Maceio Assentamento

Maceio Radio StationStanford Siver, our director of development, is currently working in Brazil. Here is what he writes:

I'm just back in Fortaleza, Brazil, after a seminar in a remote settlement called Maceio Assentamento. I met many amazing people and I feel blessed to have been able to go there and meet them and stay in their homes and learn together. Much appreciation to Raul with Janus Instituto de Consciência Global e Ecologia Social for making it all happen, for building the relationships, for finding funding, and for inviting me to come and for working in such a rich, powerful, and complex environment. So beautiful, Raul, to see what you do and the way that the people in the settlements love and relate to you!!!! And great appreciation for BNB, Banco do Nordest do Brasil, a government development bank, for their forward thinking, courage, support, and funding.

On the way to the settlement, just as we were leaving Fortaleza, a sign flirted with me. It said Dragoa do Mar, Dragon of the Sea, referring to a former slave who led a revolt against a specific task in the work that slaves were forced to do in Fortaleza. Slaves would no longer use their small sail boats to sail out to the slave trading ships and bring other slaves ashore. Slaves would not support slavery. It's a reminder that the region has been the stage for powerful encounters for a long time.

Up until 25 years ago the settlers had been living on the land for at least five generations while working for the landowners. After an intense process involving the police and military and a legal battle they, in their words, conquered the land. The government intervened and now owns the land and allows the settlers to live there. There has been a complex relationship process between the people, INCRA (the government agency that administers the land), MST (an NGO that represents people without land), and the former owners and business interests who have diverse ideas about the land. 

Up until the time of this transition, the government was not able to allow or support the people to build modern housing because of the contested ownership issue. They were living in traditional mud and stick houses with thatched leaf roofs, no electricity, and no access to education. They now, most of them, have concrete houses with electricity, their own school, and a few satellite tv antennas and electric keyboards, etc. There are schools in the settlements now, so their children no longer have to be bussed long distances and some of younger people are proud that they have gone to the cities to get degrees. But there is a strong voice in the community trying to keep people from going to the cities. That voice understands that the cities are filled with trauma and crime and fears that, without better education and support, the youth are in danger of falling into these traps: drugs, prostitution, crime, trauma, extreme states. They want to develop locally the educational and economic resources that they need.

The sons and daughters of the settlers are not immediately granted settler status and there is a rank difference between "settled" and "aggregate" residents and this is one of the sources of tension that is beginning to split the community. They have had discussions about whether they should drop their collective association and work, farm, and live independently.

Some people admit that, to begin with, they didn't understand money and didn't know how to formal account for their resources and expenses. Many mistakes were made with the collective funds over the past twenty five years but they understand that they are learning together and have forgiven those who lost or misspent funds. The extent of their compassion and understanding allowed them to reelect one president who had reportedly mishandled funds based on his understanding of the need for change and efforts to create a committee steering the association. The community is learning and evolving. There is an enormous atmosphere of solidarity. They have been through a lot together and feel they need each other to protect themselves from many outside forces.

The goal of the seminar was to introduce process oriented leadership, development, and conflict facilitation concepts, such as Deep Democracy, from the WorldWork paradigm and to provide background training for an international video conference, scheduled for October 6th. This video conference will be facilitated by Arny and Amy Mindell from Portland, Oregon and include participants from the settlements, state and local government, Banco do Nordeste, business, universities, and non-government organizations.

In the seminar, after a brief theory presentation we held a series of innerwork and group processes exercises and the group broke up into small working groups to focus on specific issues that are troubling the community. During the seminar the people said a great deal both about their support for their leaders (many one of whom are well loved, one has been elected five times to 2 year terms of office) and about their sense that there is too much authoritinarianism, that there is no support for their own ideas and directions, and also that there is too much individualism. Hmmm... too much authoritinarianism and too much individualism? Such a strong polarity means that they are getting to know themselves, are developing their own visions for how to live together, and developing awareness of power...

Following the leadership of the seminar participants the video conference will focus on the isolation of the settlements and the problem that happens when young people come to the city.  This is an issue that effects not only the settlers but many people and organizations in the city and throughout Brazil.

Raul and his team at Janus are working to invite people from state and local governments, BNB, the Human Rights Commission, universities, business, and non-government organizations to participate in the conference and the work that will continue afterwards. And DDI is considering to create an ongoing training program in Fortaleza. Looking forward to seeing where it all leads.

Here is a link to a few photos:

And photos put to tunes played by local guitarists:

Wednesday, 30. September 2009

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