Seu Roberto: The man, the myth, the mason

‘Seu Roberto veio construir para comunidade e ajudar a gente, com o projeto da Chapadinha…’ Juliana sang as she balanced a guitar on her lap and herself on a stack of bricks. Her audience, two men mixing cement with hoes, a mason lining up bricks, and myself all laughed. ‘Não, não,’ the brick-layer said, ‘veio da cidade, pra fazer o projeto da comunidade,’ perfecting the rhyme.

Seu Roberto has been our main mason for the past three weeks of construction. In May, residents of Chapadinha sent a request to the mayor of the municipal for a city mason to help with the construction of the community center which our Live It! project seeks to assist. After persistent inquiries, Chapadinha’s request was granted, and Seu Roberto and his skills were offered to us for two weeks of work, with his salary covered by the municipal government.

Because our community is so isolated, Roberto has spent weeknights at Milton’s nearby house with Milton’s wife and step daughter. On the weekend, a city worker picks him up and he returns home to his family and second job.

After two weeks working together on the community center, we were sad to see Seu Roberto leave last Friday, his last day of scheduled work. When a man from the city came to pick him up, we explained to him how grateful we were to have Roberto, but that we really wished he could stay for another week because construction was in full swing and we were still trying to find at least one other mason to finish the building in the next two weeks with the volunteers. The city worker suggested that we record a video message on his phone, and that if he showed the vice-mayor it on Monday, perhaps Seu Roberto could return for third week of work with us. Paulinha, our partner and current University of Sao Paulo law student, articulately explained why it Seu Roberto was important to our work and the community in to the little camera, surrounded by all of us workers about to go home on our motorcycles and donkeys.

We all agreed that it was unlikely we’d see Seu Roberto again. We invited him to the community center’s opening party in a few weeks, but transportation to our community is always a challenge. We managed to find two masons that weekend, two brothers named Luiz and Leandro, and commenced work that Monday morning without Roberto.

Luiza and I were in town buying materials Monday when we got a text message from Paulinha that read: SEU ROBERTO VOLTOU!!!!!!!!!! He was back! The vice-mayor was impressed by our project and the community’s commitment, and provided Seu Roberto to us for another week.

We’ve been working with three masons all week and the building looks great; the outside is now ready for bright green paint (we voted on the color), doors and windows are installed, and the water tower is finished. Friday was probably Seu Roberto’s last day of work, and we are all sad we will no longer have his jokes, songs, and stories for the last week of construction. He told us, though, that if he has Monday (a local holiday) off from work, he will come back to help, and insisted that the work will be “on him.” We were surprised, and he explained that the world needs more people like us, and while we are all very grateful, we all agree that the world needs more people like Seu Roberto.

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