After more than 15 years as a travel journalist and author of children’s literature, João Ferreira Oliveira decided to combine his two greatest passions in one project: Viagem ao Interior. From May 6th and for a month, he will travel through several regions of the country in a van full of books and stories. On the way back, an empty van is supposed to arrive with a series of four written reports, an unfinished book and a recorded documentary.
The idea, explains João Ferreira Oliveira NiT, was born in the first prison about a year ago. Due to the successive restrictions caused by the pandemic, it cannot begin until now – in fact, the originally planned start of the trip was April 23, World Book Day, but for a number of reasons it eventually became the date it was announced Initiative.
“I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve designed something that combines these two passions, travel journalism and children’s books. And with the pandemic and the fact that children – and not just rural people – have more and less access to books, reading and libraries that almost no longer exist … I found out that I was ready to do anything solidarity, “explains the journalist NiT.
“And I also admit – which people sometimes hide or don’t talk about – that there is also an individualistic and egocentric side to it. Like so many Portuguese, I was a little tired of being at home, going to the telescope and taking classes on the Internet, not being able to go out, being with friends and taking to the streets, which I’ve been doing for over 15 years. It was a bit of that connection between the two things: the desire to take to the streets and do something useful. I marry my navel with other people’s needs, ”he adds.
Established partnerships with several publishers offering books; received support from Citroën who rented and converted the van that João Ferreira Oliveira will live in for a month; and he allied himself with local organizations from the different regions of the country that he had already visited to socialize and book the readings.
“Some people might think this guy is going to write for these sites because they pay him.” That’s not it. The process was just the opposite. I selected the websites and then looked for entities that could support my idea. This wasn’t an assignment from anyone, it was a project of mine that I knocked on some doors for it to come true. “
The aim is to tell the children stories, be it in schools or in public spaces, on the streets of a village or on a garden bench, but also, for example, to combat the isolation of older people. The journalist will walk through the slate villages, along the Terra Fria route (in Trás-os-Montes) and through the inland areas of the Alentejo and the Algarve.
“Contrary to what I want, I will not be able to be in the whole country, it is always necessary to choose. And I thought of destinations that I know well, also because of the story that I have to walk on the street and that I know, that fit into this perspective of isolated places, many of them with almost uninhabited communities and villages, with few children. If this has a mission – and I don’t like the word very much because I’m not going to save anyone – it is really meant to help fight isolation and improve reading while also improving the territory. This is where the connection to travel journalism takes place. This inwardness that makes these places seem so far away when they are actually two or an hour and a half away from Lisbon. And it is also the geography or landscape that makes it unique. I want to show that too. “
For this reason, he felt not only the 500 books that he will distribute and tell, but also the need to do a little more as a journalist. “I couldn’t help but try to make a portrait of the country. So I’m going to do a series of reports for ‘Fugas’ and some kind of documentary series, one episode for each goal. There will be four trips and the goal is to create a documentation of about 25 minutes each. And in the end I want to write that in a book too. “
For the documentary, he has the help of director Manuel Loureiro – before he took to the streets there were a few moments of production, not least because most reading sessions have to be planned, but of course the idea of recording (and creating) is also spontaneous Moments.
“Even because of the nature of these places, it is very difficult for you to get there and come from the outside and show up there with a whistling van and wait for people to come. Even because these are very deserted places, you can’t wait for everything to happen when nothing more can happen afterwards. Find the interlocutors who can warn people, who can give you ideas on where to go, call schools, talk to teachers … all of these are very important. Because if I want to do a documentary too, you can’t just go out on the streets and wait for it all to happen, can you? There’s a mix of us who produce things well, and then there are things that are going to happen in the moment. “
As for the book, it is likely the outcome of that journey that is even more uncertain – as it is very much determined by the experience itself. “I didn’t want it to be just the transcription of the reports. It’s not that it’s not valid, but I wanted it to be something more. I don’t know if you can have photos or illustrations as this is very much related to children’s books. Maybe you have my additions, some kind of diary, I’m not sure yet. “
João Ferreira Oliveira, 40 years old and from Vilarinho, Santo Tirso, (although he lived in Lisbon for several years) also emphasizes that it is his job not to replace the 70 or so traveling libraries that exist across the country – because the goal is also to portray this universe in the reports, in the documentary and in the book of the project “Viagem ao Interior”.
“I’m not going to take to the streets to evangelize and get everyone to read … as if there is no one else doing it. There are many traveling libraries in the country, mostly run by city councils. And to get to know these people, I want to go too. In terms of reporting and documentation, I also want to show who these people are who do what I will do once in a lifetime for a month, every day and all year, year after year. I don’t want to replace anyone, I want to meet these people. João will read and João Ferreira Oliveira will work, do research, and meet these people. “
João Ferreira Oliveira has written several children’s books.
The journalist and writer also remembers the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s traveling libraries, which operated between 1958 and 2002 and were noteworthy. “There are many people of my generation and older people who remember the Gulbenkian libraries very much. That left a very strong mark when the vans drove into the villages. Nowadays I have colleagues and friends talking about it. I wanted to make my modest contribution so that one day these children would also remember “when this guy from Lisbon came here to read us the stories” and leave a little seed in this literature. The books are not going to save anyone or change the world, but I think they at least help you to be better informed, to be clairvoyant, to have more baggage. “
In the Lisbon region, he went to school regularly to tell stories. However, in these sessions he focused on children’s books. “This is not about appreciating my books, but rather appreciating the book, reading it, fighting isolation and giving these children more world.”
At this moment, with just over a week to begin this adventure, João Ferreira Oliveira assumes that he is dying to leave. “Where I’m really good is on the move and not so much in this part of the production, which is not my cup of tea. What I really like is reading to the kids, talking to people, seeing the country through the car window, that’s what I really like. So, yes, I’m ready and for myself for the reactions this caused – it was a positive surprise the impact it had on people – and it’s not that I wasn’t aware of the responsibility for it, but it is has increased my notion of responsibility. “
It is too early to know for future initiatives of this kind, but it does not rule out the possibility of making “Viagem ao Interior” a more permanent project.
“It really is in stages. The first was to take to the streets, then I want it to go well … But yeah, it crossed my mind. If I convert that, I wouldn’t say full-time – I don’t know if I would imagine doing it all-day – but it occurred to me to do it once a year or more. I usually go to school here in the Lisbon region and I already thought to myself: why not do this all over the country? I can get my own van, convert it. Instead of being some kind of cutaway collector, some kind of story collector [risos]. ”From May 6th you can follow everything on the project page on Instagram.