Since 2011, the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has funded over 200 projects that use astronomy as a tool to address challenges in communities and achieve SDGs. OAD’s Dana Ficut-Vicas and Maria Alejandra Diaz write on the changes these projects are creating in their communities.
The story of OruMbya is the story of Orum, meaning the sky and the Mbya, the name of an indigenous population in Brazil. OruMbya is a project that blends astronomy and culture for the benefit of young people searching for purpose and social and economic development whilst struggling with poverty and marginalization.
The project is coordinated by Dr. Gracy Mary Moreira, Dr. Arianna Cortesi, Dr. Alan Alves Brito and B.Sc. Nilson Moreira, coming from very different cultures and united under the love for astronomy and for a better world. Dr. Gracy Mary Moreira has a background in human resources and administration and a Honoris Causa title for her work in different cultural projects. Dr. Arianna Cortesi is an astronomer, originating from Italy who studied her PhD in the UK and is currently a postdoc in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dr. Alan Alves Brito is a Professor at the University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. B.Sc. Nilson Moreira is an independent system analyst, who works as a consultant at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dr. Gracy Mary Moreira is inspired by the sky.
Her love for astronomy and her religion and culture of African origin are the roots of her deep connection with Nature and the Universe. Dr. Arianna Cortesi is motivated by the idea of changing the world in a peaceful way through meaningful actions of great impact. B.Sc Nilson Moreira desires to spread knowledge and love for technology and culture. Dr. Alan Alves Brito is not only a professor in astrophysics, but also a writer, for whom dissemination in Science is one of the most passionate expressions of the work of scientists and disseminators, fundamental in the fight against inequalities and racism in Brazil.
Challenge & context:
Brazil is a country of great contrasts, where poverty is causing a lot of marginalization and impeding socio-economic development. Young people in poor neighborhoods are often too overwhelmed by the socio-economic challenges they are facing to be able to pursue a better life through education and culture.The OruMbya project aims to help these young people find purpose and strength in their culture and, through astronomy, learn that there are better ways to develop as persons.
This project promotes the deepening of the human and Nature relation through culture and astronomy via the development of a variety of activities, from multicultural webinars to the creation of an allotment, a small garden, with many symbolic elements. The allotment, for example, is circular representing the wheel that keeps the world turning, and is divided in twelve sections which represent the hours of the day and the months of the year. The allotment is further divided in four zones representing the seasons. Inside this structure there are plants of African and Indigenous origin, rooted just like the African and Indigenous roots in Brazilian culture. The allotment is a symbolic way of representing in one place Astronomy and African indigenous culture.
The exchange of knowledge was very important in this project because through knowledge, the curiosity to know more is stimulated and the cultural differences can be mitigated. “When we use culture to speak about any theme, the subject is common, but the way of speaking is different,” says Dr. Gracy Mary Moreira. This realization is very important for understanding and respecting each other when coming from different cultures. Exchanging knowledge and understanding each other will make cultural conflicts less frequent and allow for development.
The beneficiaries of this project are 1400 people, mostly students and teachers, divided in three groups: 280 persons who have subscribed to online calls, 85 people who have participated in the online course “Cosmology connected to race”, lectured by Dr. Alan Alves Brito, and several people who are viewers of the video streaming of different project activities on YouTube. The participants are both international (Mozambique, Capo Verde) and Brazilians from within and outside Rio de Janeiro.
All in all, there were around 350 direct beneficiaries and most of them still keep in contact with the project coordinator asking about new events and further developments on the allotment. The feedback from the audience of the project is always positive and most participants admit to being impressed by the combination of astronomy and culture that OruMBya project has achieved. Looking at the collection of development projects that the coordinators have run over the years which have been either on culture, astronomy or a combination of the two, OruMBya is the proof that the combination of astronomy and culture is so interesting to people, that it increases the stakeholders participation to the project, thus creating more impact.
UN sustainable development goals (SDGs):
This project is reaching out to a very important category of beneficiaries, each of them having a potential impact on the next generations.
SDG 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Target 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations.
Target 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
SDG 10. Reduce Inequalities within and among countries
Target 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
Offering these young people the opportunity for a better life through astronomy and culture by motivating them for social and economical development through education (SDG 4, Target 4.5, 4.7), contributes to reducing social inequalities (SDG 10, target 10.2).
SDG 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
Target 11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
SDG 13.Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Target 13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.
The allotment activity helps participants understand the connection to Nature from both astronomical and cultural point of view, increasing awareness for the need to protect our planet (SDG 13, target 13.3) and for the wealth of cultural and natural heritage that should be protected (SDG11, target 11.4).
SDG 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
Target 17.6 By 2030, Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism.
All this is achieved through a collaboration, a mutual understanding between groups of people with diverse cultural backgrounds, united under a sense of belonging to the project and the purpose of achieving harmony with Nature (SDG 17, target 17.6).
The great challenge the OruMbya project is tackling needs time to be achieved. However the results on the small scale are really positive and only by continuing such activities can the change for the better really become visible in Brazilian society. This project has inspired a new project “OruMBya women in a social technological world”, which will use astronomy and the idea of allotments in a new context, focusing on the dissemination of STEM among young girls. With the support of the British Council, this new project will organize a series of five courses focused on women in different aspects of Science and Culture, with a particular focus on black and indigenous women.
The lesson we learn from the OruMBya project is that there is power in cultural understanding and tolerance. The OruMBya project used astronomy to achieve this cultural understanding and showed that cultural diversity is a richness of the humanity and should not be a reason for conflict.
By Dana Ficut-Vicas