Different Countries, Same Challenges

Smith sets the stage for health-care leaders in the United States and Brazil to inspire one another

by Pamela Petro

Keeping a nonprofit health organization afloat is difficult in any culture, but the support and ideas generated from a two-year U.S.-Brazil exchange program, which was hosted in part by Smith College, made it clear to participants that some of those challenges can be overcome with the help of strong networks and creative thinking.A group of US and Brazil discussed health-care issues.

The exchange is the brainchild of Julie Hooks Davis ’84, executive director of the Institute for Training and Development in Amherst, Massachusetts. She recruited Smith to partner with the Brazil Professional Fellowship Program, and then she reached out to alumnae health-care leaders who could offer job placement opportunities for the Brazilian women during a six-week stay last summer. Participants spent their time shadowing local nonprofit directors, brainstorming ideas and learning about how U.S. nonprofits operate. For instance, Betsy Neisner ’75, executive director of the Cancer Connection in Northampton, said her nonprofit group proved a good learning ground.

“Cancer Connection offered the ideal parallel to the programs the fellows represented and wanted to build in Brazil,” Neisner said. “In exchange, we learned how the Brazilian women defined the support they needed on their cancer journeys and the tremendously creative way their nonprofits have designed effective programs.”

Joana Jeker Dos Anjos, a Brazilian breast-cancer survivor who founded the NGO Recomecar (Starting Again), which assists breast-cancer patients with reconstructive surgery, spent her two-week assignment in Boston working with Upstage Lung Cancer, an organization that uses music and theater to support lung-cancer research. “I learned critical skills about fundraising [and advocacy] that I can apply at my NGO,” said Dos Anjos. “I opened my mind in so many ways.”

The Brazilian contingent looked to their American counterparts for creative ideas to long-standing problems. “Advocacy groups have two weaknesses in Brazil,” said Jurema Santos, a lawyer turned cancer-survivor advocate. “How do we get money and how do we keep volunteers?” At Friends of Children and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, she learned about advertising and promotional techniques that she can use in her work back home.

In addition to work assignments, the Brazilians visited Smith classrooms, including one of Associate Professor Marguerite Harrison’s classes in Portuguese and Brazilian studies. Thais Soares, whose organization IMAMA oversees the program in Brazil, was impressed and inspired by Smith students, whose college friendships will carry into their professional lives as they join an alumnae network of working women. “That’s one of our goals,” she explained, adding that Brazil’s university system doesn’t allow for the creation of such networks.

In the other part of the exchange, Amy Britt ’06, who works at a health-services and advocacy agency in Northampton, traveled to Brazil last year and was impressed by the depth of community involvement in health issues. “Entire families would come together to participate and actively improve the living conditions of the community as a whole,” Britt said. She noted, in particular, a volunteer organization of breast-cancer survivors who help other women with breast cancer, leading craft activities, such as making breast prostheses by hand.

A second group of Americans is traveling to Brazil this year to work with women who had been in the United States—women like Rossana Camacho, founder of a network of women’s police stations for victims of domestic violence, and Vera Golik, a journalist and writer who has created an exhibition of portraits of breast-cancer survivors. Hooks and her organization believe good ideas don’t flow in only one direction.