Brazilians taught the fine art of revolution

January 19, 2007

Militant students prepare to study, cook and clean at campus built by landless farmers. Gibby Zobel reports.

It is still being built, but Brazil's "university for revolutionaries" is taking in a fresh wave of militant students in a campus built brick-by-brick by landless farmers.

The Florestan Fernandes University, named after a working-class sociologist, took more than 1,000 members of the Movimento Sem Terra (MST) almost five years to construct from scratch in an extraordinary voluntary effort involving members from across 20 states in Brazil.

The campus in the state of Sio Paulo is equipped with a computer room running on open-source software, a cinema, a library with 15,000 donated books, a refectory, a 200-seater auditorium, four classrooms and four dormitories that sleep 200 people.

Funds for the construction of the school came from sales of the book Land by photographer Sebastiio Salgado, European non-governmental organisations and individual donations.

Mr Salgado is a long-time supporter of the dynamic 23-year-old movement, which occupies unproductive land to push through agrarian reform in a country with one of the worst distributions of wealth in the world.

Typical courses include studies on revolutionary Latin American leaders from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to Allende in Chile. Students can learn how to be militants in the million-strong movement, and many courses are taught by sympathetic professors from Brazil's leading universities.

One of those is Florestan's daughter Heloisa Fernandes, professor at the faculty of philosophy, letters and human sciences at the University of Sio Paulo.

"These people want to take what they know and find out how to transform that into tools for work. What they learn is translated into the experiences that they bring from the camps, the settlements, the struggles, the victories and the failures of each one of them," she said.

The Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes offers undergraduate, masters and specialist courses in partnership with 13 public universities in Brazil.

Courses are recognised by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Undergraduates are offered courses in, among other subjects, political philosophy, knowledge theory, rural sociology, agricultural political economy, Brazil's social history, international administration and social management.

Students come from all over the country to study before returning to their encampments and settlements. The campus is run by the students, who take it in turns to clean and cook.

The campus also offers informal courses and operates as a base for several social movements.

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