BY ASHLEY SZATALA
João Guimarães, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 2020, has been purchasing food for residents of his hometown in Brazil and donating to local social service organizations during the pandemic
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, João Guimarães, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 2020, flew home from Miami to be with his family in Brazil. The effects of the pandemic soon were apparent in his hometown of Teresina, Piauí, which is one of the poorest states in the country.
“During the pandemic, a lot of Brazilian artists were doing live concerts and giving a lot of money away to organizations, but not a lot of money was coming to my state, where a lot of people needed it,” Guimarães explains. “A lot of people work to put food on the table at night, and they lost that opportunity to do that.”
Guimarães and a couple friends decided they needed to do something to help their neighbors. They collected donations from family and friends to buy food kits for struggling families and to donate to local nonprofit organizations. Their work increased when Guimarães asked his Fraternity brothers to assist in fundraising efforts. In a matter of days, Florida International University sorority members and Sigma Chi brothers, including those from other chapters across the United States, raised more than $2,000.
“The [currency conversion] ratio was, at that time, 4 to 1, so $1 was 4 reais. I was able to buy a lot of food with that money,” Guimarães says.
Due to the pandemic’s worsening impact on the country, Guimarães is still fundraising to provide food to struggling families and donate to organizations that aid those in need. For this work, Guimarães has been named the summer quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award recipient.
AIDING MANY THROUGH FUNDRAISING
For more than a year, Guimarães has been helping his community in several ways. When buying food, Guimarães says it was important to purchase from locally owned grocery stores rather than large chain stores. Due to working with nonprofit organizations to distribute food, Guimarães did not deliver a lot of food kits directly to people. But for those he did, he says their gratitude was immense.
“We helped a small community where people lived in homes made out of mud and sticks. Several children [would] come out with parents and grandparents. It was a tough sight to see. We asked them how’s work, and they’d say, ‘I can’t find work. This will help us a lot,’” Guimarães recalls. “You could see they were very grateful, had a smile on their face and a hope in their eyes that people were looking out for them. Even if they were struggling in the world, people are out there to try and help them.”
Additional people helped through Guimarães’ fundraising efforts were the families of children going through chemotherapy and those who rely on collecting aluminum cans from live concerts and turning them in for 5 cents per can. Guimarães also worked with a local brewery to arrange for a portion of its sales to be donated to nonprofits.
“[Guimarães] has always offered his time, home, cooking skills and anything at all that he can offer to help the brothers or even the community. He doesn't make excuses. He doesn't look for a reason to not do something,” says Christopher Sierra, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 2019, who has known Guimarães since 2017. “The part of him that wants to do good for this world is the same part of him that is motivated to not only have a legacy, but also to have an impact on the local community or even a whole city or country.”
Going forward, Guimarães plans to make an Instagram account under the name Ajudar a Todos, meaning in Portuguese “to help all,” to publicize the volunteer work he’s doing, how local residents benefit and to solicit donations. Previously, he had just posted updates on his personal account. Guimarães also plans to work with his Sigma Chi chapter to get the word out about the immediate need in his area.
“I honestly can’t thank the chapter enough for what it has done for me. It helped me with becoming a person who can talk to people. When I was in Miami, I helped out a lot philanthropic-wise. I’m one of the brothers who tells people to reach out to me if you need anything,” Guimarães says. “That sense of brotherhood for me is amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like that except for my family. Once I joined the Fraternity, I found what I missed in Brazil. They helped me stay focused in school and try to better my life, as well.”
Sierra agrees with Guimarães’ assessment.
“[Guimarães] has always been able to adapt to any conversation with anyone. When he left for Brazil to be with his family, it was not difficult to notice that there was something missing from the chapter and the brotherhood,” Sierra says. “I've known Joao since he was a pledge, and he has not changed at all. The only part of him that has changed is his focus on what he puts his time and resources toward. He has been a part of the chapter for a very long time and has made an impact in every way possible, even when he is thousands of miles away.”
As of this writing, the United States has enacted travel restrictions for foreign residents of Brazil and other countries, thus preventing Guimarães from returning to Miami.
“In Brazil, the pandemic is getting worse and worse. So, I’m going to try and help those people [affected by its lingering effects],” Guimarães says. “The main idea also is to try and not get food during holidays, like Christmas and New Year’s, because most people donate at that time. I want to focus on when people don’t donate. That’s why I want to do it now because it’s as if people forget people are still going through tough times, not just [during the] holidays. I want to be that person who helps them.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.