Mirian Vilela was born in Brasília, the sprawling modern capital of Brazil built on a plateau in the middle of the country. On the surface, the city is surrounded by a savanna, but underneath lies the wellspring that feeds the major rivers of the country. 


Although she was born in the capital, Vilela spent many childhood holidays at her father’s farm, eight hours north of the city. In this remote rural area setting, far away from any urban life facilities, in a scenario mixed with cattle ranch, forest, rivers, rice fields and no electricity, she experienced a special connection with nature and her inner self. Early in the morning, as soon as the sounds of birds and cows emerged, she would jump out of bed to go and help milk the cows. During the day, Mirian would play with the chickens and other animals, and go on long horseback rides with her brother. In the evening, before going to bed early, they would spend time on the terrace looking at the sky full of stars and hearing the adults tell stories. 


On the way to the farm, a number of gates granted access through the ranch. Her father would stop the car and the children would take turns opening them. Some gates were easier than others, yet Mirian would take the challenge of opening the hardest ones. She remembers using all of her strength to lift, pull, heave, and push them open and shut. A sense of pride washed over her each time. When recalling those days with her siblings and cousins, they smile and wonder how they survived in that “isolated” scenario and with the kind of wildlife in their midst. She learned a sense of autonomy there and brought that experience to her life. 


When Mirian graduated from high school in the middle of the 1980s, she accompanied her mother, who worked in the Brazilian foreign affairs office, to Prague, Czechoslovakia, then a communist country. From the vibrant colors, music, food, freedom and a life full of friends in her home she went to the exact opposite. 


“It was like going from watching a film in color to black and white,” Vilela said. 


New possibilities


The experience opened her eyes to different cultures, music, history and languages. Before she turned 18, while her mother was on vacation in Brazil, Mirian and her brother took the car and drove to London. It was a pivotal point in her life that opened her mind to expanding the possibilities. She decided to stay in London while her brother drove back. Enrolling in English courses and dance classes, she was intent on travelling throughout Europe. 


Soon after, Mirian moved to Geneva, where she lived for nearly seven years and studied French. This found her following a passion for world affairs that had formed in her teens during Brazil’s political regime change (from military to democracy) and the subsequent first free presidential elections. Vilela began working for the United Nations and was involved in organizing the Earth Summit in the early 1990s. These efforts resulted in the framework for the Climate Change Convention and the Biodiversity Convention, among others. She enjoyed every aspect of the experience, from logistics through the preparatory process to the actual event. 


Mirian was one of five staff members invited to move to Costa Rica and open a new organization to follow up the Earth Summit process. The Earth Charter, as unfinished business of the Earth Summit, became a priority to move forward in this new phase of her life and organization. 


The principles of the charter and the institution is a wellspring that influences government, non-profit, cultural and private entities worldwide. 


To this day, Mirian continues to open gates. And soon to emerge from those gates will be a new facility that’s now in the planning and fundraising phase. 

The Osa Peninsula area is my favorite part of Costa Rica, so I happily accepted an invitation in December 2020 to visit Puerto Jimenez with a group of friends. 

My trip highlights, shared with insider tips, are meant to encourage Howler readers to plan your own getaway to paradise. I’m already looking forward to my next Osa adventure.

Our first full day in the peninsula began with a boat trip on the Pacific Ocean to see aquatic wildlife and sea birds. The adventure did not disappoint. Before long, the boat was surrounded by hundreds of dolphins, which swam by the boat for a long duration. We also saw sea turtles, a manta ray and many birds. 

That night, our group took a bioluminescent kayak tour. Immediately after setting out, we saw the gorgeous blue-green lights in the water where the plankton hit the paddle. Above us was a sky full of stars and below us, the entire sea lighting up from our paddles and hands in the water. It was pure magic … the magic of nature that is! 

See this article in the magazine

About Dr. Mirian Vilela and the Earth Charter


Dr. Mirian Vilela is the Executive Director of the Earth Charter International Secretariat and the Center for Education for Sustainable Development at UPEACE. Mirian has been working with the Earth Charter Initiative since early 1996. She coordinates the UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development with the Earth Charter and served as a member of the UNESCO Expert Reference Group for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Over the years she has led and facilitated numerous international workshops, courses and seminars on values and principles for sustainability. 

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