Nara Nalinii Pais recently visited Piracanga, an ecovillage, community and human development centre in Bahia, Brazil, where she spoke with co-founder, Angelina Ataide. It started as a spontaneous conversation in which Nalinii shared her experience of Findhorn, and Angelina shared her story of Piracanga. Nalinii was so inspired by this exchange, that she felt compelled to write this article about their amazing meeting.
“Four years ago there was nothing here but sand and a few sickly palm trees under a blazing sun”, Angelina told me with shining eyes. In the beginning, what they now call the Ecovillage, was just a few eco-houses, some of which were only used by their owners during the holidays. Back then, there were a lot of disagreements, and it was very difficult even to conjure up a meeting with all members, adding to the stressful situation. Angelina knew that this wasn’t the model she was looking for – it lacked spirituality and a common intention.
In 2011, Angelina’s friend, Crotalo, an ambassador from Damanhur, visited Piracanga. Angelina and a group of 12 that shared her vision, took the opportunity to learn from an experienced community. For 15 days they held a series of meetings that gave birth to the Inkiri Community. They also created a human development centre that offered several therapies, spiritual work, and courses; including the one on Aura reading for which they are famous. Crotalo continues to offer his support, visiting the community about once a year. Since then, several dreams have manifested into innovative, vibrant projects – the Living School, the School of Nature (their permaculture centre), the School of Service, the House of the Arts, the art studio, the herbal medicine garden and laboratory, and many others.
One special project is the Living University (Universidade Viva). Angelina described how two young women, Rita (18), and Aline (20), came to her saying they had a dream to create a free university there. She thought to herself that it was a very audacious dream, but, because they greatly value dreams in the community, she decided to hear them out. She was astounded! Not only was the dream wonderful but they had also written a proposal for the project. The proposal was submitted and approved at the following community meeting. To date, more than 100 young people have passed through the Living University.
As our conversation was drawing to a close, Angelina told me that the following evening there would be a community meeting, and she invited me to give a presentation about Findhorn ecovillage. When I arrived, there were about 20 people already sitting in a circle, waiting for me with the screen and projector ready to go! Most of them were between 25 and 35, with a few older and a few younger, including a child. There was a youthful energy in the air; they talked and laughed a lot, they were very playful and a bit chaotic at times. It was delightful to share my experience with them. They asked a lot of questions one after another, sometimes simultaneously, eager to learn everything they could to improve their community.
In the morning, I had a debrief session with Angelina and told her of my wish to write this article. She immediately agreed and promptly went to the house where the youth of the community live. She invited me to visit them, there and then, to chat and share some chapattis.
The house had been a gift from Angelina to her daughter, Soraya, when she turned 18, but it soon became a collective house for the youth. Currently, it is shared by seven young people of ages 20-25, and a baby, who are all part of the Inkiri community, and taking leadership roles in the different projects. From there, I briefly visited the school, – without children as it was Saturday, their only free day – and arranged a meeting later with the young women that run it.
Then Flor, the 25-year-old director of the University showed me a video made by one of the founders, Rita, who became a student of the very University she had created – a life changing experience. Both Rita and Aline, the other founder, were now travelling, leaving Flor with the responsibility of running the university, which she seems to do brilliantly.
Angelina later told me that the young people are really empowered at the community. Even she had to ask Flor before doing anything that involved the University. After watching the inspiring video, she took me for a visit to the university. I was amazed! It was incredible to see how much the students had done themselves: making several pieces of furniture, building dry composting toilets, renovating part of the buildings, and even installing solar panels on their own.
The students spend their time doing community projects, but many of them are keen to add a contribution to the University itself. They have created a small Art Studio, Carpentry workshop, and a permaculture garden, mirroring the larger ones in the community. Because of this, the university is a living organism, changing and evolving as each new group of around 20 participants moves through it every quarter year. The course takes three months, but they are allowed to stay for another intake, if they wish. After that, they are required to leave, but often several decide to stay in Piracanga and work in one of the projects, or at the human development centre.
Later that afternoon, I talked to Karina, Soraya and Paulina about the school. They currently have 35 to 40 students who come from the community, the guests and the ecovillage. They are separated into three rooms: for babies of nine months to two years old; two to five year olds; and five to twelve year olds. They are forming a new group for older children soon. They were influenced by Jose Pacheco, a pioneering Portuguese educator, who visited the project twice and gave his blessings, but the school later continued to develop its own path.
From what the girls told me, there’s not much of a methodology, but rather principles that they follow, such as: no expectation, no comparison, no judgment, and no qualification. Basically the kids are allowed to freely choose what they want to do. Actually, the original name was ‘Free School’, but they said it gave people the wrong idea: believing that freedom meant they wouldn’t have limits. So they changed the name to ‘Living School’ (Escola Viva).
“What is your role?” I asked them. They laughed and said everyone asks this. But their role is key – they observe, they keep the place tidy, and ensure the agreements are being followed. They also have tools to resolve conflicts and establish healthy boundaries for the kids. In this way, they are returning the power to the children for their own development, and creating a safe space for the expression of their fullest potential. The community hasn’t stopped growing, there are new buildings under construction everywhere, including a place called the Gestation House (Casa de Gestação), which is planned to be a model of eco-building.
There are a lot of jobs here now, Angelina says, and this attracts people, especially young people. She says it wasn’t like this two years ago, but there was a clear intention to attract young people and they have succeeded. In the community, more than half are below 28 years old. There are around 25 babies, children and teenagers, 15 young people, and only about 25 adult members. Apart from that, there are always young guests in the courses and programs, some of whom decide to settle at Piracanga.
There are around 20 young people working, doing work exchange or renting rooms or houses at the moment. Plus, there are ten new babies that have been born at Piracanga in recent times. Eight of the young mothers spent their pregnancy there and had natural births assisted by Chantal, the community member leading the Gestation House, and a team of four midwives and doulas that also live in Piracanga. There are so many people there now that the figures are not very precise, so they are about to run a census. Andrey, another member of the community, told me that, before, everyone knew each other, but now this is not the case.
With so much growth, they have started to face a few challenges regarding the infrastructure needed to hold so many people sustainably. One of the main concerns of the Permaculture Team is to avoid contamination of the underground water, since their water table is only 4 meters deep. From what I’ve seen, they seem to be on the right track. They are giving choice to the children, and power and resources for the youth to manifest their own dreams – they are creating a community of leaders of, and for, the new world.
Links: Website: www.piracanga.com
Video about Universidade Viva: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzaVBfAydBo
Video about Escola Viva: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHa8FF6aAVU