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Where: Conceição das Crioulas and Salgueiro, in the Sertão of Pernambuco State, Brasil When: 5th February – 5th March 2009 NGO: International Service Brasil (www.internationalservice.org.uk) Local NGO: AQCC
The primary objective of the placement was to increase awareness in the UK of the positive effects of development work in Brazil. Specifically IS Brasil want people in the UK to understand the reality of development in North and North East of Brazil and be aware of how the UK Government funding (through DFID PPA funding to international aid programmes) is being used and what the impacts of this funding in marginalized communities at risk of social exclusion in the poorest regions of Brazil. The placement is also to aid in the promotion of future IS Brasil projects and the gaining of future funding from the European Union.
The development work
IS Brasil created a technical partnership with AQCC and the communities to supply technical resources such as tools and materials, and to place an agronomist/development worker in the communities. The majority of my time was to be spent with Samora Vuma, Samora being an agronomist from Mozambique who had spent the last 18 months living in the communities and working with them on farming projects. The core objectives of Samoras project were: • • • • Increase the production and diversification of organic produce in the community Reduce/eradicate the dependency on non organic pesticides and fertilisers Increase their food security through the consumption of healthy food produced by the community family Help in a potential increase of income generation produced by the selling of the organic produce in community markets in a territory where the possibilities of income generation are very limited
What is interesting about the setup of this relationship is the South-South cooperation; normally development work will come in the form of North-South. North-South is where people from the northern hemisphere are working with issues in the Southern hemisphere, the cooperation seeks to promote the exchange of experience and of best practice between the two parties. Best practise is great but best practise in one place is not always best practise in another. The placement of Samora has been helped by the South-South relationship in several ways: • • • They all have a very similar ancestry, that of Africa Samora speaks Portuguese and has a good understanding of similar community setups Mozambique has similar climatic conditions and therefore has similar traditional agricultural techniques and similar sets of issues
Clearly all the people in the communities love Samora because of who he is as a person and because of many of the points above, the communities treat him as one of their own, like a brother. In the wake of the current global economic crisis the practise of South-South development will become increasingly important, it is highly likely that funding to all current and prospective projects, especially North-South, will be cut. It is expected though that this type of cooperation will likely be less affected and I hope that is the case for the Quilombola. More information on South-South development in the financial crisis http://www.ipc-undp.org/pub/IPCOnePager76.pdf
Where are the communities?
Quilombola communities can be found throughout Brasil but I was working within a group of communities centred around the community of Conceição das Crioulas. Conceição das Crioulas is in the North East of Brasil in the state of Pernambuco, approximately 550km from Recife and 60km from the nearest town of Salgeiro. The region is semi-arid and is known as Sertão, translated this means backlands, it is an area quite unlike the lush rainforest picture most people have of Brasil. The vegetation is known as caatinga, it is a scrubland that consists primarily of small, thorny trees that shed their leaves seasonally. At ground level the vegetation is made up of cacti, thick-stemmed plants, thorny brush, and arid-adapted grasses. Many annual plants grow, flower, and die during the brief rainy season. The climate in the Sertão brings only an average 500mm of rain per year, this comes in the first few months of the year and then there will be nothing for 6 months. Often the rain can come in short bursts causing flooding and sometimes it delivers very little causing serious drought conditions.
As I have said there are many groups of Quilombola throughout Brasil and although they all have a similar history and similar current issues I am writing in reference to the communities of Pernambuco and what I have understood from my time there.
Who are Quilombola and why are they there?
The Quilombola originate from people brought from Africa as part of the slave trade in the 1600’s. During the time of slavery thousands of slaves were able to flee their places of ‘work’ and setup communities where no one else would live or go. It was not only African slaves that made up the Quilombola but also persecuted natives, women without occupation, poor people and military service evaders. This is echoed in their attitude towards people wanting to join the communities today, if you are willing to fight for and believe in how the communities live you will be warmly welcomed. It is difficult to say exactly where the people of Conceição originate from, Africa clearly, but during the slave trade, records were rarely kept and I am not a historian. However from researching the Quilombola history I have found some interesting papers and from my experiences I can see where some links could be made. “With respect to the Bantu people from Angola, their agriculture was less complex and was practised by women while men were engaged in livestock-raising. Unlike the Yoruba and other Sudan people, who wore cloth materials, black people living along the banks of the Zambezi and Benguela rivers wore tree bark clothes (such as they would do in the quilombo of Palmares); further to the southwest, they wore leather clothes and had hunting habits and iron weapons.”
Quilombos and their influence on Afro-Brazilian cultural interpenetration - María Laura Bergel
What interested me about this quote is the knowledge of the women in farming and the mention of Palmares, Palmeres is relatively close to the region where Conceição lies and the farming skills would have been essential to survive in this area. The relationship of farming and women in the community history was described in my interview with Andre Lino. “…there was firstly 6 black woman coming from somewhere, where we don’t know but they say that they were fugitives from the big sugar cane farmers where they were slaves coming from Africa. When they arrive here in this territory of Conceição they started to work in some projects here where they get money and they bought these lands to farm.“ Andre Lino
Problems faced by the communities
Andre Lino also spoke of Titulo “…in 1802 they got titulo, the first stage of rights and legalisation to the land…”Andre Lino, land rights are one of the biggest issues faced by the community. Without land rights they are at the mercy of the large farm owners and have to farm on land that is far from suitable, this creates a lack of stability and difficulty in creating a steady income. Over the last 20 years since democracy was re-established in Brasil there have been changes in the law to provide the Quilombola with the tools to fight for their land rights but this has been a struggle because of costs involved and changes in the laws over this period, essentially changing the goal posts. “These tools like article 68 of the government constitution of 1988 was not respected by another politician that is why it was changed to article 487 and it is still not respected by the politicians and since 1988 up to now all of these legal tools are not respected and an example there is now some politicians in the parliament trying to wipe out this article and the tools that give advantages to the Quilombola communities. it is very difficult for us meaning that we need to organise ourselves for a big fight to get our rights.” Marcia.
“Now in the parliament there is a group leader of some parties which defends the position of agribusiness which does not want to see the Quilombolas land free because they will lose land to produce monocultives.” Cida Generating steady incomes is also a major issue for many in the communities, they rely on funding and aid to build infrastructure such as housing and for tools to work the land. Education is available and many people start their education, but many cannot afford to complete their studies and only have a basic education. Everyone in the communities see education as being very important and pretty much everything will stop if there is education available for free; they are very committed to learning but I have also witnessed problems in application of that learning. Health is another area of concern, there is a doctor available a couple of days a week but there is no emergency care. The communities have a wealth of local medical knowledge for natural medicines but this is not recognised, instead manufactured medicines are distributed.
This is only an introduction to the Quilombola, there are many complicated issues outside of this that I don’t have full knowledge of and can’t go into here, further information can be found online. http://www.caatingacerrado.com.br/ http://www.cclf.org.br/ http://www.conceicaodascrioulas.org/
Because of my understanding of the project objectives in a preliminary trip to Brasil, 2 months before this project, it enabled me to discuss the subject of the Quilombola with a wide range of people. I visited Rio de Janeiro, Sau Paulo, Santa Catarina, Brasilia, Manuaus and other parts of the Amazon; one thing was very clear, the majority of people did not know who the Quilombola were or their significance to Brasil. Additionally those that knew of the Quilombola knew them from history lessons, it was clear that even amongst this group of mostly university educated people, no one knew the Quilombola still existed or that they still had many of the issues they had hundreds of years ago. It was clear to me that not only was the objective to show awareness of the effects of UK funding but also to promote the awareness of the Quilombola in Brasil. This does mix the audience of the project into 2 distinct groups but I felt awareness for both groups should be taken into account. The result of this information informed the structure proposed for the film defined later in this document. Just to add a little bit more to the project, in the lead up to the project IS, TIE and I discussed the possibility of me running a workshop for a couple of days with the video team in the community. Areas that were suggested were general footage shooting, editing of sound and story boarding. This was something that I was very keen to do as a way of building a relationship with well-known members of the community rather than just arriving and filming. A selection of the video groups work can be found online http://www.crioulasvideo.org/
Following one of the most arduous journeys from the UK to Brasil I arrived in Recife a day late. Unfortunately the day I had chosen to leave coincided with worst snowfall witnessed in London for 20 years, I arrived having spent 3 days trying to get to Brasil, sleeping on airport/Costa coffee floors, being woken every half an hour by airport security announcements and generally not having the most fun of times… but I was excited to get stuck into to the project so none of that mattered, nothing a lot of coffee wouldn’t sort out! The form that the project was going to take had already been decided as part of the project briefing, I was to create a short film about the work happening in the community. The video could then be used by the NGO’s to show where the funding had been used and how effective the project had been. My in country training took place at the IS office in Recife, this gave me a bit more background on what to expect in the community and who some of the key people were going to be. It was becoming ever more clear that I wasn’t really sure what I’d gotten myself into at this point, a little nerve racking and just the simple fact that I now found myself in another country, talking to strangers, and planning to go somewhere where most Brazilian people will never set foot; exciting really! While the form of the project was to be a film, there was still a lot of discussion on whom we were targeting and how we’d reach them; I wanted to take this film beyond just being for selected audience viewing to gain more funding. The Internet was the obvious choice to get a wider audience around the globe so we looked at options such as Facebook, Orkut and YouTube. A suggestion for targeting Brasil was also the BBC world service channel; they often play documentary shorts of about 3 minutes. Delivery logistics aside we had to decide the story we were going to tell… One thing I made very clear was that whatever the story was, was the story that would be told. No amount of planning could define exactly what we’d be shooting but we did have to go with a structure so we could plan interviews and shooting. Samora and Adalmir from the community were able to give us initial insights to base our plan on.
• • Introduction to the area History of the Quilombola o Who are they o Why are they there o What is difficult for them o Land rights, health, education Faming with Samora o What is the project o What difference it is making o South-South development Farmers market
o Economic improvement o Improved integration with local town Concluding on the impact of the work done so far
Once we had the rough filming plan we were able to put together a schedule of work and identify the key interviewees that should be able to fulfil the plan. Considerations for the interviewees was their knowledge on the area we were looking at, if their personality would come across well on camera and of course if they would be happy to be involved. We felt that to make the interviewees more comfortable and with the difficulties of language barrier, the Quilombola have a very distinctive regional dialect, we chose a member from the local video team to pair up with me as the interviewer. The questions for the interviews were designed between the NGO, the local video group and myself, they were aimed at being fairly open but with enough direction to gain the information we were looking for.
Questions About the Quilombos story
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 1. 2. 3. 4. What is Conceicao das Criolas? Why are you living here? What is it like living here in the community? Why do you still live here? Are there difficulties in living here? What is Quilombo? What is it to be Quilombola? How is the Quilombola movement organised? Do the Quilombolas have the legal tools to fight for their rights? If they have such tools does the government respect and uphold them? What is necessary for the Quilombolas to continue living in the community? What are the biggest problems the Quilombola community face? What is the impact of the development work in the community? Has the work of the development workers respected and acknowledged traditional knowledge? What have you learned from the development work? What was good about and how can we improve the development work?
To increase the awareness of the Quilombolas fight for rights to live
The work and impact of IS Brazil in the community
5. How do you feel about Samora leaving?
1. What do you think about South-to-South cooperation? 2. Do you think the South-to-South cooperation must continue?
Part of our schedule included the first few days for me to run a workshop with the local video team; this was with a dual purpose, to help with their education and also to introduce myself to the community without the pressure of filming. Is was also originally planned that I would be editing the film in the IS office in Recife, the principle was fine but I felt it would be better to spend more time in the community and then use my greater resources in the UK to produce the film. Ultimately I wanted to get the best from the project even if that meant spending more time working on it in the UK. The project was not the usual style of work that has happened in previous TIE projects and it was clear that not only was there a lot of work to be done in Brasil but also on the return to the UK, longer term commitment would be required. With a formation of a plan and a hire car we set out to film, despite the plan I left making it clear that whatever the film will be is the story that is there, I would not try to make it fit our plan.
As way of an introduction to the community, for the project and myself, we were invited to a community meeting with the elders; I hadn’t been so nervous in a long time and I have no idea what was said but everyone seemed happy to have me there. This was already highlighting the language difficulties I would continue to face in the community. Our best laid plans went out the window from the off with the workshop not going ahead, this was a disappointing moment for me. It was rescheduled for the end of my time there despite me trying to involve everyone in the project before we started, so everyone knew why I was doing things in a certain way and how they could involve themselves and learn throughout my time there. From all the interviews that we had organised, none took place on the day we days we had scheduled and a few were never obtained. Difficult to say why some did not go ahead but everyone there was living there normal lives, for instance one of the farmers, his daughter became very ill and had to go to hospital in the nearest town. Despite seeing and hearing about the climatic/location conditions in the area, video footage from the NGO of the community was very insightful, but nothing prepared me for the reality. The strength of the sun whilst filming was enough for the camera to overheat, for me to overheat, and the brightness made colour and contrast balance a constant source of fun. Adding to that, the levels of dust, cleaning lenses and filters every 5 minutes, the occasional downpour of rain, the driving conditions breaking my hard drives and audio cables breaking. Whilst this was all very challenging it was ultimately exciting to be improvising so often and making it all work. One of my biggest problems in interviewing was not being able to interact in the process, it was clear from the first 2 interviews that the translated answers were interesting but there were missed opportunities to dig into further areas of interest. To improve this we worked on interview basic techniques such as warming up the interviewee by chatting normally with them during equipment setup, listening to the answers that came back and not being afraid to change the order of questions and ask questions we hadn’t discussed. All the equipment we were using was hi-end consumer, less intimidating for the interviewees
but a bit more difficult to control in the conditions, we avoided direct to camera shots to further reduce any pressure on people being interviewed. Whilst some people in the community were quite nervous some were very confident and loved to talk, that led us to more interviewing practise on techniques to widen or narrow questions depending on the length of answers. Almost every day was spent on the driving on tracks going to the communities, not always filming but moving around and visiting a lot of people. Most of the communities had electricity, albeit only recently (last 6 months), some areas had clay brick houses, others had houses made from mud and sticks. The contrast from Recife to Salgeiro to the communities was a constant reminder of the gap in wealth in Brasil that many don’t see and probably don’t appreciate, considering Brasil is seen as having a strong economy. Ultimately what I thought the story would be and what we had planned to film was not quite what I came away with. As I had said all along, whatever the story was, would be the story the film told, sure enough some things were not as expected both for me and for Samora.
There were a couple of issues with our original plan, both of which affected the outcome. The first was the understanding of South-South development with the people being interviewed. It’s only really the people providing placements and funding that understand the uniqueness of the situation, those interviewed did talk of the benefits of Samora being there but they were not able to talk about South-South specifically to relate it back to the NGO. Second, and probably the most worrying for me and especially Samora, was the lack of activity in the agricultural market. The market was setup 2 months before Samora returned to Mozambique to see his family for Christmas, however we arrived to be told that the market had not run since Samora left. The market had gained significant momentum in the 2 months, press coverage from the local majors wife and significant increases in sales prompting interest from local businesses. At a stage before the market, the communication between the community farmers had stopped, there were no community meetings being held about farming and any produce had been sold without being recognised as organic produce for very small sums of money. It was hard to understand why this had happened; for the first time they had a sustainable income and it felt like it was being thrown away because no one was willing to talk without prompts from an outside source such as Samora. With no film of the market, only previous photos from the NGO, and no direct references to South-South development the final direction of the film was as follows: • Introduction to the Quiombola and their history o • o o Support material of the town, school, surrounding area Reference to the South-South initiative What is the project? To support the Quilombola community, small scale sustainable organic farming and livelihoods. Introduction to the project for farmers to talk
How is this project implemented? This project is implemented through funding from UK and the EU with the local group AQCC, allowing the placement in the community of a Mozambican agricultural expert called Samora. Highlight north south versus South south, Language, ancestral culture, similar climate, foods and issues, acceptance of knowledge greater than north south
Farmers talking about the work and the development/evolution of the project, training, extension agents o o Support material of the farm shots and the market stills Farmers talk about the issues in future of the skills learnt.
Conclude with Christiano (NGO) talking about the need for more support Why has the farmers market stopped? o Without the outside stimulus of a project programme, the continuation of newly learnt techniques and changes are difficult to maintain. It is necessary that the comprehension, stimulus, equipment are all maintained. At a lesser intensity we must continue the stimulus to reinforce the learning, 2 years is not enough time to fully implement change, this can take 5 years or more.
How can this be improved? o
In some respects the outcome was a little disappointing, it didn’t show the success I had naively hoped to show, but it does tell the real story and it does show the need for further work. As the film was primarily targeting additional funding for this and other projects it highlights perfectly the difficulties faced and the length of investment that is required to make a difference.
On returning to the UK the plan is to team up with a Brasilian editor to help me put together the film, both technically and also in terms of translations. Over a period of about 3-4 months we hope to have produced and had the film signed of by all parties and have any rights issues ironed out before it is released through all channels we can, starting with online.
When I was first introduced to the idea of doing a project with TIE I was a little unsure if it really was for me, I had been working for 10 years in one company and just needed a break and the concept of doing something on my break that required objectives hadn’t even been a consideration. Once I began to understand the project it showed so many opportunities and opportunities for objectives that I would not get by simply going travelling. It wasn’t until I had had my UK training session covering development that I put together my list of objectives, in hindsight they were fairly typical of what anyone would put; developing an understanding of development and another culture, broaden my horizons, change my outlook on work and its importance in my life and learn another language. It really hit me when I arrived and went through my in-country training just how outside of my comfort zone I was straying, that was a good thing but this project really was a case of heading into many unknowns, I could see that from the brief, it was detailed but nothing prepares you for things like this other than getting stuck in and giving it a go. It was an amazing insight to see where European funding goes and how it’s used to make a difference, to witness this firsthand is something that not many people will get to experience. I was also very lucky to get to live with and know the Quilombolas, they are an amazing group of people with warmth that I have never come across before and that in the face of daily battles just to live. It gives you a new outlook on life and work, the things that seemed stressful and difficult before no longer matter so much, you still care but there are bigger worries in life (sorry work!). Actually experiencing water shortage problems, eating the same food day in day out, the dust, the insects, the heat and strength of the sun, after all that I still can’t wait to go back. I had some amazing experiences, getting to film president Lula without being arrested, going to carnival and dancing badly whilst having gringo shouted at me every 5 minutes, being in the community when the army and police turned up with 2 helicopters and trucks of armed men raiding for illegal crops, the list goes on and on. I have always been a perfectionist in everything I do even if it is to the detriment of my own life and health, attaining perfection simply wasn’t an option with the conditions, the language barrier and everything else going on. One of the things that the NGO guys told me was, whatever happens what you have at the end of the project is more than we had before. This is my biggest personal outtake of the whole trip; perfection is not always required and letting it get in the way of achieving anything does not help anyone. The trip has without a doubt changed my perspective on so many things in life and at work If I had one regret it would be not knowing enough Portuguese, I could have made so much more of my time if I had had more than a month to learn but you make do with what you have. The positive aspect is that it has prompted me to continue learning Portuguese and stay in contact with my friends from the community so I can revisit and learn even more from and about them. TIE provided me with an experience of a lifetime that has shown me so much about me, fulfilled my objectives a million timers over and allowed my agency to obtain it’s objectives with more benefits than expected. You have to think in ways that you never have before; being thrown into another culture, language, place and work is a truly daunting experience, but the more you put into it the more it rewards you. If you are reading this with the possibility of joining up with TIE for a project, grab the opportunity with both hands and hold on tight, it will be scary, fun, exciting but most of all you will regret it if you don’t!