“Harvest in Times of Drought”
by Rural Voices and Dan Baron
Publisher: Transformance Institute, Belém, Brasil 2011. Available from LAB*
By Dan Baron
Here, in the cradle of the industrialization of the Amazon, we’ve arrived at perhaps the very lip of the final drama of the human story: a threshold between a terrifying drought and a reflexive dawn. Can we who live the daily intimate violence of the sharp inequalities, uprooting communicide and ecological upheaval of the bankrupt paradigm of competition, create on time a global project capable of cultivating a new paradigm of cooperation and sustainable community?
In full panic about a futureless world, children and young people already seek refuge in industrialized foods, virtual communities and paradises of self-consumption. Parents retreat into numb fatalism, aware that green consumption, industrialized creativity and zero tolerance will not resolve our crisis of civilization. What will inspire any of us on this stark threshold to choose to create a new human performance of care, co-responsibility and solidarity, not just with others, but with ourselves, and with the future?
Harvest in Times of Drought roots the educative and transformative potentials of the artistic languages in the wisdoms of the land, the forest and the rivers of the Amazon to contribute to a proposal adaptable to any neighborhood, school and social organization. Fruit of a seven year collaboration between arteducators from the Transformance Institute – Dan Baron (author of Cultural Literacy and cofounder of the World Alliance for Arts Education), and Manoela Souza (co-founder of the Brazilian Network of Arteducators) – and fifty rural pedagogues and community leaders from the Federal University of Pará, Marabá, this book-CD is a pedagogic resource and collective artwork whose own aesthetic aims to cultivate the reflexive sensitivity and transformative performance which the new paradigm affirms.
This book is dedicated to Maria Silva, one of the book’s co-authors, assassinated on May 24, 2011. It will inspire anyone interested in Latin America, Pedagogy, Applied Theatre and Performance Studies, Arts for Social Transformation, Agrarian Reform.
It is supported by project partners: Federal University of Pará-Marabá, Brazilian Confederation of Agricultural Workers (CONTAG), Information, Knowledge Management Emergent (IKMe).
* The book is available, at £15, from LAB (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Harvest what you sow: decolonizing imagination, Amazonia-style
By Giedre Steikunate*
What will the future bring?
What do we plant, wear, consume?
What do we eat?
The environment cries out and complains.
When we eat the last grain
and cut down the last tree
what will we realise?
That the green money we planted
transformed the farmer’s life
Let’s recover our past
and replant seeds of the future.
What do we plant?
From deep in the Brazilian Amazonia, the beautiful yet anguished stage and witness of ecocide and displacement, reverberates a voice tranquil but consistent. It’s the poetic voice of the people who’ve been marginalized by orthodox development practices and forced to “modernize”, in the neoliberal sense of the word. Facing the grim global story of a futureless world – and if we continue destroying our planet as if there was no tomorrow, there really will be no tomorrow – they stand with a proposal on how to develop a sustainable future. They call it “Pedagogy of the Land”, and now there is a book about it, Harvest in Times of Drought.
Reclaiming our future
This pedagogy, implemented through arteducation, which involves theatre, music, and poetry, is based on the simple principle of sharing. Sharing experiences, knowledges, ideas: working together to reclaim our future, to make it possible again. Based in Marabá in Brazil’s northern state of Pará, arteducators are up against the almighty worshippers of neoliberalism, prophets of infinite growth on a planet with finite resources, the invisible market forces that are destroying the last remnants of sustainable ways of life.
Agda Souza Campos is one such fighter. Farmer, educator and trade unionist, she talks about the principal problem she shares with millions of farmers in Brazil: how to remain on the land. The present model of agricultural production prioritises international agro-business interests and disregards those of small farmers; it ignores local cultures and makes them irrelevant. To Campos, this presents a very threatening challenge. The dual problem of industrialization of rural production and lack of policies that would sustain farmers creates a dead-end situation. The only way out is to fight one’s way through, back to the roots, back to our humanity.
That is exactly what Pedagogy of the Land sets out to achieve. It proposes a new paradigm of education (their preferred term is “popular education”, since “non-formal education” has developed negative connotations) based on co-operation between human beings rather than the free market model which is deeply rooted in competition. Arteducators believe we can contribute to our common humanity through dialogue and sharing of different knowledges that every one of us possesses.
In Amazonia today, two conflicting elements confront each other: sustainability and the economy. Which one will win? Many dangerous initiatives are being sold to the public as the only possible way, against which there are no alternatives. But every time it turns out to be a lie. “It’s proven that you don’t need to build a Belo Monte to have energy,” says Manoela Souza, artist, activist and co-founder of theBrazilian Network of Arteducators. She is refering to one of the most controversial development projects in the Amazon, the world’s third largest dam for which the Brazilian government has recently given a green light despite a strong “No” by indigenous communities and environmental campaigners. While the organisation Amazon Watch calls Belo Monte a “monster dam”; the government insists it alone knows what’s best for the country and its people – without even asking those very people.
Capitalism has been lying to us that the only right way is its way. But there are other ways to do things, Souza says. In this sense, arteducation serves as an example which proves that there really is another way.
Writing the land
Arteducation perceives poetry as a language which helps develop self-confidence. It’s based on the idea that literacy is not only about reading and writing, but also about reading and writing the land. In this sense, land is much more than just an acre of soil in which one sows rye or maize or nettles. We are interconnected: land is us, and we are land. As one line in the poem Voices of the country goes, “Everyone has the right to claim their dreams”. But not everyone has the courage to claim them. Gaining this courage is one of the pedagogy’s aims.
At the heart of this pedagogy is one more important aspect of poetry: writing poems and sharing them with others allows authors to turn their own life stories into tools for education. “We are all both actors and audience at every moment of our lives,” says Dan Baron, arteducator and co-author of Harvest in Times of Drought. “It’s about de-colonising your imagination,” he adds.
As well as being a good exercise in group psychotherapy, confronting life’s most challenging moments also works as a mechanism that unlocks deeply hidden frustrations; it helps relive painful moments and gives them a different ending. It’s also a crucial instrument of empowerment. One such example is violence against women, an act that not only humiliates and traumatizes women but also disempowers them as human beings. Somewhat coincidentally, the Carajás region in the southeast of Pará is one of Brazil’s most violent. “Where there’s so much violence, there’s a lot of silence,” Baron says. This silence must be broken. Arts can help speed up this process.
To pay the highest price
Despite its profound aims, this approach has its critics. Campos says resistance mainly comes from those in positions of power who areafraid to lose it: for example, head teachers oppose arteducation because they feel their own might in traditional educational institutions is slipping away.
In Amazonia, it’s dangerous to be an educator, especially one that teaches sustainability. As probably almost everywhere else, education here is political. In May last year, arteducator and activist Maria do Espírito da Silva and her husband paid the highest price for their chosen life and work path. In our capitalist world of non-stop consumption, those who dare whisper – let alone teach – about community-based sustainable ways of life are risking much more than simply being not listened to. Neoliberal forces of power – banks, multinational corporations, speculators, faceless investors – are allergic to sustainability; their very existence depends on unsustainable ways of life practiced, at the cost of the have-nots, by the haves – exactly the ones Maria da Silva had been fighting against.
Her work is continued by others. In fact, by millions of others: Contag (National Confederation of Agricultural Workers, of which creators of the Pedagogy of the Land are part) has 25 million members all across Brazil, and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It’s been a long process reclaiming the land, and it is not finished yet. But, as arteducators realise, we will harvest what we plant – so we better make sure we plant right.
* Giedre Steikunate is a freelance writer and journalist based in London, UK. The issues she cares about most passionately, she says, are global/social/climate justice and the people who are building a possible future for all of us. Her website is: http://giedres.com/.