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Teacher galvanizes neighbourhood and restores square in Lapa with free yoga project

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By Cleber Arruda, Agência Mural*

New play equipment, rubbish bins and square maintenance are a few of the residents and yoga students’ achievements 

Lit candles become the center of attention in a meditation exercise. You must concentrate, turn your attention to the flame to calm the mind. Shortly after, with your eyes closed, it is possible to relax for a moment whilst listening to the singing birds in the Doutor Olavo Velasco square, in Vila Ipojuca, a western region of São Paulo. 

Yoga classes take place in the Lapa Cecília Meireles Social and Memory Center, in Vila Ipojuca. Photo: Ira Romão/Agência Mural

It’s a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. Empty, the square is practically the backyard of the Lapa Cecília Meireles Social and Memory Center, where the mental exercise comes to an end, one more yoga class by the 36-year-old teacher, Renata dos Santos Adamo.

The yoga professor Renata dos Santos Adamo in the Doutor Otávio Perez Velasco square, where she used to play and helped to give it new life. Photo: Ira Romão/Agência Mural

The square and the classes have given a new meaning to Renata’s life, who let go of her former career as an economist in offices of big companies for new perspectives and projects. “I had to put in a lot to be successful and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I started doing yoga as a personal journey, and I began to see the effects and then I would suddenly become a teacher. Now I can’t see myself doing anything else”, she says.

Renata lives on the road with the small square, where she played as a child and gave her first classes to family members. Sometime later, she discovered the space in the Cecília Meireles Center and offered her first voluntary service to elderly people. With the neighboring students she developed the idea of giving new life to the area.

“The square was abandoned, people used to use drugs and the play equipment was all broken. I decided to call on the participants of the classes to think about the space and we slowly started to transform it, with the ideas of the people involved in the project”, she recalls. 

Doutor Otávio Perez Velasco square received new play equipment and attention with the action of the residents. Photo: Ira Romão/Agência Mural

The yoga classes have been running for two years and are currently open for all ages, in two sessions, on Tuesdays. The plans about the maintenance of the square are discussed after the exercises with the neighbors, and even those that don’t participate strive to improve their area. “We managed to get a worker to fix the slide, as well as money for more play equipment and rubbish bins. Today, people have birthday parties on the weekends and even June festivals; this also gets rid of crime”, tells Renata. 

The 45-year-old housewife Elisa Yokota is one of the students involved in the maintenance of the square’s compost. “Before, I used to throw away around 3 bags of rubbish every week. Now, sometimes I don’t even throw away any, because I put most of the organic rubbish in the compost. This makes everyone feel better, instead of throwing everything in landfill, we create fertile land that will help the plants”, she emphasizes. 

The housewife Elisa Yokota, who as well as participating in the yoga classes, helped in the maintenance of the square’s compost. Photo: Ira Romão/Agência Mural

Even those who don’t live in the neighborhood, but participate in the classes, such as the 57-year-old yoga instructor Sirlene Aparecida Spitaletti, praise the initiative. “It’s incredible. I’ve been living nearby for the past 30 years and I didn’t know this square before the project. There is peace here. People listen to each other and we manage to communicate with each other”, highlights Sirlene, who helps Renata. 

The opportunity to have experiences of this kind could be closer than you think. Give it a go by taking part in Challenge Day. The campaign takes place every year on the last Wednesday of May. More than 3,000 cities take part, both in Brazil and in 13 countries of the American continent such as Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. Learn more! 

*Series of reports produced by Agência Mural de Jornal das Periferias, whose mission is to minimize the existing gap of information and contribute to the deconstruction of stereotypes about the peripheries of Greater São Paulo.