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The Children Take Their Land


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The children take their land

It was ten o’clock at night in Vila Paulistana – a northern suburb of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. A crowd was massing in the dark by the church at the foot of the hill and hesitantly fromed itself into a procession. A few torches were lit and slowly the file of 800 or so people started to move.

They called themselves ‘Filhos da Terra’ - the ‘Children of the Land’. Desperate for a place to live they have resolved to invade some unused land at the top of the hill.

Edna Sardoso was at the front of the procession with her parents. 16 years old, she was nervous, like the rest of them. ‘But no, not afraid. Some people were scared but I wasn’t.’

The land belongs to the ‘Santa Casa de Misericordia’ – the ‘Holy House of Mercy’. But according to Edna this is a house which is ‘neither holy nor merciful’. It owns huge tracts of land in Sao Paulo and though supposedly a charitable institution it is not very sympathetic to the calls of the poor.

‘Invading their land might have been illegal,’ she says, ‘ but to me it was exactly the right decision. They had too much land while there were people on the streets with nothing.’

The invasion took place in February 1984. Now almost a year later Edna shows the New Internationalist the community that the Children of the Land have created for themselves.

Procession route

This is the way – all the families together with lots of children and young people. Some singing hymns and with torches.

Building materials

This bricks and wood for the houses have all been bought on credit – so we can’t afford to lose them. We will fight rather that be thrown off the land.

Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo

The priests here always support the poor. They support the poor. They said Mass for us on the hill after the invasion.

Vila Paulistana Human Rights Centre

The office in the church basement is where we held our planning meeting. Lawyers are helping us negotiate with the Santa Casa.

Rented housing

We were living before in rented rooms – paying 100,000 cruzeiros a month when the minimum wage here is 97,000. I have seen people in the street crying because they had nowhere to live.

Community centre

We put this up first so people had a place to shelter. Many people lost their jobs through having to stay here all the time on guard.

Our house

Each family has five metres by twenty. I helped my father with the building: digging ditches, carrying bricks and water.

Security guards

The Santa Casa have now put armed guards in a building just across the way to prevent us taking any more land.

Police station

There were lots of incidents in Sao Paulo on the night if the invasion – so the police couldn’t come. Now they don’t want to come because they know do many people support us.

Local council offices

We rent many times here to the prefeitura to ask for help with housing. They said they would help but it was all lies. If you want anything you have to struggle for yourself.

Sau Paulo: A third of the people in the city live in overcrowded housing that costs so much that they don’t have money left to buy food.

[image, unknown]
Photo: Peter Stalker, Drawing: Tony Ansell

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