Guarani Martins de Morais (32) was President of AEGEE-Berlin, saving the antenna in its darkest hour. He explained the Golden Oldie what kind of huge efforts were necessary to achieve this aim. Today Guarani still lives in Berlin and works as economic event organiser for the company Bread and Butter Berlin.

Golden Oldie: Where were you born?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I was born in Mexico City, as son of brazilians living in exile, grown up in Latin America, Portugal and Germany. I have both Brazilian and German vitizenship.

Golden Oldie: Where and what did you study?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I studied Economics in both Humboldt and Technical University in Berlin

Golden Oldie: When did you join AEGEE and how?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I was successfully recruited by charismatic Andreas Scheiterbauer, AEGEE-Berlin President 2003-2004, during a small local AEGEE Berlin party in April 2004. However, after helping to found AIESEC in my University in Berlin, I promised myself not to become active again in a student organisation during my studies. It was just by attending accidentally an AEGEE Regional Meeting in Hamburg in November 2004 when I realised what AEGEE really was. So I broke my promise

Golden Oldie: Are you still member? If yes, of which antenna?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I am still member of AEGEE Berlin – as zombie data, giving financial support.

Golden Oldie: You are best known for being president of AEGEE-Berlin. How did you get this task?

Guarani Martins de Morais: After visiting the Regional Meeting in Hamburg I attended in the following five  months a Regional Meeting in Zielona Gora, Xmas Dinner Copenhagen, AEGEE Cooking School in Mannheim and an Agora in Enschede, willingly to learn as much as possible about AEGEE and other antennas’ experiences. At the same time, Asia Piskunowicz from AEGEE-Poznan successfully convinced me to become active in AEGEE-Berlin in order to revive that antenna. Six months after my first real AEGEE experience in Hamburg, I was elected president of AEGEE-Berlin. I had no idea at that time that during the next 12 months we would first have to hit the lowest bottom before reaching the turning point.

Golden Oldie: What where the biggest challenges and rewards of these tasks?

Guarani Martins de Morais: My biggest task was AEGEE-Berlin. 2003/04 we still had 80 members, a dense calendar of activities and even a European School 2 in Berlin. The following generation change wasn’t as successful as expected. The members decreased to around 20 with only two or three active ones. These were the conditions in which a few new members took over the board. We were decided to not let things finish this way. The first months were catastrophic for the new board’s motivation. Many efforts, few results. No new active members. One of many examples: we bought a stand in order to present AEGEE at the universities, but found no one willingly to stand behind the stand, except for two voard members.

Golden Oldie: So what did you do?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Without the help of local oldie Bernhard Kogelschatz and two helpful guests of foreign antennae, Arleta Bojke (AEGEE-Poznan) and Finn Nielsen (AEGEE-Kobenhavn), the stands would have stayed empty. A few weeks later, we organised an information evening, the first one for years. Four people attended it – the four organisers. It was clear now that a short-term solution was impossible.

Golden Oldie: But you were still not giving up…

Guarani Martins de Morais: Our efforts hadn’t been overseen by AEGEE-Europe, the Network Commission and other experienced foreign AEGEE members living in Berlin. Together with Arleta and Finn, AEGEE-Academy member Gosia Kruszyna joined our cause, which meant a substantial quality gain that laid the foundation for the our subsequent recovery. Later further support came from other former AEGEE members living in Berlin like Jürgen Tobisch (AEGEE-Mainz), Benedetta Severi (AEGEE-Padova) and Andrea Ticca (AEGEE-Bologna).

Golden Oldie: Why did AEGEE-Berlin had such a hard time?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Usually the answer used to be: “It’s a capital, this is a common problem in Western Europe”, “We are not a capital in Eastern Europe, thirsty to join Europe” and “People have too many options here, not just AEGEE”. AEGEE-Berlin’s history had successful years. However, the European idea wasn’t anymore a subject that would easily make them join us instantly. Neither was volunteering. Berlin hosts headquarters of hundreds of well structured NGOs, where volunteers can gain extensive experience with a well structured support. Moreover, there are thousands of activities in Berlin, no need to join an organisation to find something to do. So why joining AEGEE-Berlin? For learning? Yes, but first we had to make them notice our existence and second to be able to real offer something. For developing your own ideas and projects? Yes, but not everyone is able or willingly to start from zero if they are many other NGOs in the city offering better conditions.

Golden Oldie: So whom were you looking for as members?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Finding people to come to parties or cinema evenings was not a problem. However, searching for members to organise social activities would have just short-term results. We had to find makers, man and women of actions, idealists. We decided to develop our local PR and projects at the same time. In a city like Berlin, with endless offers, for people willingly to be active in a volunteer organisation the first date is the crucial one. It had to be love at the first sight, or they would never return. So we had to have enough interesting, already structured projects and content in order of making makers stay and come back. And we had to send them as soon as possible to a European event, for them to be overtaken by the AEGEE spirit.

Golden Oldie: What did you achieve?

Guarani Martins de Morais: At the end of our term, we had clearly organised Working Groups, a clear separation between local working meeting and local social meeting, had hosted a meeting of the Network Commission in Berlin, hosted an event of the Cultural WG, hosted an own SU during the Football World Championship, welcomed AEGEE-Słupsk on their first international exchange, started a Xmas Party tradition, continued the tradition of Culinary Film Evenings (KuFi), finished our financial year for the first time for years with a surplus, established partnerships with hostels and restaurants and re-established partnerships with universities and other students organisations. We had an active website, sent more members to European events than ever before in the last years, including a record participation at the Agora in Warsaw in 2006. Moreover, we organised a cross-cultural project together with the Japanese, Mexican and Brazilian embassies. We raised not just the local perception on our organisation, but doubled the number of members in just half a year, six months after our lowest point.

Golden Oldie: That’s great! How did you experience this effort personally?

Guarani Martins de Morais: In terms of achievement on organisational level, it first showed me my limits and then forced me to overcome them. It brought the following three rewards: we managed to attract real active members! All three subsequent presidents of AEGEE- Berlin joined us during that term. The second reward was to see our antenna working less centralised and more transparent. The third reward was that we stopped to hear the following question during international events: “AEGEE-Berlin? Do they still exist?” Even if it was a task on a micro-level, a small NGO, it was for sure one of the most intense, stressful-tense and rewarding I had. Our board started with high goals and in order to reach them we suffered heavy losses. Less than half of the board ended the term. I won friends, but I lost friends too. Since it was a full-time job for me, I ended the term desperately searching for a paid job. Since it was a tense period, I passed that tension unconsciously on to my private level, specifically friends, flatmates and relationship.

Golden Oldie: That’s very sad…

Guarani Martins de Morais: Immediately after leaving the presidency I was much in doubt if it hadn’t been a huge mistake to sacrifice all the effort and time during that period. I needed to step back in order to see the full picture and recognise the rewards on personal level. A short remembering of many of my nicest experiences and moments as well as a short look at the names of more than half of my best friends today reminds me that most of it resulted from that year. Nowadays I am working fulltime and I am still active in other NGOs, such as Copernicus and MitOst, but many aspects of my living – friends, hobbies, travelling, organising, ideals and networking – nowadays carry a clear AEGEE DNA.

Golden Oldie: Tell us a funny story of your AEGEE time.

Guarani Martins de Morais: It was on the last part of a great Travel Summer University through the Western Ukraine in July 2005. We were told by organisers that when arriving in Uzhgorod, we should attend a conference on investment on that region happening there and maybe speak some words. No further information. I thought “Ok, we will arrive at 6 or 7 in the morning, dead tired, and attend a conference at 9 a.m., but well, as long as we sit somewhere on the back rows we might handle to get some sleep without attracting attention.” We arrived in the early morning in the impressive clean and modern railway station of Uzhgorod and were given a heartful welcome by the local antenna and her president Lena Lavrenko. The first question was: “Are you ready for your speech?” I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. They gave me the list of speakers and it scared the hell out of me when I saw my name there: “4. Guarani de Morais, President of AEGEE-Berlin: The European integration of the Transcarpathian youth as a preliminary stage for the European integration of the Ukraine”.

Golden Oldie: Oh no… What did you do?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I had two hours time to shower, wake up mentally, get ready, sit down somewhere and write my speech. I tried. But since we were moving from the station to the lodgement and from there to the university, this was impossible. And I didn’t even knew where to start, not even what the hell was Transcarpathia. Once again, the well published TSU booklet saved me and I could read something about the rich and dramatic heritage and history of that region. But I couldn’t prepare any speech. So I had no other choice then to improvise and decided to draw a bow a show parallels between the Transcarpathian multiethnical identity and Berlin’s development to a cosmopolitan European capital. At least this was the plan. Since my speech was translated to Ukranian, I have no idea what the poor interpreter understood and even less what the audience did. But it was my first speech in an international conference! Even Transcarpathian TV interviewed me afterwards! Since then Uzhgorod has a place of honour in my CV and memories.

Golden Oldie: What was your favourite AEGEE event?

Guarani Martins de Morais: The TSU Caucasus 2006.

Golden Oldie: What were your best and worst moments in AEGEE?

Guarani Martins de Morais: The TSU Caucasus 2006 includes the best and the worst moment. The best because I was seduced by the same mystical magical supreme beautiful and heartful feeling that everyone who visits Georgia is victim of. Faces, eyes, dances, chants, views, tastes and hospitality remain deep in my memories, dreams, fantasies and wishes. The worst moment, because of the fatal accident we suffered on the last night in Georgia, killing one participant and seriously injuring a second one. Despite this tremendous tragedy connected to the day I was there, I remain eternally closely connected to that unique country in a very positive way.

Golden Oldie: Which AEGEE member impressed you a lot?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I would like to mention some of the members of outstanding merit I had the pleasure to meet, but I wouldn’t like to forget to mention anyone, so better no names, except one that deserves a special mention: Tika Tsertsvadze. And generally speaking, for sure Franck Biancheri for giving birth to AEGEE. In terms of an antenna, AEGEE-Poznan always deserved my admiration and gratefulness to their quadruple A – Asia P., Arleta B., Agata P., Anja K. – and their Gosia K.

Golden Oldie: Any things you regret that you haven’t done them in AEGEE?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I regret not having discovered AEGEE at my first day at university.

Golden Oldie: What are you doing now as main occupation?

Guarani Martins de Morais: After working as a consultant preparing country reports on Renewable Energies and Health Sector, I work now organising the world’s biggest Urbanwear Trade Show, called “Bread and Butter Berlin”. However, I am strongly willing to change the sector returning to public sector, a think tank, a foundation, focused on projects on multiregional level

Golden Oldie: Are you single/married/married with 5 children?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I am single at the moment.

Golden Oldie: Which languages do you speak?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Portuguese, German, Spanish, English and some basic disappearing knowledge of French, Russian and Polish.

Golden Oldie: Where do you live now?

Guarani Martins de Morais: I still live in Berlin. What do I like about this city? Berlin is a city in a constant state of identity search; creative, open and cosmopolitan. It never gives me the feeling that I have been here for years. What do I dislike? It’s a temporary city. People come and go and I am tired to experience it. It means that’s it’s time for me to go too.

Golden Oldie: Which country would you like to visit in the near future?

Guarani Martins de Morais: In Europe? Not many left… Romania, Armenia, Croatia, Corsica and the Crimea Region. Worldwide? New Zealand, Easter Island and Polynesia.

Golden Oldie: What are you most afraid of?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Big Spiders, pampering cushiness, not finding the ideal work place

Golden Oldie: What’s never missing in your fridge?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Cheese.

Golden Oldie: How would you describe yourself in five keywords?

Guarani Martins de Morais: Every Story Starts from Zero.