Sem Terra Movement

Sao Paulo Travel Blog

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The Sem Terra Movement, or MST, is the largest social movement in Latin America. It involves a group of any size occupying land that is not being used by the owner for anything productive. These people are too poor to own a home or land anywhere else, so they move onto the land and begin farming it to survive and to make the land useful. They live on the land as long as possible until they are granted the title to own it. Even when they are forced off of the land by military shock teams, they continue to persevere and come back. There are many success stories and also failures.

When we went to visit the MST camp last Monday, I was blown away. My first impression was surprise that we were in a forest. When I first read the article, the image that stuck out in my mind was of a flat piece of farmland with no trees, similar to that of the Mid-West in the United States. I’m not exactly sure where that image came from, but that is what I though the land would look like. Obviously, I was much mistaken and very surprised to find out that the land was in a forest. I also felt like the camp was very “homey” with the tree branch overhanging entrance and nicely swept roads and paths. Everything was very organized with separate buildings for learning and meeting and cooking. It first reminded me of a commune or a kibbutz-like feel. I didn’t realize the families worked together so much. I thought they would each have their own little tent and own garden. It was interesting to find out that they were really cultivating and replenishing the land with very large crops.

Our host and guide, Nae, gave an excellent presentation. One of the things that I found most interesting was the structure of the camp. The layout and organizational system was very useful and seemed to work very well with all of the families in the camp. It was also interesting to learn that the group participates a lot in political activism to try to enforce the laws of their right to the land if it is not being used. It was sad to hear how the government treats them with the shock troops and violence. But the people are very persistent. They always come back to the land. I loved how they were very concerned with the environment. They didn’t just want land to live on; they wanted to specifically use it in a better way than the previous landowner was using it. They had deals with the government to preserve trees and reforest in exchange for being able to live there. Nae’s background really astounded me. I was surprised to learn that he voluntarily came to the MST and began working at the campsites at such a young age. It was very impressive that he became interested when he was only 16 years old. I think it’s also wonderful for him to aspire to finish school and get a degree to further help MST.

Walking around through the crops and homes was an experience I’ll never forget. The crops were very impressive. They had a huge variety of vegetables and fruits. It was all very organized and well taken care of. The homes and buildings were impressive as well. Out of all of the homes I went into, I saw a couch, innovative stoves, and even a baby crib. The materials they used to build the homes with were very useful. The spring and water system is an excellent idea. The pork and chicken area was great, as well as the section for herbs. Those were really impressive! I loved meeting the people and having them talk to us. They were all very nice and welcoming. It was great hearing their story and finding out how long they have been living in the camp. They were happy and smiling and the kids were all running around and playing with kites.

My overall impression was nothing short of amazing. Visits like this make me not want to leave Brazil. It makes you realize how messed up Brazil really is. It’s incredible to see the double view of Brazil; from the outside world, the country looks civilized and happy, but reality is not so. It makes me more interested to learn Portuguese to try to come back and help them in the future. This will definitely hold on endless impact on my life after seeing what these people are really going through.

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photo by: joesu