Vila Nova Palestina

Text and photographs by Zè Carlos Barretta


np_01Here in Brazil much is said about the ‘dream of own house’, including brazilian government habitation programs such as ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’. In fact, in the last two decades millions of people could improve their living conditions and left the poverty zone. However, the habitation is still a social problem, specially in Sao Paulo, the big megalopolis with its twenty million inhabitants. A considerable part of the population still lives far below what would be the minimum acceptable.

The work i present is a dip in the daily life of the largest urban land occupation in Brazil. It is a huge area in front of the park M’Boi Mirim, suburb of Sao Paulo. This area, according to city officials, would be used to build a park and was invaded in December last year.

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The ‘Vila Nova Palestina’, as it was called by its inhabitants, is part of a social movement organized by MTST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Teto in portughese or Homeless Workers Movement), which has already over 8000 registered families. Differently of others social movements, the MTST, uses disoccupied terrains, instead of abandoned buildings, wich usually are located on the suburban areas of the city.

There is a strong organization and a incredible spirit of solidarity among them.
The terrain is divided into 21 groups and each group has a central kitchen. Volunteers collect and prepare the food every day. Only the kitchens and the main routes have electric power, the shacks remain in the dark.

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Daily some of the coordinators and volunteers come in round during the night to check the area general conditions, protect residents, intervene in disputes between neighbors. At dawn the atmosphere is unbelievably quiet and peaceful.

A constant concern is the risk of fire on site. Some bonfires are lit at night to heat and light the most isolated spots, but must be done carefully. Only a huge degree of desperation is able to explain the emergence of these occupations, but also impresses the faith and endurance of these people. Months or even years living in the precarious conditions of the camp could be very tough. Many give up.

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Most people over there are workers. During the day, in general, the camp is pretty empty with only volunteers who are in the kitchens and some unemployed fixing or building their tents. The adults are working in their usual jobs and children in school. Normal life. A very great irony is that many of these workers are construction workers. Has electricians, locksmiths, masons, carpenters, etc…

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The occupation has a provisional character, the idea is that an occupation is a form of political pressure rather than a solution itself.
Despite of the last years development and the investments for the World Cup, the country continues with a very large housing deficit and still take decades for the problem to be solved.

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