Luan Torres is one of over 200 million people to call Brazil home. He grew up in a small community in Northern Brazil called Sao Bento, one of the poorest regions in the country, where he and his sibling were raised by a single mom. Food security, access to resources or a decent living were luxuries for Luan and his community. But that never held him back.
Since a very young age, Luan had an entrepreneurial spirit. He’d always be running some kind of business, like renting out DVDs and using the profit to buy more DVDs, or creating something for his community like samba parades on his street that would bring all the kids in the neighborhood together. But the more he hustled, the more he became acutely aware of the needs of his community, and it wasn’t until he took a philosophy class in high school that he started to question the status quo.
One day on a walk home, Luan noticed the pollution in the river he passes by every day. He started to learn about the relationship between hunger and pollution and began to wonder why no one seemed to be doing anything about piles of garbage scattered across the river banks, and floating on its water. He knew he wanted to do something about it. He started by looking up organizations or projects that were tackling the issue in his city but he couldn’t find any, so he gathered a group of friends and decided to create one themselves.
Luan and his friends created an NGO called CASA (Center for Social and Environmental Support). Their first project was Mutirão de Limpeza (“clean-up crew”) but quickly realized that cleaning up the trash is a short-term solution. They knew they had to be innovative in order to create a sustainable solution, so they shifted gears and started another project aimed at spreading awareness and environmental education. They decided they would focus on pre and elementary schools since, according to Luan, young kids are more receptive to new information. One of the key lessons in their awareness campaign related to the impact of CO2 emissions and deforestation on the environment, including poor agricultural production which leads to food insecurity. A problem Luan and his friends were all too familiar with. Their next project focused on addressing this issue.
Project Arbo was created in 2018 to provide access to free, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to everyone in the community, especially those with limited means. The project enlisted the help of 20 ambassadors each charged with planting 60 trees per year. Three years later, the project has over 100 ambassadors and thousands of trees planted and hundreds of families fed. Recently, the CASA team launched an app so community members can easily track and find free food whenever they are in need. Luan admits that addressing hunger is the main objective of the project, but reforestation and air purification are desired outcomes that he hopes the project will achieve as it expands.
Luan is no stranger to reimaging what's possible. His projects have grown and evolved and so has he. Traditional barriers that would hold anyone back, propelled him into a state of innovation. His age, education level, or where he grew up did not matter, what mattered and still matters to him is the ability to make a positive change on people’s lives. “I’m so used to hearing ‘no’ or hearing ‘ah, this won’t work’ but I believe a lot in what I’m doing so I'm going to continue doing it.”