Meeting partners in Januária

I was in Januária between July 7th and 9th. The visit was very important to tell people about the seminars that will start in September and hear their opinions about them.

Together with Fabio Oliva, we visited several schools and talked to their administrators about the idea of capacitating young people to monitor the public administration with news reports for a blog. They seemed very excited and also gave us interesting feedbacks that might be useful for eventual other projects in the city, such as giving the media journalism course to children and teachers!

Fabio and I also talked to one of the representatives of the Public Prosecution Service in Januária that agreed to participate in one of the meetings and tell the participants more about his work.

In the last day we had a meeting with the Asajan members that also gave us some feedbacks on activities that we can do with the participants during the course. One of them was to visit Januária's hospital emergency sector and report how is the attention to the patients there. As this, there were a lot of great ideas that we hope to incorporate.

They also helped us to define the target public for the project and places where we should publicize it.

After the visit, Amanda and I had a meeting to discuss our next steps until September. We have now prepared some marketing materials and are starting to distribute them among our partners and schools from Januária. Everything is going well, but we have a lot of work until then! We will keep you informed on what is going on!

How to fight corruption in Januária? Talking to people!

Amanda and I finished taping the documentary “Velha Januária” in October 2008, weeks before the municipal elections. Since then, our contact with the city was through Fabio Oliva and other people that we met and that shared with us news from there. In the beginning of July, I went back to Januária after almost two years to make some final arrangements for the project “Friends of Januária”.

When I arrived this time, the municipal employes were in the middle of a strike for wage adjustment. As always, the city was incredibly alive and people were anxious to talk about politics and their impressions on the municipal government… specially when they saw Fabio Oliva! To spend some days with him made me understand a little better the work of Asajan.

We were together to tell people about the project “Friends of Januaria” but, meanwhile, a new case for investigation appeared. In the morning, it was just a rumor told by a teacher about some houses that were being built for selling somewhere in the town. Who was building them and with which money were some of the questions in the air, but the suspicion was that the municipality was somehow involved in this.

A clue for the investigation came in the afternoon during a meeting with the representative of the Public Prosecution Service in Januária. He asked if people were using materials and trucks from the municipality for this work, what would be illegal… In the evening, more information: the municipality had done paving only in the streets around the place where the houses will be located. The mystery was getting interesting and Fabio was anxious to find out more.

In the next day, before leaving Januária we went to the place where the houses are being built and got some pictures of the constructions and the paved streets. We could also find out who is in charge of them, to whom it belongs, how many houses will be made and their prices. Fabio has now a lot of elements to find out the if the municipality is really involved in this. Let's wait to see what he will discover!

Obviously this made me think a lot about the project and things we should stimulate in the participants. A quick look around their neighborhood can bring interesting stories to tell and new cases to investigate.


On the next post I will tell more about the meetings we had in Januária during this visit and the advances we are making in the project.

“Corruption kills people and death is forever”

Some people asked us to publish an interview with the local project coordinator, Fábio Oliva, who is an investigative journalist, active blogger ( and founder of the Friends of Januária Association (Asajan). Asajan has been fighting corruption and monitoring public expenditures in Januária for seven years. Since then, the association has investigated corrupt politicians and, as a result, many mayors were driven from office due to wrongdoings in public administration. Oliva thinks Friends of Januária Citizen Media project will show to the youth of Januária how important it is to monitor the town's administration. Besides, says Fabio, the project can give them the opportunity to become citizen reporters, which will give voice to people from Januária. We made a long interview with Fábio, which we will publish in 3 or 4 posts. We also made a short video with him! Stay tuned! See below the first part of the interview:

How did the interest in monitoring public administration start?

I was born in Januária and have always heard my parents and also my grandparents speaking about the problems faced by the town, which hadn't been growing, hadn't been developing. At that time, the re were many people who made up reasons for the underdevelopment of Januária. They used to say that the town would not develop because the road to Montes Claros [the biggest town in the region] was not paved and, besides, that there was no paved road because there was no development. Well, the pavement was completed. And Januária continued unchanged. Further, these people started to make up other excuses: Januária would not grow because there was no bridge crossing the São Francisco river [the most important river at the Northeast part of Brazil] and, besides, there were no bridge because there was no development. Well, the bridge was completed, and Januária did not grow.

I grew up hearing these kind of excuses. I moved to Montes Claros – and so did thousands of young people from Januária – because there were no opportunities in the town. Then, something happened to my father. He had a heart attack and died inside an ambulance, which ran out of fuel in the middle of the road to Montes Claros [Januária hospital could not look after him and, then, he had to be removed to the biggest town nearby]. The only cause for this reality – backwardness, underdevelopment, lack of medicine and doctors, an inadequate hospital – is corruption. I myself suffered from a problem that was caused by corruption.

How exactly does corruption affect peoples life in Januária?

Incredible though it may seem, corrupt politicians prefer to withdraw money from the most important areas: health and education. I use to say that the thermometer of corruption in most of Brazilian towns is the quality of the food provided to children at school. In towns where corruption is a big problem, the school lunch is garbage. When the school lunch is good, you can be certain that corruption is less. This has two different impacts: long term and the short term. The short term impact is that people die because of corruption, as my father died. They arrive at the hospital and there are no gloves to undertake medical procedures, there are no syringes, there is no medicine, there is no doctor (because they do not want to work if they do not get paid).

The long term impact happens when money is embezzled from education and you cannot offer children good nutricion when they are at school and you can not offer them goo d course materials, like books. The lack of good education generates a problem in the future: the lack of civic consciousness and lack of a concept of civic rights in youth and adults. And that is exactly what the corrupt politician wants. The fewer people to fight corruption the better for him. These kinds of impacts (the short term and the long term) are not accounted by politicians in their illegal bank accounts. Neither can authorities count them. State attorneys only count the amount of money that has been embezzled, they do not count how many people die because of the embezzlement of public funds. That is a very important calculation.

Was it after your father's death that you decided to create Asajan?

Actually, a second problem happened with my nephew. Once, my brother, who is parent of the child, called me very upset. He said: you help so many people, you do a lot of good things in Montes Claros – I had always been connected with social projects and I work as a journalist since I was 18 years old – but you do nothing for Januária. Then, I told him: the problem in Januária is that people don't have courage to fight against corruption. However, if you succeed in bringing together between 8 and 10 people who want to do it, I will come back to Januária and we will create a NGO to fight corruption.

In fact, my brother got his hands dirty and brought together a group of people. So I searched the Internet for information about fighting against corruption. The first site I came across was Amarribo's [Friends of Ribeirão Bonito Association, the first NGO in Brazil to dismiss a corrupt mayor from the town's administration]. Amarribo gave us all the support we needed to start Asajan. They explained to us how to create a statute and other bureaucratic procedures. Two weeks later, we came together in Januária to create the first NGO to fight corruption on Northern Minas Gerais [one of the poorest regions in Brazil].

(to be continued…)

Crowds can also help Friends of Januária

Since Rising Voices gave us the opportunity to make this citizen media project a reality, we have had great surprises! Thanks to RV's support, we have been connecting with many people and other organizations that like the project and want to help it somehow! That gave us even more enthusiasm to do the best we can!

Some people has given us fantastic ideas, others have offered to publicize the project's activities and, finally, there are those who want to help fund the project with small amounts of money. Well, we have always imagined what a better project we could do if we had more funding… especially because the final RV grant ended up being a little bit smaller than the amount we asked for.

Meanwhile, we have also connected with a nice brazilian crowdfunding site, called Catarse ( We sent our project to its crew and told them the amount of extra money we would need. They really liked the project and decided to support it by adding it to Catarse!

At last, our biggest news is that the public can also help Friends of Januária at Catarse! Anyone with a credit card can donate. The smallest contribution available is only R$ 10 (around US$ 6)! Our final deadline is August 14th! If you know someone that may want to support us, you can help us by sending the following link to those interested:
We already have an English version of it and we will see if we can publish it as well.

We are asking for R$ 3.500 total. Catarse has some administrative fees and after accounting for the rewards we will offer to those who support us, the sum of money that would become available to the project is R$ 2.800 (something like US$ 1,750).

This funds will be used, for example, to buy multimedia equipment (our estimated budget for this was US$ 600, which could only buy a very simple video camera in Brazil), pay for one or two extra visits to Januária, print better course materials, and help trainers pay for their accommodation in the town.

But don't panic! If we don't succeed in achieving this extra funding, the project will still happen. With the Rising Voices grant – in addition to some volunteer aid from the trainers – we can make it! The main reason we are looking for more money is because we believe the project could become stronger with extra support!

Anyway, we are being positive! We think we will get the extra support we asked for from brazilian crowdfunding site! On the second day, we already got 19% of the amount we asked for! Great, isn't it??! : )

Barriers to access to information in Brazil

Today we will to talk a little more about the situation of access to information in the municipalities of Brazil.

Brazil has a lot of norms with instructions on access to information (you can see some of them in Portuguese here). On the municipal level, there is a federal law (see the text in Portuguese here) that says that information about public budget and expenditures should be made available in real time through the Internet.

Although this law was published two years ago, until now 68,5% municipalities with population between 50.000 and 100.000 have transparency websites. And this doesn't mean that they have proper information on public budget!

If a person tries to access information by making a formal request to the responsible party, there are still a lot of barriers to the access. Some of the common excuses given to restrict information are:

“I can't give you this information because it is secret”
“We don't have enough employees to do this”

They also argue that the person that demands information should pay for the xerox copy of it. Another strategy is to mix a lot of documents and give them so the requester has to find the information there. So, although the law assures citizens their right to information, it still doesn't details basic procedures how information should be given.

And what all this has to do with Januária?

Access to information is a powerful tool for the ones that want to change the situation of corruption. The case of Asajan (Associação Amigos de Januária) is an example of how information can empower the citizens: with help from people that gives them data on public expenditures they have helped the Judiciary in finding important cases of corruption.


The citizen media project Friends of Januária has had some important achievements in the last weeks. We are just waiting for some confirmations to share them with you, so be prepared for some good news in the next posts!

If you are interested in knowing more about access to information, here is a nice article by Suzanne J. Piotrowski: The Operationalization of Municipal Transparency: Primary Administrative Functions and Intervening Factors.

A great week

This was a very special week for the project Friends of Januária and we're back to tell you about the last achievements we had.

First, we are very glad to announce that the project has a new partner: the human rights NGO Article 19 South America. Internationally known for it's work in defense of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, thay are supporting the project and will participate in one of it's workshops.

The contact with Article 19 started in April, together with other contacts we made with NGOs commited with the right to access to information and the fight against corruption. We talked to several organizations that showed us their interest in the project and there will to support us in some way. In the beggining of May we had a very important meeting with Article 19 to talk more about the project and last week they gave us their response. This was a great step to the sustentability of the project. We are very glad and thankful to our friends of Article 19 and we are sure that together we will make a great job!

During this week we also had an important meeting with our correspondent in Januária, the investigative journalist Fábio Oliva, (now officially) one of the coordinators of the project. Together with him we started having a lot of ideas of practical activities and exercises to do during the workshops. Oliva is a very experienced journalist and activist against corruption. His participation in this project will be essential to it success! Soon we will get together again to discuss more about the topics of the course.

Fábio is also in touch with local partners in Januária, including a school that might cooperate with a classroom with computers where the workshops could occur. We are now in touch with them so we can define a final schedule for the meetings.

As you can see, we have a lot of reasons to celebrate this week! Thank you all who were wishing us luck!!
Soon we will be back with more news!

“Associations of Friends”, a successful model to fight corruption

Today we will introduce you to our greatest partner, the Friends of Januária Association (Asajan) and we talk about the rise of the “Associations of Friends” model, focused on the fight against corruption, in many Brazilian small towns.

This story begins in 1999, when a group of citizens from Ribeirão Bonito, a small town in the São Paulo countryside, with a population of only 12 thousand people, created the NGO Associated Friends of Ribeirão Bonito (Amarribo). “After seeing the deterioration of their town, caused by the lack of public resources, a group of citizens started to search for alternatives to make Ribeirão Bonito recover from its problems”, explains the organization at its site (

In that same year, Amarribo started to suspect that the town's mayor was involved in the embezzlement of public funds. The main symptom was that the mayor's family was getting richer after he was elected. Then, Amarribo started an investigation, collected proof and made public accusations against him. Along with this process, Amarribo raised awareness about the issue of local governance among the town's residents – 10% of them (1,200 people) went to streets when the mayor was going to be released from office due to wrongdoings. Finally, the mayor was put in prison in 2002.

This story of success about the residents association which removed a corrupt politician from the town's administration was something pretty new in Brazil! Soon, Amarribo became an example to be followed by other towns and, little by little, the “Associations of Friends” model, focused on monitoring public administration, spread around the country. Nowadays, Amarribo's network has organizations in 173 towns in Brazil! One of them is Januária.

Januária is a small town in Northern Minas Gerais. Its residents keep on remembering the time when the town didn't have so many problems. Actually, Januária had a stronger economy and was one of the biggest and one of the most tradicional producers of “cachaça”, a brazilian drink. Then, things started to deteriorate in Januária.

Fabio Oliva, who is a local journalist (, will never forget the day when his father had an cerebral hemorrhage. As the local hospital wasn't able to take care of him, he had to be sent to another hospital, 170 km far from Januária. In the middle of the road, the ambulance ran out of fuel. If it wasn't enough, it also ran out of oxygen. “Probably, my father would die anyway. But I wish he had died with more dignity inside a hospital, not on a road, without oxygen, under a 40˚C heat”, says Oliva. Angry about the poor conditions of Januária, Oliva met Amarribo's work and started to imagine how Januária could become a better place if its residents started to monitor the local administration. Soon after, Oliva gathered some friends in Januária and created Asajan. The year was 2004.

One of these friends was a municipal health advisor, Suely Pereira, a former hairdresser. Suely used to make copies of every public document that passed by her and brought four boxes full of documents from the public administration to the group. With these documents in their hands, Asajan's members had to learn how to investigate. And they learned well. “Since then, we have been fighting corruption and releasing corrupt mayors from office. Asajan was involved in all cases in which mayors were released from office due to wrongdoings”, says Suely.

The work done by Asajan also inspired many other citizen groups to create new “Associations of Friends” in the northern Minas Gerais. A success partnership between citizens who care for their town's future!

Building the contents for the workshops

One of the most interesting parts of the citizen media project “Friends of Januaria” is preparing its content of the workshops. Among other things, this week we started planing the contents we want to discuss during the workshops. Initially, we have defined six main themes that will guide the course: access to information and freedom of expression as human rights; public administration and public budget; corruption; journalism techniques and tools; how to search information and, finally, how to store and process information.

The topics we listed may seem a little weird at first: why talk about the right of access to information and freedom of expression to people that are starting a course on how to access information and share it? Aren't the concepts of these rights already clear to the population?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Brazil's Federal Constitution recognizes the right to access to information and also signed the international standards that guarantees it. However, there are few and sparse pieces of legislation that effectively stipulate that all public institutions must give information to the citizens and the ways and conditions in which it must be given. This results in a culture of secrecy that little by little is being changed. As we said before, nowadays there are a lot of initiatives making public data available to the population – these are the ones we want to publicize in this project and teach people how to use them. But we also believe it is very important to contextualize the situation of access to information in freedom of expression in Brazil, so people can realize when their rights are being violated and fight against that, since we still have a long way to go.

That's why we are planning to structure the workshops in a way that we can have a part with discussions on some topics of theory and a part with more practical techniques (how to make interviews, how to write in a blog, how to find information, etc.). The idea is also to plan activities for the participants to apply their knowledge and get in touch with the reality of the city by visiting places, interviewing people and researching in public databases.

During the next weeks, we hope to share in a deeper way more about each of these topics, since we are starting our researches and soon will start writing the material.

Just to let you know: this week we got in touch with some possible partners in Januaria to introduce the project and they all seemed very open and interested. Here in São Paulo we are still contacting some organizations in order to find the final financial support we need to buy the tickets to Januaria and we have some important meetings this week, so… wish us luck!!

We are Friends of Januária

We are here to introduce to you the project “Friends of Januária”, in central Brazil, which will provide training to citizen reporters to monitor their public administration and budget and fight corruption.

First of all, it is worth telling you a little bit about the access to information in Brazil and about what has been happening in Januária for the last few years. Today, Brazil sees an open access to information movement in which civil society, collectives, NGO's and individuals are engaged in. There is a long way to go, since Brazil still doesn’t have an Access to Information Law. Some data is already available online, but one of the biggest challenges faced is that the data is spread across many sites, which are difficult to access. Although many journalists have special skills to access that data, the Brazilian media is highly concentrated in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília, the most important towns in Brazil, and they can't monitor what happens in small towns far from big urban centers.

Let’s take a look in what happens in Januária, a small town in central Brazil with a population of 65,000. Januária has had a recent history of difficulties with its local government – in the span of eight years, the town has gone through seven different mayors, most of them removed from office because of mismanagement of public funds. Well, the town should be the focus of many reports, shouldn't it? But that doesn't happen. The local government receives little or no press coverage at all! If it wasn't for Fabio Oliva's work, who is a blogger and activist, few would be investigated by media. Oliva is one of the founders of the Association Friends of Januária (Asajan), which has been raising awareness about the issue of local governance among the town's residents, through investivative journalism work and public awareness campaigns.

The main objective of “Friends of Januária” is that citizens can become reporters of their own towns, getting access to public data. Access to information is a human right and should be available to all! Once they share that public data, they will raise community awareness about how important it is to fight corruption. So, the project's aim is to provide a course about access to public information which encourages participants to share the collected data through online reports.

We plan to start the course during second semester of 2011. Until now, our biggest challenge is to overcome the barriers posed by high transport costs – we need to move the course educators from São Paulo to Januária. The problem is that it is very expensive to go to one place to another in Brazil!! During the last weeks we have been searching for additional support to the Rising Voices grant because then it would be easier to pay for these costs and provide a longer course. We are confident that we will succeed!

Soon, we will start one of the most important parts of the work: to prepare the course material and its classes. We believe the material and the classes can be used in many other small towns, so we will do our best!! Our idea is to gather knowledge and experiences from different organizations, collectives and individuals that have worked with access to information, public administration monitoring, and corruption investigation. During this step, we will share everything with you here at the blog!