Comboni Lay Missionaries

Rural Family House of Açailândia: a history of struggles

CFR Brasil

By Zé Luís Costa. From the MST website. (Edited by Fernanda Alcântara)

CFR Brasil

The Rural Family House [Casa Familiar Rural (CFR)] of Açailândia, in the state of Maranhão, was constituted as an association in 2001 after a small group of social activists met and began to discuss ways to improve the issue of rural education for the local reality.

From the beginning, the entities that started the proposal of the family house entered the debate of this political and social project, such as the MST, which had just settled in the city, the institute of the Comboni Missionaries, the Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights and the Union of Workers and Rural Workers of the city.

The experience of this type of school is already old in the world and in the state of Maranhão they are present in several different cities. In other parts of the world this type of school is known as “Family Agricultural School”.

From the first discussions, the interested organizations held several meetings, even in cities on the outskirts, as Xoan Carlos (CLM) reminds us. “We held a series of meetings in the communities. There were another 60 meetings in the municipalities of Açailândia, São Francisco do Brejão, Itinga, Bom Jesus das Selvas. And finally the association was formed”.

He continues: “From there we obtained a piece of land, given by the Catholic Church. But we could not afford to build the building or pay the employees. So it was a few more years of struggle and articulation in the search for projects, and where we got some international support”.

CFR Brasil

Later, in 2003, the organizations involved in the idea managed to start what they dreamed of for the city and its surroundings, in view of the large number of settlements and rural communities they had in the vicinity of the city, now with 110,000 inhabitants. It was a dream for the distant future.

The pioneers of the idea achieved, with much struggle, agreements with the city council, as Xoan Carlos states. “In 2005 we started the first activities of the CFR. We started with an elementary school course, we had managed to structure several productive units in agriculture, beekeeping, cattle raising, pigs… Governor Jackson Lago had the intention of doing a high school course integrated to professional education, and a new moment started for the CFR”, he concludes.

With these articulations, in 2006 the high school course started, which was better adapted to the needs of the youth in the countryside. Mainly because, in 2001, many communities only had young people with the fourth grade at most. This was the need they have: a school with different characteristics from the conventional ones, for the countryside.

Jarbe Firmino was a student in the first class of the Açailândia Rural Family House, and later entered the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA). He graduated in Education in countryside and returned to CFR, now as a monitor/teacher, and then took a position in the institution as general coordinator.

He tells about his experience criticizing the position of the public power: “This experience, to which I refer, of coordinator, as well as in other moments, was of great difficulty in terms of support from the public power. These were periods in which contracts were not honored by the State, which weakened the movement of which the CFR is a part,” he concludes.

After all this struggle, came the recognition and the conquests. The main one was the training of young people as agricultural technicians to work in the settlements with their families and in some state agencies. The Regional Council of Engineering and Agronomy, CREA, recognized them so that they could work officially providing technical assistance to the projects.

However, the desire of the coordination and the group that organizes the association and the CFR is that the students, trained, work with their families developing what they have learned, in family farms, as most of the settlements of the agrarian reform.

CFR Brasil

The CFR is managed by an association, and the president is currently Xoan Carlos. The coordination is chosen by the association and has ten teachers who are hired by the Maranhão State Education Secretariat.

History of the rural family houses

The Rural Family Houses originated in France in 1935, in a situation of strong rural exodus, when a group of families, with the support of the Catholic Church, met to rethink this situation. They called it “House” to differentiate it from the conventional school and because it began in the home of a family; “Family” because it was an organization of families and not of the government; and “Rural” because the object of the experience was in the rural environment as a whole: technical, human, cultural, etc.

Today, in France, there are 450 CFRs. Since the 1960s, the experience has spread to Spain and Italy under the name “Family Farm School”. There are about 1,000 CFRs in the five continents, in thirty countries.

In Brazil, the CFRs began to appear at the end of the 1960s, and today there are about 150 rural educational centers that operate with the “Pedagogy of Alternance”. In Maranhão there are approximately 27 schools with these formative principles. The pedagogy of alternation developed within the methods of Paulo Freire, in a construction of technical training, is united with training for life, in the case of Açailândia, expanded with the commitment to the struggles for a differentiated model of agriculture.

CFR Brasil

Mission in Ethiopia

CLM Ethiopia

To discover the mission and take care of it is also to look at small faces and images that capture the immense joy of being a mission, in this case, among the GUMUZ. The Gumuz (inhabitants of the Benishangul-Gumuz region) are the people that God has destined to our CLM friends in Ethiopia as a place of mission and sharing. They went there to find love and today, in this video, we see a little (just a little…) of what missionary work is. The rest of what can be shared (and which is a lot) remains for a good conversation and listening to the testimony of these missionaries.

Ethiopian CLM

Two young lay missionaries at the time of coronavirus

Etiopia
Etiopia

Among the novelties brought about by this sadly famous Covid-19 pandemic is that it does not give much room for charitable action or heroism in favour of others. In old times of plague, whoever chose to do so could dedicate himself totally to the plague-stricken even at the risk of his life. This was done by people who were later declared saints, such as Louis Gonzaga, King Louis of France or Daniel Comboni. But that’s now forbidden. We are in a super-organized society that acts according to scientific hygiene criteria, and what we are told is that the best way to help others is to stay at home to reduce the risks of contagion. However, there is always room for generosity, even in times of coronavirus.

I say all this from a corner of Africa where, thank God, the coronavirus has not “yet” arrived and where government measures of isolation are not as draconian as they have been in Europe. But we are still conditioned in many ways by the virus, which is like a sword of Damocles that hangs menacingly over our heads.

I live in the mission of Gilgel Beles, in Ethiopia, with two young Comboni lay missionaries, one Spanish and the other Portuguese, who arrived here a year ago. Nothing was known about the coronavirus at that time, and they came full of enthusiasm to do many things for others. They gave themselves without measure in services such as teaching everything they were capable of teaching, visiting the villages, taking the sick who fell in their path to the health center… They worked hard to make the most of the brief two-year period of their stay.

Then, unexpectedly, in the middle of the work, so to speak, came the coronavirus. Many organizations called on their members to return to the nation of origin. They too were called. If they stayed, it was their responsibility. And they did not hesitate in their choice: they remained “on their own responsibility”, even when the mother of one of them is awaiting a delicate cancer operation and even when they themselves are afflicted by continuous attacks of typhus and typhoid fever, which weaken both of them…

And here they are. As I said, it’s not that the containment measures are particularly harsh. The range of movement is still quite wide, at least as long as the first contagions don’t show up in our area.

However, the whole rhyme of the activities has suffered. With academic life totally paralyzed and meetings banned, they can no longer teach groups and the library that they had opened no longer has any customers.

Despite all these limitations, they try to resist to the limit. They have become attached to these people and, although they cannot do many things “for them”, they can be “with them”. And they feel that the simple presence in these moments of tribulation is a value that in itself justifies both coming and staying as long as possible.

LMC Etiopia

Fr. Juan González Núñez

From Gumuz, Ethiopia

Agroecology in Brazil

Brasil

The agroecology is still very shy in the Tocantina region of Maranhão. We hope that this initiative can facilitate the adoption of this innovation, which is at the same time a set of agricultural practices, a science and a social movement. For this, collaboration and dialogue with different actors is very important, such as teaching and research institutions (Family Rural Houses, IFMA, UEMASUL …), unions, settlements, rural social movements, technical assistance organizations, municipal secretariats of agriculture and society in general. But especially with innovative and restless farmers. We are ready to add on this common journey.

With subtitles in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and French.

CLM in Brazil

Extraordinary Missionary Month Video (IV): Formation

MME

We share the video of this third week of the Extraordinary Missionary Month in which Pope Francis invites us, in the words of Saint Daniel Comboni, to be “holy and capable.”

To give an ideal answer to the realities of today we must be well prepared, understanding that this implies a good human, social, spiritual and technical training. Only then, we can collaborate properly in building a better and fairer world for all.