mst and bhutanese refugees

Sao Paulo Travel Blog

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I was unbelievably impressed with MST… possibly the best class day ever. There was so much to be learned from how the organization worked and what their goals were. We got to see how the problem of dealing with favelas is approached from different angles. Heliopolis works from the inside in assisting the community and providing a better life for the inhabitants. It brings services that the state doesn’t provide. MST allows for a solution to people’s life situations. It totally gives them another opportunity for a different life style. People are taught to be farmers… to be self-sufficient. Coming from neighborhoods where there is no work, no option out of a favela, the farms allow for the individual to feel productive. Not necessarily productive in the sense of ‘progress,’ but productive for their communities and families.
cool cool water
Their lives are simple to us, but having this option is huge. The site visit made me think of the Bhutanese camps that I was in last year. I cannot compare them, although all I was doing that day was thinking of the refugees. In the camps, the families lived in a similar style as far as the structure of the houses and bathrooms. The electricity was scarce and water was more of a problem in the camps because it was rationed out by the UNHCR. In the refugee camps, it was not allowed to farm and the houses were built right next to each other, so there wasn’t even land to farm on. There was nothing to do during the day. The refugees filled their days with activities that were attempts at being productive. The ladies would weave wool and make bags to sell or for their children to use for school. With what little land there was, they would have chickens (which was not allowed) or grow a tiny plot trying to supplement the rations of the UNHCR. They were doing these activities illegally, but did so because they had to. For the MST they were allowed to partake in farming and did so with what seemed like pride. They created ways to supply the families with water and food. This was a way to make them not dependent on the state whereas the refugees have no way to become independent of UN assistance. The refugees go out and look for work that they are not allowed to have, making them easy targets for exploitation. Refugees without work cards are taken advantage of and must deal with extremely low salaries and end up working in slave-like conditions. MST on the other hand, gives these people a way out of being exploited by giving them assistance in making a better life for themselves. Once trained by the MST for farming, they would be able to use their skills no matter where they end up farming. One major difference I could see immediately was the temporary housing. While the farmers we saw would prefer not to live in temporary housing and would prefer to settle on that land, the refugees live in temporary housing because they need to see it as temporary. The main thought of the community is not to stay in the camps and to return to Bhutan. If they began to build more permanent housing, hopes for return would be lessened. They need to have temporary housing for moral, although this short-term housing is now going on sixteen years old. MST was inspiring. Although the members are not refugees and their situation is worlds apart from those living in camps in Nepal, I still found encouragement in their work. There seemed to be a way of living that was functioning for them. As a parenthesis, this social feeling of the movement is something that is very attractive within the camps. The Maoists, who are seen as a terrorist movement in Nepal by the U.S. government, are very attractive to the refugees. They support an idea that grows in an area where the government leaves the people in greatest need on their own. MST is a positive social movement where the good part of this type of living works. The Maoists may provide an ideal for a change in government, but may not follow through. If there was a similar movement in Nepal that had all the good of MST and none of the bad of the Maoists, the refuges would accept it openly.
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cool cool water
cool cool water
340 km (211 miles) traveled
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photo by: Eric