Monday, April 09, 2007

Camilo Vianna

I like to refer to SOPREN (Sociedade de Preservação dos Recursos Naturais e Culturais da Amazônia) as an example of Brazilians in action. SOPREN was founded in 1968 under the leadership of Camilo Vianna, professor of medicine and vice-president of the Federal University of Pará in Belém. Camilo Vianna is the Johnny Appleseed of the Amazon, but his mission is much more than that of planting trees. It is to combat hunger. “There is no need in talking about preservation of the Amazon if the population is hungry. Hunger does not listen to reasoning. It creates violence, to both mankind and the environment,” proclaims Vianna in his great number of lectures and speeches made throughout Brazil and abroad. “We can't stop to cry over what we've done wrong in the past,” he continues. “We have to jump in right now to battle hunger. Hunger is the key issue to the question of saving the environment.” While SOPREN has been active on many fronts, Vianna takes special pleasure in planting trees. Through a network of nurseries and organizational affiliates, SOPREN has distributed an untold number of seedlings, and in the process, has tucked in an environmental-education program that is changing the mentality of school children and adults alike. Camilo Vianna practices what he preaches. He does not miss an opportunity to spread his gospel, the propagation of trees. When people see Camilo Vianna, they think of trees. They may remember him also as an outstanding professor of medicine, but they think trees.

We had the pleasure of receiving Camilo Vianna out at Bosque Santa Lúcia in the 1980s, as I best remember it. He did not have a lot of time because I had kidnapped him from a medical conference at the Tropical Hotel (now Amazon Park Hotel), but we did walk the main trail of the Bosque. I will never forget his comment to my wife later in the day. O Bosque tem muitas preciosidades”, he said. I took it to mean that the Bosque has a lot of precious trees. On another occasion, Áurea and I invited him out to dinner and he talked about… hunger and trees. As I opened my billfold to pay the waiter, a gentleman from a neighboring table (José Fernando dos Santos, a retired auditor from the Receita Federal, now deceased) quickly jumped up, grabbed the bill from my hand and made a short, but eloquent speech honoring the ecological attributes of Dr. Vianna. In the middle of this unexpected event, our honored guest got up from the table and disappeared. He was back a few minutes later with two big plastic bags of pitomas (Toulicia spp.), a wild fruit from this region. During the course of the speech in his honor he had seen the vendor passing by the restaurant and he left to get the fruit. Later he told me that he had an excellent germination rate from the seeds, which he planted at one of SOPREN’s nurseries outside of Belém.

Graphic: Arthur Daniel Alexander

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