Giullia Jaques Caldeira ’24 feels enormous pride for her hometown of Belford Roxo, a Brazilian city that’s part of the larger metro area of Rio de Janeiro.
Belford Roxo is a place wracked by poverty and many of the problems that come along with it, including a high crime rate, and Jaques’ mother often tells her daughter to just say she’s from Rio instead. Jaques refuses. “When people hear about my city, they think of someone who died there, or someone who was robbed,” she says. “I want them to see there are young people like me there, too.”
A first-year student at Babson, Jaques was selected for the College’s Global Scholars Program, which awards need-based, full-tuition scholarships to international students. It’s not an opportunity she takes for granted. “There are hundreds of people in my hometown struggling to find the future that I have found,” she says.
Belford Roxo is never far from Jaques’ mind. Even though she’s now a college student, she works two jobs to support her mother, who still lives there. Jaques also formed an organization, Absorvidas, to bring much-needed feminine hygiene products to an area women’s prison. “You can study abroad and still care about the place you come from,” Jaques says. “You can use entrepreneurship and your education to fight for that place. Helping people from the city I come from is important to me.”
Relying on Community
Jaques has long had an entrepreneurial spirit. When she was 14, her mother lost her job as a secretary, and to help make ends meet, Jaques began selling a traditional Brazilian chocolate dessert, brigadeiro, on the streets. She would make the treats herself and then sell about 120 every day for 18 cents apiece. “That’s what was paying the bills,” she says. “I was tired all the time.”
She remains grateful to her classmates. When she got the idea to sell the treats, she realized she didn’t have enough money to buy the required ingredients, but her classmates surprised her by pooling their money and buying what she needed. That made Jaques realize just how important her community was to her. “Because I’m poor, I rely on my community,” she says.
“You can study abroad and still care about the place you come from. You can use entrepreneurship and your education to fight for that place. Helping people from the city I come from is important to me.”
Giullia Jaques Caldeira ’24
Now attending Babson remotely, Jaques has left Belford Roxo for the time being. With its cramped space and unreliable Internet, not to mention the frightening and frequent gunfire outside, Jaques says the one-room apartment she shared with her mom in Belford Roxo wasn’t an ideal place to be a college student. She’s currently living in the Brazilian city of Goiânia with a fellow Babson student, Ester Toledo ’23.
Not that she has forgotten about her mom, who still can’t find work. Jaques helps with admissions at a leadership academy and also serves as a writing tutor, jobs she finds meaningful but which also pay the rent on that one-room apartment. “I have to work,” Jaques says. “I can’t leave behind my mom.”
Jaques founded Absorvidas in 2019 because she grew concerned that women prisoners weren’t being given the basic menstrual products that they needed. “This is because society doesn’t see their lives as worth dignity and respect,” she says. Most women in Brazilian prisons must rely on their families to provide these products, which is difficult given that many prisoners have become estranged from their families.
Absorvidas initially will be working with a prison in Rio de Janeiro called Talavera Bruce. When she visited the prison, Jaques was saddened to see women from her neighborhood there. “That was hard to see,” she says. Jaques felt great empathy for them. She knew exactly the hard challenges these women have faced in their lives: the dangerous streets, the inadequate education, the struggles to put food on the table. “We have more in common than what we have different,” she says. “I could have been one of them. A lot of time, the only thing that stands between us is luck.”
Having met its fundraising goal, Absorvidas first plans to provide 2,000 reusable menstrual pads to the prison, along with lectures and written materials to educate about menstruation. “There are a lot of people who didn’t go to high school and maybe only know what their mother told them,” Jaques says.
Absorvidas eventually wants to partner with a foundation that works with inmates to train them to make the pads themselves. That would allow the women to no longer be dependent on outside donations of menstrual products. Making the pads also would allow them to earn money, both while in prison and once they are released. “It’s not enough to have a temporary fix,” Jaques says. “I see in entrepreneurship a powerful tool to empower people.”