I interviewed, graphics designer and social entrepreneur Paola Bellucci to understand how her musical activism titled Ninguém Mexe Comigo (Portuguese for nobody messes with me) is helping to empower young children against unwanted sexual assaults, abuses, and harassment. She also discusses some of her self-reflection, and the advice she can give to young social activists of today.
Hello Paola! Thanks for accepting this week’s interview on the topic of social activism through entertainment! To start, could you share with our audience a little bit about who you are, and the kind of work and social movement that you have started?
I am a designer, Brazilian, and have just concluded a master’s degree at Soka University, in international peace studies. I am a creative and have a fascination with social work and the 2030 UN SDGs (Sustainable development goals). I am inspired because I believe in changing the world. My thesis during college was related to child sexual abuse.
The social movement I started (Ninguém Mexe Comigo) as a social innovator, I put in practice my knowledge and creativity to change the reality of girls suffering from sexual abuse. I started this movement in Brazil, as a musical campaign. It is very close to my heart as I am also a musician (saxophonist). This social movement is about connections to change the reality of child sexual abuse in Brazil.
What inspired you to pursue design and social activism?
I am a very hands-on person, and I really believe in the importance of putting ideas into action. I was already a social innovator before the movement started. I believe that if you can put knowledge into practicality to change people’s lives, it can really make a difference. I decided to study design to have this ability to be a creative thinker.
So social activism is related to this ability to construct things to change people’s lives for the better. My passion for SDGs also encouraged me to create and build for the world and transform people’s living conditions.
How did the ideas of combing music and social activism against child sexual abuse come about?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was already aware of this issue of child sexual abuse because I was studying this topic. Statistically, the abuses usually happen in the home. I fear that the number of child sexual abuse cases will increase, as children are now stuck with their abusers.
Also, children stop going to school due to the pandemic, and now teachers cannot observe the changes in children’s behavior. Once they stop going to school, children do not have a safe space to denounce these abuses. And they lost their place to voice their suffering.
I felt worried for the children, and during this time I saw some Tik Tok music challenges, which at that point I thought, why don’t I use music on social media to engage youths to say no to sexual predators? So, I decided I am going to create music, however, I do not have the ability to make music from scratch. I started connecting with people expressing I want to create music to overcome child sexual abuse in Brazil. I managed to connect with famous Brazilian singer Bruna Caram, and she started to create this music with me.
I managed to launch @ninguem.mexe.comigo in collaboration with the finest artists, singers, innovators, and human rights officers on 2020 May 18, Brazil’s National Day for the Combat of Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, in a month’s time. Everyone who was involved in this project did so voluntarily.
Are there any personality traits or habits you think every leader should have?
Creativity, innovation, empathy, and the spirit of collaboration. Because when you are creating a social movement, you really need to build your knowledge together with other people. One person does not have all the answers. Bigger problems such as the global goals will require many people to work together. Thus, the ability to work with others is critical.
Global problems can be very depressive to rely on just one person, so creativity and innovation can transform those negative feelings into motivation.
Whose work has inspired you, and why? Who do you admire?
Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. He is an activist, a humanist, and a social worker. He is a person who not only talks but puts into practice what he believes. His achievement for world peace, culture, education, and his faith in Buddhist practice is incredible. I admire him as an entrepreneur also.
He is also the founder of my university, art museums, global cultures, and traveled the world for peace. He created bonds with people of diverse backgrounds. I think he embodies all the qualities a leader ought to have.
What are some of the major challenges you face in your social movement? And what keeps you motivated to solve them instead of quitting?
Child sexual abuse is an underreported crime, especially in Brazil. This is because crimes that happened in the home are more difficult to identify as a crime that happened on the streets. An abuser is most often a person that the victims know. Thus, it is difficult to denounce because the child has a relationship with this person. This was a challenge for me from the beginning, to help people identify what is happening.
And I also wanted to increase the number of denouncements by the victims. I believe we need to know the real situation of the crime, to know how to create public policies to prevent it from happening. If a policy expert relies on the statistics, they may argue “there is no need to invest in child sexual abuse prevention because there are so few reported cases.” However, that is not showing the real statistic of unreported child sexual abuses.
Thus, I use our music to advocate for a reporting number called “Disque Direitos Humanos” (human rights number). This number is 100 in Brazil, and it will reach the human rights center. You can denounce anonymously in this way. I also received many appreciations from people who had such cases in their families, which encouraged me to keep working for this movement.
Because of this experience, I also found that the music makes it easier for family members to talk about sexual awareness and integrity with their children.
If you were to start all over again, would you have done anything differently?
I would say that I wish I can have more time because I did everything in one month! So, I didn’t sleep but I really couldn’t stop because I was so involved with this. I did not have time to discourage myself even!
If you weren’t developing this project, what other works would you like to explore?
The other project I wish to do is related to nuclear disarmament. In February of 2020, I went to a Youth conference in Nakasaki to support TPNW (Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons). So, when I returned back to my university, I was very involved with this social issue, and I started to develop a project called “Atomic Bomb Virtual Reality Glasses” for two months. I believe that the virtual reality approach has the potential to create empathy by opening people’s eyes to someone else’s perspective. I also strongly believe education through immersive action creates awareness and allows people to literally walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
What advice do you have for youths who also aspire to work in the field of design and social activism?
I believe first one should study. Find knowledge to figure out a way to make a difference. Just be an expert in the topic of your interest. Secondly, believe in yourself and your potential to transform this knowledge into action. It could be anything, it could be music or an object, just brainstorm with people! Believe in it and go to the end.
Social problems require passion too. If we do not have the passion to believe we are the ones to eliminate social problems, we don’t have the energy to keep going. So believe in yourself!
What’s next for Paola?
Since I started my campaign, I am officializing it into a company to continue spreading our message of nonviolence. This year, we are taking care of survivors. We launched a group therapy for 12 women survivors with a sexual trauma psychologist, and next month we will be working with 15. Our next step is to finish up our new music specifically created to heal the survivors with Bruna Caram. We will also expand our social movement by translating this song into different languages.
My goal is to create more initiatives to eradicate child sexual abuse from the face of the Earth.
To listen to the original music, you may follow through links below:
Video clip launched on May 18, 2020, for children.
Video clip launched on Sep 18, 2020, for adults.