The Center for Earth Experiments in Brazil
In 2012, ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps members, Mariana Guerra and Eduardo Simas, moved with their two sons to Mirantão, a rural village in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. They wanted to join in the daily work of the local inhabitants, and especially to think together with them about overcoming poverty.
“Mirantão is a very isolated place,” Mariana and Eduardo explain. “Most people here dream of leaving to seek better opportunities to earn a living elsewhere. By being here, we can share our lives with people whose abilities and knowledge are not only not recognized but worse, ignored or looked down on.”
Through their immersion in this village, and by sharing experiences with its residents, they have been able to bring to fruition a project at the local school.
In June 2015, with help from ATD Fourth World and the Mantiqueira Foundation, the citizens of Mirantão launched a Center for Earth Experiments. The purpose of the center is “to produce and exchange practical knowledge related to the earth within the socio-environmental context of the Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range.” Some of the experiments are individual, while others are collective. Mariana and Eduardo say, “We are seeking to establish a link between the dignity and capacity of all human beings to contribute to the ‘collective well-being,’ and do to so in harmony with Mother Earth and all her numerous manifestations.”
Located on the outskirts of the populated area of Mirantão, the Center for Earth Experiments is in the middle of an agricultural area that has been reforested thanks to the efforts of the Mantiqueira Foundation over several decades. The center includes farm land, a charming building that welcomes visiting groups, as well as a small house where Mariana and Eduardo’s family now lives. The Mantiqueira Foundation is funding all the material needed for experiments undertaken at the center. Mariana writes:
“This year, it was possible to sow the center’s land twice in one season—thanks to Dona Ana. We have a strong connection with her, and collaborating on the second sowing was an activity that was led with joy and trust. We attracted much support. Many people came by to ask us if we knew how to sow, or if we needed tools to do so. They would tell us their ideas as well. In fact, many individuals expressed interest in joining in the next sowing at the center. One example of their support occurred several days before the sowing began. Gustavo, one of the young people who lives in the area, was working together with Eduardo to prepare the ground. Then one of Gustavo’s neighbors kindly offered the center ten bags of manure to fertilize the field. We were pleased by this gift, and it was great to see how concretely people in the village were willing to pitch in.
“Another instance of neighborliness came over coffee at the center. Before experimenting with different sowing techniques, community members talked over their experiences with farming. Dona Donga told us, “Learning doesn’t weigh down your mind. The more we learn, the better!” Conversations continued out in the field. As we were busy turning over the soil, spreading manure, and planting seeds of corn and string beans, many of us spoke about our families and our work experience. Dona Ana, for instance, told stories about when she used to be employed on big farms, both on the land, and as a domestic servant. She said how much she had missed working with soil, adding that the center motivates her ‘because we can plant friendship alongside the vegetables!‘
“Dona Donga also spoke about work experiences, but hers took place in the coal mines. She recalled how harsh the work was in the coal dust with soot covering her face. However, she valued special relationships among members of the labor union and the surrounding community. On weekends, for instance, they would listen to music and dance together.
“Dona Nica had not been in the field since she lost a leg. However, even unable to participate in the manual labor of the sowing, she still joined in the storytelling. Her father never worked in the mines or on the big plantation farms. Dona Nica spoke fondly of her childhood, when she farmed alongside her father from the age of 8. However, when she turned 13, she had to leave home to be employed as a domestic servant in a household in the city. Dona Nica confided to us many hardships she encountered there, and that she often tried to run away….
“Once we finished the sowing, we all ate a celebratory lunch together in the center. Our conversation shifted to the Center for Earth Experiments and possible future projects there. It was quite a celebration indeed—for although everyone present had been on this land before, for some of them it had been thirty years since they had set foot there!
“With the success of the second sowing of the season, a third followed suit, this time at the initiative of Dona Conceicao, who had already sown yucca seeds at the center back in September. She and her husband worked barefoot, explaining that they had never gotten used to working in boots or shoes in the field. This led Don Ze to tell us that he had not worn shoes for the first time until he was 16 years old. He and Dona Conceicao agreed that they prefer that their feet have direct contact with the soil! They also spoke about the importance of having good quality seeds for a good harvest. When they talked about how to protect crops from birds, Eduardo and Gustavo put up scarecrows all around the field.
“After the planting comes the weeding! And once again, it was a group effort to do so! Everyone took turns, depending on when each of us was free. In fact, Dona Conceicao was so invested in what we were trying to do that she took a double turn. Other villagers, like Ze Maria and Carlinhos, came to help as well. And two city-dwellers even visited the center asking us to teach them about farming.
“In partnership with the local school, this Center for Earth Experiments has created a new educational project founded on traditional agricultural values. And in fact, the Minister of Education recently recognized the center for its efforts.”
More about the Center for Earth Experiments
The Center for Earth Experiments is a pilot project designed to fight poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. Its aims are: to experiment with alternative models of agricultural production; to strengthen human relationships; to pool community knowledge; to overcome poverty; and to protect the environment. The residents of Mirantão are creative and have been thinking deeply about all of these aims. With the support of Mantiqueira Foundation and ATD Fourth World-Brazil, the residents’ efforts are feeding into a broader current of environmental projects throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world. This experimentation is part of a people-friendly and earth-centered economic vision.
The Center for Earth Experiments:
- Promotes ties between urban and rural communities;
- Recognizes and values knowledge from experience as well as academic knowledge;
- Provides a community center for people who have personally suffered the consequences of the extreme inequality that exists in Brazil. This includes indigenous people, the “quilombolas” (descendants of slaves), residents of certain rural communities or urban slums, and people who live in the streets. The center provides a place where anyone who believes in a world without poverty can join its cooperative action networks and expand their perspective by meeting others and talking over their life experiences;
- Guarantees nutritional self-sufficiency; and
- Creates new forms of education and training.