Winning Again

Portugal became a refuge for the Brazilian LGBTQ+ community who faced real danger following Jair Bolsonaro's victory four years ago. Some of those who left say that if Lula beats the right-wing incumbent in Sunday's presidential election, they would move back home.

LISBON — Nanny Aguiar sought in Lisbon the security that Jair Bolsonaro took away. Whenever she plays the violin or performs at Palácio do Grilo, in Xabregas, a neighborhood in the east of the city centre, Aguiar is reminded of everything she felt that October night five years ago. That night she lit candles in her house and made the decision to leave behind Recife the coastal Brazilian city where she was born 30 years earlier, and move to Lisbon.

That night of Oct. 22, 2018, Jair Bolsonaro emerged victorious in the presidential elections, with 64% of the votes in the second round. The life of Aguiar and Brazil’s entire LGBTQ+ community would never be the same.

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Despite living in a different city, Aguiar never changed her polling station, in the extreme south of Recife, near her mother’s house away. “It was an excuse to spend another Sunday with her”, She says, laughing. “That day, I voted, had lunch with my mother and only came home that night.”

It was on the return journey, by car, that reality hit her. “This guy did not appear from nowhere in 2018, we had known for a long time who Bolsonaro was: a racist and homophobe. The problem is, he was a joke. No one ten years ago thought that someone like that could legitimately be in power.”

For nearly four years, the man residing in the presidential palace in Brasilia makes statements like “having a gay child is a lack of beating” or “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual child. I'd rather my child die in an accident.”

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