CESE supports training in art and resistance for young people

Initiative from Homeless Movement of Bahia builds autonomy in young people from the Subúrbio Ferroviário district in Salvador

Art can be an instrument of struggle, building self-esteem and strengthening the expression of one’s self and one’s desires. It was in this knowledge that the Homeless Movement of Bahia (Movimento Sem Teto da Bahia: MSTB) decided to train young people from Salvador, understanding the power of involvement and awareness-raising through theatre, dance and poetry.  The project, called CONSTRUCTING AFRO-BRAZILIAN QUILOMBO IDENTITY: OCCUPY (RE) EXIST AND HOPE, is supported by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) and currently includes 30 young people from Salvador’s Subúrbio Ferroviário district.

The MSTB’s youth project aims to promote educational activities within the sphere of Art and Resistance, training young people and strengthening emotional bonds, experiences, symbology and collective action, as well as self-management and the dissemination of learning.  Aimed at homeless young people, the socio-political training starts with reflections about housing as a basic human right and the need to fight to defend it.  Young people are encouraged to build autonomy through activities that involve learning about the history of the struggle and resistance for housing, finding out about the pathways and thinking of personalities such as Conceição Evaristo, Angela Davis and Nelson Mandela, and reflecting on the power of constructing Afro-Brazilian quilombo identity, valuing ancestry.

According to Juliana Santos Silva, one of the project’s designers and a member of the MSTB’s Commission for Pedagogical Political Training, the training for MSTB Young People is focused on art and resistance.  “The activities are in the developmental stage, involving creative writing activities, such as the Poetry of Resistance, rap and audio-visual activities, with reflection and action about the movement’s quilombo territories.” She explains that through the current training the young people will make a documentary about their life during the pandemic and what it is like to be a young person participating in an organized movement.  “We also have activities such as dance, the body-territory as resistance and Theatre of the Oppressed, which is our training axis and the instrument of our political training.”  Recognizing the how long young people have been away from schools, and teaching and learning arenas, the activities are taking place at the Manoel Faustino Settlement, which has an open space where it is possible to ensure social distancing.

As observable project results, Juliana identifies a recognizable increase in self-esteem, understanding important points in the political struggle and knowledge about their own history of struggle and resistance, for example the Revolt of Buzios.  “In our classes they discover what grassroots power is and how we construct it.  We also address young people’s involvement in the mobilization and construction of participation  methodologies. The project is underway and we can see how positive the young people’s involvement is,” she adds.

Partnership and Protagonism

Given the challenges grassroots movements have faced since the first half of 2020 because of the pandemic, partnership with CESE has been essential in enabling this necessary activity with young people to take place. “CESE is the partner of a number of movements for struggle and resistance and contributes actively and through participation. This is an extremely important relationship for the social movements, particularly during the pandemic.  Having this partnership increases our faith and hope for a better future.”  The initiative fills the enormous gap left by the suspension of classes because of the pandemic and tackles the challenges for young men and women at this time.  “This training comes at a time when young people have been at home for a year, without follow up from their schools. The partnership enables us to create focal points for grassroots participation and is extremely important.”

Maria Luiza Santos is 19 years old, active in the MSTB and has been trained to work as a knowledge multiplier, sharing her learning with other young people. “Participating in the training was extremely important for my development.  All the activities were hugely significant.  I learnt so many things.  An exchange of knowledge and learning took place.  I have been in the MSTB since I was very young. That’s why it’s so good to see a new generation coming through, able to recognize their role in society, their role in the struggle, the resistance and to see art as a means of struggle.  To see young people’s protagonism in art, poetry and dance,” she explains.  Experience has shown her the value the active role of young people’s protagonism plays in the project, because work by young people for young people leads to greater adherence. “The fact that young people are in the frontline constructing activities strengthens them, building autonomy and self-esteem, as knowledge multipliers and as participants”.

At 26 years old, for Antônio Carlos Jesus de Sousa participating in the training was really good but also very arduous.  “I never imagined I would participate in the training, because I didn’t want to, I was a rebel.  Today I understand that occupation is a right.  The movement rescued me and smoothed my edges.  Today I am somebody who can think,” he said.

The training has also awakened a taste for writing: “I began to write poetry, and with each poem I felt I was in the right movement and that the struggle was sleeping inside me.  The struggle is every day, daily, but I understand that knowledge is the key to everything”. And as well as self-expression, Antônio Carlos has experienced self-identification as a black person and an increase in his self-esteem.  “I began to identify myself as black and to see myself as the descendant of kings and queens.  To discover that my hair is significant, it is something from my origin, my ancestry.  I learnt that every detail of my body is a mark of this descent”.

In 2020, CESE supported the MSTB’s emergency actions in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by COVID-19, aimed at collecting food and hygiene products for settlements that lacked basic sanitation and water supply. People served by the movement’s initiatives live in an informal context and have been even more impoverished by the socio-economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.  The young people’s training project has enhanced partnerships and collaborations between the organization and the grassroots movement.

Strengthening young people in Brazil

As one of CESE’s action strategies, dialogue and coordination have been established as essential elements for the construction of work aimed at fulfilling its mission, confronting inequalities and striving for the assertion of human rights.  For this reason, CESE has approached young people’s organizations/collectives to strengthen its struggles for political, cultural and socio-economic transformations.

In 2020, CESE ran a Roundtable Conversation with a number of youth representatives from the countryside and the city, involving women, black youth, peasant workers, fishermen and women, indigenous people, members of the LGBTQI+ community, quilombolas and young people from different cultural expressions. This initiative brought together about 20 groups and has supported 14 projects taking place this year, from various locations around the country, particularly in the Northeast, North and Central-West regions.