It was six in the morning on our second day. With our work clothes on: a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops, our first mission was to make a no-dig vegetable garden , re-using and re-cycling everything we needed. As the soil was sandy and infertile, we prepared a wooden frame, two hand-palms above the ground, and then filled it with a mixture of earth from the forest and an organic compound of foliage, household compost and shredded coconut husks. Our vegetable garden took shape with the same calm and tranquility as the ‘Bahianian’ lifestyle.
Soon after we started that morning, we where joined by Esteban, a Venezuelan who had been traveling around Brazil with his Argentinian fiancée, Catalina. After only ten minutes under the sun, we felt the heat spreading through our sweaty bodies. There was yet another visitor constantly appearing here and there. His name was Treck, a colourful parrot who would fly to our heads, elbows and hat peaks at his own desire.
After the garden bed was made, it was time to attach posts to support the shade-roof. Made from coconut palms, the roof itself would also turn into organic matter in a few months, but not before first protecting our vegetable seedlings from the harsh reality of the tropical sunlight.
A few hours later, we got used to Treck’s landing methods, completed our garden, and were finally ready for a well earned swim. Although the surprises were never ending, Henny hadn’t expected to achieve a massive blister on her thumb – typical of a city-girl working garden tools for the first time.
The following day…
As we ventured further into Piracanga, it was time to discover another natural material used locally in roof construction: piaçava fibre. The name piaçava comes from the Indigenous Tupi language, and is a resistant fibre taken from the fronds of the Piaçava Palm (Attalea funifera) – abundant in the area. Other than roofs, the material is commonly utilized for the fabrication of broom heads.
It was here that we met Pedro. His white-shell necklace contrasted against the dark skin of his naked chest. While sewing the piaçava onto a wooden strut, he talked to us about the quality of the material. Depending on the structure, the piaçava’s roof can last over 20 years. In order to protect it from the sun, reduce its fire risk and increase its waterproofing, a layer of resin is applied to its fibres.
There is no doubt about the quality and resistance of the piaçava. But, due to the exacerbated production on the property years ago, reforesting the old piaçava’s plantation is an issue that has been adopted by the community. Led by Ragi, we went to the area damaged by the deforestation. The idea was to reforest the region
with fruit trees, native plants and other trees from the local forest.
We began to plant mixed food varieties, mandioca, pineapple and bananas. After a few months, these root crops and fruit trees will start producing enough shade to allow other species that require more watering and are less resistant to the sun, to be planted amongst the foliage.
Whilst living in Piracanga we realized that it is not only the young trees that require special attention. The community has other infants that are given the respect they deserve.
As we stepped inside Piracanga’s community school, we immediately noticed sensorial games, building blocks and inks to paint with on the tables. Up until that point, it had seemed to be a conventional school. But as we observed a little closer, we realized the differences. The distinction was not in the objects but most importantly, in the teaching methodology.
We spent an afternoon with Margarita, a teacher from Ecuador who had been invited by Piracanga to implement an education system familiar in her country: a Free School, based on the Educational Foundation Pestalozzi. What seems to be innovative, in reality is going back to its origins. The Swiss educator, Joham Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), used to say that “the role of the educator is to teach children, not subjects”. Pestalozzi emphasized that all aspects of the child’s life contribute to the formation of their personality, character and reason.
This is the purpose of Free School . According to Margarita, the concept of the school is to guide the children based on their own decisions. The kids are who decide what they want to learn. The teachers are the facilitators and are here to prepare the environment according to the children’s needs, respecting their individuality. “The best way to respect a child is to not direct them. They decide what they want to do and we encourage their decision”, says Margarita. “We, adults, must change our manners starting by respecting the children. By doing this we would also respect the child that exists inside ourselves”, advises her.
We took Margarita’s advice seriously and for the rest our time in Piracanga we let the child within ourselves out!