It was in her youth that the environmentalist Irle Firmo, now 75 years old, had her first contact with brazilwood (pau-brasil). The one who showed her the species, native to the Atlantic Forest, was a priest who taught her the natural sciences. He had a brazilwood in his home and he liked to hand out seeds wherever he went. But he had no idea that he was giving Irle a gift: today, through the Criando Raízes (Making Roots) project, she perpetuates this love that her teacher had for the environment. The seedlings and seeds that the environmentalist distributes come from a brazilwood that she has in her yard. As proof of the love she feels for the tree, she carries a delicate pendant on her neck, in which there is a brazilwood seed in the shape of a heart. At the moment, Irle takes care of 30 seedlings that’ll be planted in a forest, next to Recife’s Nossa Senhora das Graças chapel, inside the Ricardo Brennand Institute, in the Várzea neighborhood.
Dona Irle, where did the idea of founding the Criando Raízes project come from?
Actually, nothing was planned. The project was born before I even named it. I started to hand out the first seedlings well before 2009. I liked to plant, and people started to get interested and ask me. That’s when I started to do distribution events and when it started to gain strength, I named the project. In a world that only talks of violence, why not do something good? Taking care of the environment is good. And while Father in Heaven gives me health, I’ll support the cause. I like to give out seeds, seedlings, plant, spread my knowledge to anyone.
The love you feel is notorious. Could you tell us about the unusual fact of finding a heart-shaped seed?
It was late afternoon. I was sweeping the yard, and suddenly I saw a dark dot in the shape of a heart. When I picked it up, it was a seed. At the time, I was surprised and called the Brazilwood Foundation. They said they’ve never heard of anything like it. It cannot be anything but a gesture of gratitude for the way I care for my tree. It gave me a message and I promptly varnished it and carry it around my neck. I only take it off when I’m going to take a shower.
With whom did you learn to be a guardian of nature?
This tree (brazilwood) that is in my backyard and gives me this wonderful shade, I was given it by a priest who was a teacher in my youth. He had a brazilwood in his house and liked to distribute seeds and seedlings wherever he went. It was with him that I learned to love and care for nature. And I perpetuate all the good that he passed onto me. He didn’t even know that he was giving me a great gift, because it is from this brazilwood that I collect the seeds and hand them out in sachets to people.
Besides this, do you have any other memories of brazilwood?
I’ll tell you something that even seems like a joke. One day, watering the plants, I thought, “When I die and maybe go straight to hell, my plants will say, ‘You can take her out of there, because she gives water to us every day.'” I thought it was just a fantasy in my head, but God listened and gave me a mission. Believe me, I took ten days to pick up 1,110 seedlings from the yard. Even the taxi driver who came to bring me home, left with two hands full of seeds. It was very funny.
Do you have any idea how many seedlings and seeds you have already handed out?
Ah, countless. I’d put the count at more than 400 seedlings and more than a thousand seeds. To the Women’s Prison alone I gave 100 seeds, that was four years ago. Of these, 75 sprouted. The prisoners even made a science fair and talked about the history of brazilwood. I was very proud and happy at the time. Even my grandniece, Giovana, got into it. The tree I have on my sidewalk, she planted when she was 2 years old. I remember when Giovana turned 7, I asked: “Hey, Gio, instead of handing out souvenirs, why don’t we give brazilwood to your classmates?” She loved it. And to this day she is a defender of Brazilwood.
How important is it for people to buy into this idea?
Although many do not realize it, replanting is important. Plant a tree and you save on air conditioning. Brazilwood is easy to handle, to plant, besides adapting easily because it is native to our region. One only has to have good will, something that is still very much missing between people. Many think that replanting is a government obligation, but this is all of our responsibility. We have to take care of the environment. It’s our house.
When you hand out seeds, do you pass along this awareness?
Of course. I reinforce it with a little note in each sack of seeds I distribute, as well as talking to people. But it’s not only nature that people should care for. On paper, I leave a message in bold letters “Plant the brazilwood seed in the earth and fraternity in your heart.” What I mean by that is that your heart is the land you can command. That in it you must plant the best feelings. And it is these feelings that are the seeds that you must carry.