In October, we had the pleasure of welcoming author, activist, environmentalist, and humanitarian Binka Le Breton to Emerson College. The director of the Iracambi Research Center in southeastern Brazil, Le Breton visited to discuss her nonfiction book, The Greatest Gift, the story of Sister Dorothy Stang, who was murdered by illegal loggers while speaking out to protect the rights of family farmers in the Amazon. Le Breton is also the author of Where the Road Ends: A Home in the Brazilian Rain Forest, Voices from the Amazon, and A Land to Die For, all focused on the intersections of human rights and environmental work in her adopted home country of Brazil.
Members of co-sponsoring student organizations Communications, Politics, and Law Association, and Emerson Peace and Social Justice, in addition to one section of Tamera Marko’s Bilingual Introduction to College Writing courses, packed the Multipurpose Room to learn about what it takes to communicate effectively about human rights. Le Breton’s larger-than-life personality captivated an audience eager to hear her unique perspective on Dorothy Stang.
Stang was raised in Ohio, but moved to Brazil over 40 years ago as part of a mission trip with her convent, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The Greatest Gift received rave reviews for its unflinching portrayal of Sister Dorothy and her time spent serving the impoverished people of Brazil. The inspirational tale follows Stang’s growth from inexperienced missionary into a person dedicated to preserving dignity among the poor farmers struggling for land and human rights against the interests of multinational logging companies.
Le Breton also spoke about how she came to write the book, giving the audience sound advice on the process of constructing a story like hers.
“Get over your qualms about writing. Just spill all over the page. Sit down and write anything that comes to mind. Stream of consciousness. You will discover your own technique,” she said.
Taking that first step is key. Le Breton was moved by the story of Sister Dorothy, and decided to write a book about the nun’s life. Finding your own subject to cover can be difficult, but when you do the rewards can be tremendous.
“Taking that first step just happens when you become so excited about the subject, you have to do something! Being an effective advocate for human rights could start right there, with a strong commitment to justice,” she said.
In addition to her lecture, Le Breton spoke with several service learning courses at Emerson College, including Claudia Castañeda‘s Power and Privilege and both sections of Nancy Hiemstra‘s Local Action Global Change courses; both courses are offered through the Institute for Liberal Arts and interdisciplinary Studies, which also co-sponsored the event.
Le Breton plans to explore the United States as she continues her tour, increasing an already strong network of activists and policy leaders. Those that had the pleasure to hear her speak were drawn to her passion for writing and human rights.