Young quilombolas build cesspit and artesian well to guarantee access to water and sanitation and remain in their territory in Maranhão


Young people committed to ensuring they can remain in their territory and gain access to water. This is the project of the Association of Quilombola Agroforestry Agents (Associação Agentes Agroflorestais Quilombolas: AAQ), set up by young adults from the Santa Rosa dos Pretos quilombo, in rural Itapecuru-Mirim in Maranhão.  The project made a successful application for funding from CESE’s Small Projects Programme, enabling the construction of an artesian well and a cesspit within a collective area where they apply agroforestry cultivation.  This activity is essential for territorial autonomy to access water, as well as for community planting and food sovereignty.

Installed in the cultivation fields, the fully functioning artesian well and newly built cesspit support house will provide access to two of their most basic rights: water and basic sanitation.  These facilities are strategic in that they guarantee the periodic production of food for the AAQ’s young women and their families, as well as production in the association’s bakery.  These achievements will also allow the young people to remain in the territory, by providing employment and income generating activities, in both the bakery and the fields.

“Installing the well and cesspit means having access to basic things, access to sanitation and particularly access to water.  As young people, we are looking for food sovereignty to remain in the territory.  We don’t want to go to the big cities and suffer what we know young black people suffer there: extermination, exploitation in forms of labour analogous to slavery.  We want to stay in our territory, in our home, which to us represents safety,” noted Josicléa Pires da Silva, the institution’s general coordinator.

Quilombola youth – the AAQ came about through the actions of 20 young quilombolas, committed to creating the necessary conditions to remain with their peers and work to preserve their ways of life in the territory.  “This is an association of young people who are positioning themselves now as the constructors of continued presence: we are building our tomorrows today.  We are very aware of the need to take care of nature.  We are very conscious that our actions within the territory are connected to maintaining our culture and our ways of life, our customs. By guaranteeing that we can stay here, we are also guaranteeing it for others – who we won’t even know, but who will know about us,” she added.

The well was jointly constructed by workers experienced in excavation and drilling and the young people from the territory themselves.  The activity also provided training for the community, which was able to learn through practice. “The well is great and working. We have water in the house, we have a sink, we have a bathroom with a shower that is working.  We can also stay in the house, we can sleep there, look after things and plant,” Josicléa explained.  Raw materials are stored in the house, for both planting and the bakery, an enterprise that should generate income and work for the community. “We have even been able to construct a quilombola bakery, we are full of energy and believe it’s possible to dream, because our dream has already become a reality”.

Providing hope – Concrete action in the present to create pathways for the future is what drives the group in its practices for providing “hope”. In the AAQ’s opinion, partnerships with agencies and supporting organizations are significant for this vision and for the realisation of projects to improve the quality of life in the quilombo.  “Partnership helps us envision this hope as something possible. It guarantees that another world is possible, a world different from the one we are in.  The partnership with CESE, and with other organizations, is important to add to and strengthen the autonomy of these peoples.  Making the world that we envision now,” she declared.

“Another world is only possible when we consider the autonomy of the peoples from the woods, the Peoples of the Forest, the people who live in this environment – which is understood as the rural environment.  It is these people who ensure all the maintenance of and guarantee for life, both here where we are, in the middle of the forest, and in the lives of those in urban spaces.  If it weren’t for these people, there wouldn’t be anything left of nature, if we, as traditional and original peoples, weren’t where we are.”

Find out more about the AAQ – the AAQ is a collective, set up in 2017 as a result of joint action by young quilombolas in Santa Rosa, following in the footsteps of their elders in the struggle for resistance in their territory. The association started with the mission to constitute a space to strengthen the community and create strategies to confront the racist violence perpetrated by the public authorities, by large-scale companies and landowners.  One of its main focuses is to guarantee that this and future generations remain in their ancestral territory.

Continuity in their lands also means guaranteeing the preservation of the forests and streams, the dwellings of the Voduns, entities that came with the ancestral Africans.  The direct relationship between spirituality and the territory is also expressed in access to basic rights such as autonomy over water, restoring the streams and replanting native trees.  Autonomy and food sovereignty are goals of the AAQ, which already works with agroforestry in collective planting areas and family gardens.

The association also provides training for quilombolas and original peoples, with a focus on combatting racism and stimulating peoples’ autonomy. One standout activity is the resumption of the territory’s quilombola school, implementing an autonomous anti-racist curriculum created by the AAQ.