MYRIAN CASTELLO has always believed in dreams and their power to transform us. She is on a mission to help people dream and turn their dreams into reality. Here she is interviewed by KASHISH KALWANI about her life and her organization, the Dream Factory.
Q: Let’s start with the book you are currently reading.
MC: I read many books together. One that I am reading right now is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harare. I also like Leonardo Boffs’ books.
Q: What do you like about these books?
MC: They exhibit critical thinking. It’s an important skill for this century. Also, they talk about how we are doing as humanity, and different ways we could make it better. They give us hope.
Q: I love that. Who has been your role model?
MC: My mom. She has always been there for me in my adventures, even though she sometimes doesn’t understand what I am doing. She has taught me about love, not just because she’s my mom, but by the way she lives her life, being kind to others. She’s a doctor who sees people irrespective of their age and standing. She has inspired me to do the same, and it has helped me a lot.
I also love Mr. Rogers. I’m a huge fan. He’s one of my heroes. I learned from him about really connecting with people, being empathetic, and just opening space for people to be who they are.
Where I come from
Q: Could you tell us about your childhood and your journey? What brought you to where you are?
MC: I was born in a very small town in the countryside. Brazil is full of such small towns. People born in small towns often believe they won’t make it. I never felt I was a good student or belonged in the educational environment. I had friends, but I always felt like an alien.
I wanted to do something for the world when I was seven years old. I raised awareness by making cards and drawings to ask people to save water. I thought the world’s water was going to run out, and people responded with, “Okay, let’s save water.” During childhood, I tried to save the world in my own way.
As an adult, I taught English. Later on, I studied engineering because I was good at math, but it was hard. I learned a lot, but I couldn’t connect with what I was learning, even though it was a really good university and there was a lot of social pressure to continue.
I had problems learning, so I asked my peers, “Have you thought about dropping out?” and “Do you love engineering?” I discovered that all save two had the same problems I was having. I realized that I wasn’t the problem, the system was, and to evolve we needed to do something instead of complaining.
One tip I can offer is to bring people together – the people
you trust and those who trust you. Tell them
what you want to do and ask for help.
Working for change
One day, I got this inspiration! I saw 100 butterflies flying and I realized that dreams were the path. I realized I had to work with people’s ability to dream; helping them to dream and to work toward their dreams. But I had no idea how to do it.
Many people who want to change the world face a similar problem. They don’t know how to start. One tip I can offer is to bring people together – the people you trust and those who trust you. Tell them what you want to do and ask for help.
I brought some friends together and said, “Okay, I am the crazy woman who wants to work dreams. I don’t know how to do it, but I want to do it. We need to change this environment as a lot of people are getting sick.”
And they said, “Yes, let’s do it. We don’t know how either, but let’s do something.”
So in 2013 we had a meeting, and we gave our project the name Fábrica dos Sonhos, meaning Dream Factory.
I also learned about a leadership program for young people who wanted to change the world called Warriors Without Weapons. I registered, and when I went to Prague in 2014 it was the first time I felt like I belonged. I met 59 other people who were doing amazing things, who believed in dreams.
We worked with a collective dream, with community building, which was powerful and beautiful. It gave me more structure for what we wanted to do. I didn’t know about methodology, and they showed me the methodology.
I also discovered a postgrad program called Cooperative Games and the Culture of Peace. They used movement and dynamics. I thought, “This is cool. I want to do that.” I understood that the approach they used was my way of learning. It was about people and movement. I felt super happy, smart, and intelligent.
When I went back to university it was terrible. I was not learning anything, everyone sat one in front of the other listening to lectures, and then I would go back to the bus station. In my fifth year I got sick, I got depression. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I chose to leave. I was worried about how my parents and friends would react, but I chose to live in the moment.
I remember calling my parents and saying, “I’m leaving. Even though it’s the last year, I can’t do this anymore.”
I went home, and my dad hugged me and said, “I love you, and it’s always gonna be alright.”
Something changed that day in our relationship; we became best friends.
I moved to Sao Paolo, did some workshops, and worked with a school in the city where no teachers wanted to teach, because the school was considered one of the worst. And the work was brilliant. By the end, people were connected. They were respecting each other and loving each other. The school started to change and the youth started to change.
And so that they would really learn, we said, “Now, imagine the secretary doing this work in other schools in the city.”
So one of the people working with us turned to the secretary and said, “Hey, let’s do this work.”
So we worked in 93 schools at the same time. It was crazy, beautiful, and really nice. It’s one of the projects I’m very proud of.
From that something emerged, so we worked with women and we did a lot of work with schools. Then I went to Egypt to expand my worldview, and to understand how education works in different countries and environments. We were 30 young leaders with different backgrounds and cultures, living together in the same house and studying together. We spent hours together, and this was an education in itself: we want to save the world, but who is going to wash the dishes? I believe that many of the problems of the world would be solved if we locked all the global leaders in one house and threw away the key. They would have to live together, and we could come back after they have learned to talk and respect each other. Our planet is a common home and we need to respect each other and reflect on that.
My next internship was in the Philippines, where the political aspect was similar to Brazil. I had one of the best times of my life there, because we partnered with another organization and I had the opportunity to do workshops in a lot of places. I was with two friends and sometimes we didn’t speak the local language, but we would find a way to communicate and to interview people there. There was a lot of connection with the souls of beautiful people. I’m grateful to the Philippino people.
Then I went to Indonesia and, as always, I tried to connect with educational projects that were really cool. And I got an invitation to go to South Korea to a very innovative international school called Hoge school, and stayed there for one month to do Refectory workshops and things like that.
Then came the opportunity to go to the Spirit of Humanity Forum. It’s a forum for global leaders, and that’s where I understood what the civic service part of spirit meant. From there, a group of us decided we wanted to work here in Latin America.
So Dream Factory was really working. And the SDGs became more alive, because we were doing the work and it was a really good work.
Then something changed again, in 2018. I got the opportunity to go to a conference at the UN headquarters in New York, and suddenly I was in New York asking myself, “Oh my God! How did I end up here? I never allowed myself to dream to be here, because where I come from people say it’s not possible.” And then I asked, “How many people don’t know where they want to go because they come from less privileged places?”
I started to cry, and then I cried and cried like something monumental happened. I felt that we really need to give more opportunities to people. Dreaming needs to be a human right. It has been taken away from people. People need it back. For instance, some people are facing food insecurity. They don’t know if they’re going to eat. How are we going to ask them, “What is your dream?” It would somehow be violent.
We have a role, a social responsibility here. We need to do something to ensure people can meet their basic needs, and consequently dream. So we decided to focus on this. So Dream Factory rescues people’s ability to dream, and turns it into a human right. Inside Dream Factory, we founded The Right to Dream Movement, an international rights movement. The idea was to promote and to invite people around the world to do activities, to support them to dream, to incentivize them to dream, and to help them make their dreams come true.
We almost didn’t do it at first, because we were very insecure. Then we decided, “We need to give birth to this. This week. Even if we only have five activities, let’s do it.” We ended up having more than 1000 participants and 20 activities. It was more than we expected.
Now, every year we are so excited because from September 18 to 25 we do a week-long campaign. Last year 3000 people participated with 50 activities, and this year we have spread to more countries, with at least one organization in each country to spread the idea of the week. We have one week where everybody knows that dreaming should arise. There are many cool organizations around the world, and it’s also a way to bring them together. It’s part of a common goal.
Inside Dream Factory, we founded The Right to Dream Movement,
an international rights movement. The idea was to promote
and to invite people around the world to do activities,
to support them to dream, to incentivize them to dream,
and to help them make their dreams come true.
And what else? We give workshops, and we do campaigns with a lot of advocacy. Less than two weeks ago, something really important happened. We designed a legal project, because we wanted it inside the Constitution. And we were invited by the deputy’s chamber to give a speech and to present our law project, and they really liked it. It’s another step we are celebrating.
We’ve been working with women and the vulnerable, and last year we decided we would work in other countries. With the pandemic, we asked, “Should we work somewhere else? Should we work locally as well?” Because I really believe that we need to think global, but we also need to change things locally. And we did that.
We started to add more local activities in the organization. And it’s been beautiful to see how that’s been important for the city, and for the youth, because many of them want to go away because of lack of opportunities. We’re creating opportunities, so they can have more choices locally.
Q: It’s such phenomenal work! You’ve gone really global, but now you’re also working locally. How do you feel as a leader? Where do you get your inspiration?
MC: In the Refectory, we have a saying, “Dreams are seeds, and together we are a forest.” I really like to bring metaphors. And for people and for dreams to thrive, to grow, we need fertile soil. We need willingness to change.
When young people come from non-fertile soil, we need to make the soil fertile, so that some of them awaken. We can look around and find things to make the soil good, and to plant there. Basic needs are important, like food and water, because then we can dream more, and plan, and act for our dreams.
Love is an important aspect as well. I think love is everything. Even when you don’t have basic needs met, if you have love and a place where you feel loved and safe you will find a way to do what is important for you.
In Psychology for Peace Activists, Dr. David Adams says that people think peace culture is just being passive, when it’s not only about that. If you meditate, for example, it is also about being present, and taking decisions that make sense to you. In the book, he says that how you deal with anger is one of the factors of the culture of peace leaders. Activism is not about being angry, but about not doing nothing with the unfairness that you see in the world, and wanting to act to do something to change that. This is something young leaders do.
Sharing ideas is also important. I don’t have a religion, but for me it is like Christ sharing the loaves, like sharing the seeds. Don’t keep your wisdom to yourself. Give it to the world, it’s not just yours. If you don’t give, what is the sense?
Activism is not about being angry,
but about not doing nothing with the unfairness
that you see in the world, and wanting to act to do
something to change that. This is something young leaders do.
Q: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I’m very interested in your Dream Factory workshops and activities. Do you have something to share with us as an example? What kind of questions do you ask in your workshops? How do you facilitate these workshops?
MC: I have a paper on what we do with a little bit of our methodology, but it’s in Portuguese. We explore the participants’ stories to really look at who we are, and who we were, and who we want to be. We use a lot of comparative games and theatre games. In the comparative games, as we play games we play life. So we learn a lot about ourselves. We use storytelling, biography, and agreements, and we ask, “What do you need to express yourself? What do you need to be who you are? And how can we be together in a way that we can be our whole selves, so that we can dream?” We inspire each other, we bring invited guests, and try to expand. Then we dream. And we help each other to make our dreams come true. We develop the dreams, test them, commit mistakes, and normalize committing mistakes. In school, we are punched when we commit mistakes, so most of us are afraid of committing mistakes. Here, we see mistakes as an opportunity for learning, not something to make us feel bad about ourselves.
We make it very soft, not heavy. In the end, the idea is that you enjoy it. It’s not just about the results, it’s also about the passionate relationships. After we learn from our mistakes, we improve our dreams, our project, or whatever we have. From there we can restart the cycle. Then we can grow and grow. That’s how we do it.
Any last message?
Q: Wonderful! Is there any last message you’d like to share with us?
MC: I think sharing is really important. Because it’s hard to do something alone. We are more than 20 volunteers. So I’m here representing a lot of people.
And one last thing is the phrase: we are a forest. When someone tells you their dream, support them. Acknowledge them, “You can do this.” Be a believer, as long as it’s not going to harm anyone. One of the questions I always ask myself is, “Is this going to hurt someone else or is it going to hurt me?” That’s my principle of ethics. If it’s with love and it’s not harming anyone, we need to support the ones that want to do it.
When someone tells you their dream,
support them. Acknowledge them, “You can do this.”
Be a believer, as long as it’s not going to harm anyone.
Q: Is your organization donation-based, and how do you fund the volunteers?
MC: We receive donations, and we also partner with enterprise organizations that believe in us and hire us to do the work. We also apply for grants to fund our volunteer program. Right now we have more than 20 volunteers. In addition, four of us are paid to work fulltime in the organization.
Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your life’s journey, and some great pieces of wisdom.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Myrian Castello is from Minas Gerais, Brazil. She’s an entrepreneur and a silent change maker. As the co-founder of Fábrica dos Sonhos and the International Right to Dream Movement, she’s making sure people do not give up on their right to dream.