Club Corner - Projeto Steps: Take a step, save a life.

Isabella Krell, Senior Communications Officer and Andrea Wunderlich '13

Projeto Steps was born out of two parallel experiences. A few years ago, Felipe Auriemo '21 spent a month volunteering and living with locals in rural Guatemala, where he was greatly affected when he witnessed the conditions in which the people around him lived. His classmate Victor Aguiar de Souza '21 had a similar impactful experience when he volunteered at the ACTC Casa Coração, an association that assists youth with heart problems. Both students developed a strong desire to further help underserved communities. Inspired by these experiences, Felipe and Victor banded together to create something with the potential to effect long-lasting change in São Paulo.

Then, at the start of 2020, just as the boys were laying the foundation for their budding project, news outlets around the world began headlining articles about a new virus spreading from Wuhan, China. People began dying. Supermarkets ran out of toilet paper, and masks were de rigueur. As the health crisis persisted, Felipe and Victor saw the perfect opportunity to take action. Projeto Steps began with the initial objective of helping individuals living in poverty cope with the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The deadly coronavirus shows no preference for race, socioeconomic class, nationality, or neighborhood. Nevertheless, the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on vulnerable populations, including those who work within the informal sector and lack consistent access to basic hygiene products and quality healthcare. Steps’ first order of business was to raise funds for cestas básicas — food and supply baskets — for families in need. 

The students involved in Projeto Steps set the initial goal of providing 450 families with baskets. However, the overwhelming enthusiasm and support allowed for the distribution of a far greater number of these kits, and, consequently, more than 900 families benefited from this outreach. Steps also purchased and donated hundreds of protective masks to Hospital Santa Marcelina de Itaquera and Hospital Municipal de Brás Cubas, area health facilities with personal protection equipment needs.

As 2020 came to a close, club members organized two subsequent initiatives: a Brazilian Children’s Day toy drive that inspired the donation of 650 toys and a Christmas-themed clothing drive that resulted in the collection of more than 1200 items. All contributions were delivered to Associação Pro-Paraíso, ACTC - Casa do CoraçãoComunidade Fazendinha, and Amigos da Molecada

When co-founders Felipe and Victor graduated from Graded in May 2021, six other students took the lead, and Steps became an official Graded service learning club. While Felipe continues to oversee Steps as an alumnus, Letícia A. and João G. are responsible for developing new projects, Mauricio F. and Julia M. manage social media and communications, and João A. and Henrique T. oversee the organization's finances. This year's leadership team members have raised more than R$77,000 to date and organized several successful cestas básicas, clothing, and toy drives.

Just as Projeto Steps has impacted the people it serves, the club has also been a transformative agent in the lives of its members. According to Henrique T., “One of the most important lessons [I've] learned from this project is how much [people] can accomplish when [they] work together." João G. describes his first excursion into Comunidade Fazendinha as such: “...[When] I went to distribute blankets during a cold front in São Paulo, I saw the direct impact that my colleagues and I had on the residents, and it is something that words cannot explain.” Mauricio F. complements this description by expressing how “Steps gave [me] the opportunity to visit different communities and meet new people, and only through this [have I] been able to understand the difference that something as simple as a blanket can have in someone’s life."

Often, student involvement in these campaigns leads to new ideas. For instance, when New Project Developer Letícia A. visited Comunidade Fazendinha during a toy drive, she encountered conditions she had not anticipated. Sewage sloshed freely on the ground. This was especially disconcerting because, as Letícia noticed, many community residents regularly walked around barefoot. "I was taken aback," Letícia says. During that visit, she realized that in addition to food, the residents needed footwear, which Steps could help provide. It was a critical insight that triggered a series of subsequent ideas for future initiatives. “Imagine if,” Letícia exclaims, “through our fundraising efforts, we were able to install septic tanks and eliminate the sewage problem.” 

Letícia's attitude exemplifies one of the defining characteristics of Projeto Steps members: they are dreamers. After all, the project itself was inspired by the desire to make the world a better place. To expand the scope of its work, Steps needs the passionate support of additional Graded students. The current state of global affairs calls for such hopeful humanitarians. As Jane Goodall once said, “The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”