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Two Prestigious Awards for Avenues São Paulo’s Director of Community Engagement

Long before Sylvia Guimaraes became the founding director of community engagement at Avenues São Paulo, she dedicated herself to making change for the good in Brazil. 

In 2001, inspired by a visit to the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for 60% of the country and where 20% of the population is functionally illiterate, Sylvia and two friends established a pilot project to bring books and reading coaches to more than fifty rural communities. When they returned to their small rented office in São Paulo, they found several letters asking them to go back to establish libraries and provide training in even more villages. Thus, Vaga Lume was born, named after the fireflies found in the Amazon. 

Today, Vaga Lume has grown into a nationally-recognised NGO with more than twenty members of staff. Headquartered in São Paulo, it works with dozens of partners and countless volunteers in pursuit of its mission: to empower children in the rural Amazon by promoting reading and the management of community libraries as spaces of knowledge sharing. Sylvia continues to serve as president of Vaga Lume, alongside her role as director of community engagement at Avenues São Paulo.

In 2022, Vaga Lume was recognised with two prestigious awards: Prêmio Jabuti in the Promotion of Reading category and the Melhores ONGS 2022 award for the Best Education NGO in Brazil. These prizes sit alongside the organization’s prior accolades, which include a European Union Human Rights Award and the Cultura Viva Prize awarded by São Paulo’s Municipal Secretariat of Culture.

With more than two decades of experience in service and social entrepreneurship, Sylvia is well equipped to build bridges between Avenues and the world beyond our walls. "The most important impact we can have is in our own community,” Sylvia says. “And when we help students develop the values that drive service and community engagement, we are preparing the next generation of leaders who will face increasingly challenging problems." 

You may learn more about Sylvia and Vaga Lume in this inspiring article (Portuguese only).