In Sao Bartolomeu, the vast rainforest reserve in northern Salvador, the waterfalls are bubbling more than before. As a matter of fact, the whole park is in high spirits since humans have become more respectful of the environment, say practitioners of Candomblé, a time-honored religion praising the “spirit” in nature’s beings and objects.
Park residents and Candomblistas settled here are a few of the 200,000 people expected to benefit from Dias Melhores (Better Days), a World Bank project to preserve Sao Bartolomeu while providing sustainable infrastructure, homes and social services for people living in the reserve and surrounding areas -- most of them highly exposed to constant flooding and life-threatening landslides. About 1,030 families are currently being resettled.
Oshun, the Goddess of Beauty and Waterfalls presiding over the 155-hectare expanse, has not yet seen the full benefits of Dias Melhores, but her priests say they are already noticing meaningful change.
"I guess she's less than happy these days," says Priestess Dona Vilma (née Maria Ventura da Silva). "Look at these plastic flowers on the shore; they are offered as a gift to the orisha, but they pollute the water too."
Dona Vilma – who lived, worked as a janitor, and managed a Candomblé temple for 35 years at Sao Bartolomeu – witnessed the environmental degradation of the park. Now the 58-year-old priestess acknowledges the improvements as the area begins to recover.
Once completed, by year’s end, Better Days will have benefitted four low-income neighborhoods but the impact is already being felt. So far results include:
- 1,000-plus households have been relocated from high risk areas
- 500 households are being provided with land titles
- 777 households have benefited from new or improved housing units with others underway