2 kids used social media to raise thousands of dollars for the Brazilian rainforest

We’ve seen the power that young people can have in trying to get action on climate change. But not every campaign involves mobilizing large numbers of people. Sometimes, it just takes two motivated kids — with perhaps a little support from their parents — to make a meaningful contribution to the planet.

Marcello Marini Ferraz, 10, developed an interest in the environment a few years back when he read a book called SOS Planet Earth at his school in Toronto. Marcello’s mom, Paola Frumento Ferraz, said the next day, her son went to a friend’s classroom and told people what he had learned about the threats to forests and green spaces around the world. He pledged to do something about it and asked kids to contribute to the cause. 

The boy was only eight at the time, but his speech convinced enough of his peers to donate some money — $8 in total. When he came home to tell his mom about it, she said they could work on a project together. 

“Of course, I wasn’t this serious about it,” said Ferraz. “But he was.” 

Ferraz knew they were vacationing with friends in Brazil later in the year, so she promised Marcello they would visit a forest when they got there. The seed had been planted.

In January 2019, the Ferraz family travelled to Brazil’s southeastern countryside, where they gathered with Christiana Marquez Gomes’s family. There, Marcello met Gomes’s 13-year-old daughter Olivia (see photo above), who had been reading books about the rich biodiversity of rainforests. The two kids bonded over their shared interests, the importance of caring for the environment and their wish to act. 

Seeing their children making plans, Ferraz and Gomes decided to support them by contacting SOS Mata Atlântica, a Brazilian NGO that focuses on the preservation of the Atlantic Forest biome in different parts of that country. 

The Amazon is the largest and best-known rainforest in South America, but the Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlântica in Portuguese) is also home to incredible biodiversity — and like the Amazon, it’s under threat. The Atlantic Forest is home to 70 per cent of Brazil’s population, but a December 2020 study found that up to 85 per cent of the trees in the original Atlantic Forest have been lost to deforestation.

Kelly De Marchi, an environmental education co-ordinator at SOS Mata Atlântica, took Marcello and Olivia on an educational tour of one of their spaces in the Atlantic Forest, where she explained how the trees are planted. 

“They were asking so many questions, like, ‘What do I need to plant a seed? How much do I need to plant a whole forest?'” said De Marchi. When teaching the kids what one hectare of land would look like, De Marchi said it was the size of a soccer field. 

The kids wanted to make a video, and their focus was on writing a script asking people to donate to their cause — Olivia in Portuguese and Marcello in English. Their goal? To plant enough trees to fill an entire soccer field they would later call “Field of Dreams.” A friend of Marcello’s mom volunteered to make the visuals, which were then edited together into a YouTube video by the adults involved.

A year later, the video had helped the kids raise the equivalent of about $4,500 US (or roughly 23,000 Brazilian reals). “We only helped with editing the video and sharing it on our social media,” said Ferraz, to which Gomes added, “The idea was all theirs.” 

The kids donated the money to SOS Mata Atlântica. The 1,400 trees that Marcello and Olivia helped plant are from 89 species native to the Atlantic Forest’s biome, and fill an area equivalent to one hectare. In May, volunteers at SOS Mata Atlântica finished planting all the seedlings.

As a result of COVID-19, Marcello couldn’t physically reunite with Olivia to witness the tree-planting in Brazil. However, Marcello watched it on his mother’s phone. Olivia had asked her little brother to plant Marcello’s tree on his behalf. 

De Marchi said this is evidence that kids have the potential to do great things when they have support and guidance from those around them. 

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