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Lázaro Ramos visits the Indigenous Village of Pataxó de Coroa Vermelha in the State of Bahia

© UNICEF Brazil/2009/João Ripper
The UNICEF ambassador in Brazil, Lázaro Ramos, with children and adolescents at the Indigenous School Culture Center in the indigenous village of Pataxó de Coroa Vermelha, em Santa Cruz Cabrália, Bahia.

The latest UNICEF ambassador in Brazil, Lázaro Ramos, was greeted by more than 250 children and adolescents at the Indigenous School Culture Center in the indigenous village of Pataxó de Coroa Vermelha, em Santa Cruz Cabrália, on the southern coast of the State of Bahia. The 30-year-old Bahian actor took some time off from shooting the new season of the Brazilian TV series, O Pai Ó, in Salvador, to visit the Protected Territory for Children and Adolescents Project, which is being run in partnership with the United Nations Fund for Children and the Young Tribes Institute (ITJ), with the support of Veracel Celulose. The project promotes the protection of indigenous adolescents from sexual violence, child labor, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and drugs and aims to help strengthen the municipal network for attending the needs of children and adolescents.

The Ambassador took part in some of the rituals of the Pataxó people, heard testimonials from students, educators and local leaders. Village girls and boys paid tribute to the actor and he granted them an interview. The following are extracts from this interview.

What was your childhood like? My father did shift work and my mother was a housemaid. They didn’t have much free time to spend with me. It was my great-aunt Dindinha who really brought me up. My family is originally from Ilha do Pati, in the municipality of São Francisco do Conde, in Bahia. Dindinha left the community to live in Salvador. I was brought up very strictly alongside my cousins. We weren’t allowed to go out on the streets, but we had a marvelous back-yard to play in.

Were you involved in any projects like the Protected Territory for Children and Adolescents? I lived in Garcia, a lower middle class neighborhood in Salvador. I was involved in the Playtime Project, which provided sports and leisure facilities for the community. I got involved in the school theater. The theater helps you to build up strong values. I didn’t think about being a better adolescent. It’s great to get to know about projects like yours that promote art education and the protection of children and adolescents. It’s great to be working together to fight sexually transmitted diseases and the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Did your parents talk to you about sex? Not in my wildest dreams! (laughs) My parents didn´t know how to talk about sex, but my cousin André... (laughs) He talked about sex, but not about prevention. I understood the difficulty my parents had with this, because they were from another generation and the subject was taboo. But I think it’s important for parents and children to talk. Nowadays we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk and ask for information about sex and prevention.

What was it like appearing on stage for the first time? I was really nervous. I was ten and I was performing in “The Good Witch”. I forgot my lines and had to ad lib. When I’d finished, everyone said: Who is that kid? (laughs) I guess that’s when I found out that I could act. (laughs)

What has acting taught you? I’ve been acting for 20 years. The Olodum Theater Group taught me to sing and dance and act on the stage, but the most important thing they taught me was to like myself. It gave me something to say for myself. I found out who I was. It’s vitally important to accept who you are. You’re not always accepted for what you are wherever you go. The group taught me to like myself and that was my greatest lesson.

Did you experience a lot of hardship at the start of your career? My first career was as a pathology lab technician, but I always acted as well. It’s a difficult profession, because there are lots of talented people but there aren’t openings for many of them. The Group taught me to believe in myself and look after myself. Acting also gave me the opportunity to learn to listen and to look people in the eye. Being part of a group of like-minded people helped a lot.

Have you ever experienced any kind of discrimination in the course of your career? Openly, no. I think that the career I built up in the theater and the cinema protected me from that somehow. Starting out in a group like the Olodum Group, where I was in contact with a diverse range of people, gave me something special right from the start. The first characters that I played in movies weren´t necessarily intended to be played by a black actor. Then, strangely, when I became better known, that changed a bit. Some parts that I am invited to play nowadays are labeled “black character”. I believe that the place of each and every one of us is where we dream of going and not what the label says.

What led you to accept the role of UNICEF Ambassador? When you come from a community that experiences hardship, you want to change that. I was getting more and more successful in what I do and people began to listen to what I was saying. I decided to do my bit to ensure that people have the right to a better life. In this country, we could look after children and adolescents better. I received the invitation to be Ambassador because UNICEF realized that I was saying things that had to do with their mission. It was a meeting of minds. I’m pleased about it and I understand that it’s a great responsibility.

How do you see indigenous people? I must confess that the only things I know about your people is from what I learnt at school or read about in books and interviews. This is the first time I’ve actually visited an indigenous village. I’m glad that my first field visit, as UNICEF Ambassador in Brazil, is in Bahia. I love my home state and I believe in communities that think about what their values are, as you do in Pataxó de Coroa Vermelha. This is giving me the opportunity to learn more about indigenous children and adolescents. You told me that you wanted to be seen by outsiders as brothers and sisters in the struggle against discrimination. I’ll take that message that I have learnt from you away with me.


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