The world my father built – and what happened next

Selvino Heck
General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic





Abstract– Globalisation has gradually put the local and territorial dimension in isolation. We need to face the crisis caused by globalisation, repossess the utopian dimension of another society, another economy, other values. Government policies can and should stimulate territoriality, rescuing the role of the local community. Educational processes, especially those based on popular education, build citizenship from the experiences and the knowledge of local and community organisation.  

Local and global realities over time

Reality 1 – The years 1950/1960: I am the son of a small farmer, descendent of Germans, from Santa Emilia, Venâncio Aires, deep in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. My father worked in the fields with his nine children. He planted everything in order to sustain his large family: rice, beans, maize, fruit, vegetables, cassava, sweet potato, and one vineyard that produced good wine. He had livestock for meat and milk, oxen to pull the cart, chickens and their eggs to eat community organisation. and sell, pigs to eat and sell. The bread, the liquor, the sweets were homemade. Father knew about everything. He built sheds with the help of neighbours and relatives, he was a locksmith, made the wine himself, made wicker baskets, was a dextrous craftsman. Mother, grandmother and an aunt who lived with the family sewed pants, shirts and dresses.

That’s how the farmers of Santa Emilia and the nearby communities were. They guaranteed their own livelihood, maintained their children’s school and the teacher from their own pockets. We had a mill, a blacksmith’s shop, a small business, and a butcher. The family and the community were enough. The local guaranteed unity, community values and the economy. The global came over the powerful radio, possibly through the parish priest or a politician who appeared to beg for votes.

The local was the centre of life. Largely, it remains so in 2015, although there is the presence of television in every home, bringing the world indoors, and the progress of the Internet, and a car as transportation to where is needed.

“We carry within us a liberating spiritual heritage”

The local is still the centre of life: the community is organised around each family’s production, gathering in the church for social life, and the football team for leisure.

Reality 2 – The years 1970/1980: Lomba do Pinheiro, a collection of popular country dwellings on the outskirts of Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul. I lived in a community of Franciscan friars, among what was mostly bricklayers, workmen, servants and maids. Everything was organised around their wants and needs: qualifications in education, access to health care through health centres, regular public transportation, cheap and of quality, and care of the public roads. The Neighbourhood Associations and the Lomba do Pinheiro Bricklayer’s Union fought for rights and citizenship with public authorities through demonstrations, marches, popular assemblies. Because the neighbourhood was far from the capital, a weekly open market was organised. It offered products and food found in the Supply Centre. The communities coexisted with fêtes, celebrations and activities in common. A monthly newspaper, A Lomba (The Lomba), fed us with information. It supported political education and local residents who elected people from the community as their parliamentary representatives. The global came to associate itself with the local, not dominating, but as a complementary element of the organisation and the needs of the people.

Reality 3 – The years 1990/2000: “In the absence of a world government, there are some segments which are more global than others: it is a hierarchical globalisation. Navigating with confidence in this space are approximately 500-600 large transnational companies that control 25% of global economic activities, and control about 80-90% of the technological innovations. These companies belong to the United States, Japan, Great Britain and a few others, and they are powerful tools of elitism in the world economy. In the frank words of an economist, in this system, ‘who is not part of the steamroller, is part of the road.’ The truth is that the vast majority of people in the world today are part of the road” (Dowbor 1995).

Reality 4 – The years 2010–today: “Peasant1 agriculture cannot be reduced to an economic concept. It is much more: it is social, territorial, cultural, anthropological. It is a way to live and exist, which also produces goods and services, mainly in the form of healthy food and the preservation of nature. But the main result of this way of living is a healthy social fabric, which has been frayed and destroyed in recent decades in Brazil through the overwhelming advance of agribusiness and monoculture. The rural exodus, especially by the new generations, is one of the most brutal consequences of this reality, compromising food production in the near future. The worsening of the urban situation and its social ills is another consequence. But the destruction of peasant communities with their ways of living, customs, production systems, leisure, sport, education, culture, is the most perverse facet of the agribusiness shroud over the land of the peasant. To preserve, strengthen, rebuild (with access to contemporary civilizational achievements, including the digital) peasant communities is the main goal of a Peasant Programme. To produce healthier foods while protecting the environment and move towards a nation-wide agroecological production is the second goal and no less important. These two goals are complementary and one does not exist without the other” (Leal & Görgen 2015).

The crisis

There is a worldwide crisis which is also showing its face in Latin America, a region that in recent decades has been building an alternative project to the historically hegemonic one. 

The crisis is political, economic, social, cultural, environmental. It is political: the ways of doing politics, representative democracy, the parties are all being challenged. There is a deep and growing distrust of traditional politics, of the state and governments. It is economic: development models focused on financialisation, on continual growth, on consumption, are exhausted and are draining the planet. It is social: unemployment is a trademark in several countries, especially in Europe; the rapid ageing of the population in societies not prepared for the phenomenon; the migration of populations is growing. It is cultural: the dominant values, individualism, consumerism, has led to intolerance of various kinds, to hate and to disrespect for differences. It is environmental: climate change in progress, rampant urbanisation, the depletion of natural resources such as water and forests jeopardise human survival.

What to do? Is there still room for citizenship? Does the local still have a future? Does life still have opportunities? How can the global and the local be articulated? What are the necessary government policies? What structural reforms are decisive? How can we democratise democracy, the state and society?

A project, a utopia

There is urgent need of an alternative project to neoliberal capitalism and the global hegemony of financial capital.

First of all it is necessary to guarantee bread, as Latin American governments and societies have done. As the popular saying goes in Brazil, “an empty stomach doesn’t execute a revolution”.

But bread is not enough. Equally important is the word and the message that mobilises the masses, hearts and minds, and a theory, linked to practice and reality, with content and a sense of transformation.

This project, secured by bread and supported by the word, signals the future, hope and utopia. It is a social project to be dreamed and built in the long run, and a development project to be implemented immediately.

A development project has several dimensions: an international dimension in the relations between countries, nations and its global and regional groupings, a national dimension of each country and its people, a regional and local dimension. It is in this last one the people live, establish relationships, coexist, build their lives, individually and collectively. “Not even the local can exist without the national and international, which in turn cannot survive without local roots and without a local and regional input. The international level cannot survive without the recognition that all social and economic development with a human dimension is at the local and the regional level” (Heck 2010).

According to the speech of Marcio Pochman, President of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, of the Brazilian Workers’ Party at the opening of the 2nd Development Conference in November 2011, “…development is not only economic growth. It is also social, environmental, cultural.”

According to Pope Francis, “…we must build an economy in which the good of the people, not money, is the centre. I recognise that globalisation has helped many people out of poverty, but it has condemned many others to die of hunger. It is true that it has increased global wealth in absolute terms, but this system maintains itself through the disposal of culture. Markets and financial speculation cannot enjoy an absolute autonomy” (Interview with Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, La Nación newspaper).

The World Social Forum – with its slogan Another World is Possible – met for the first time in Porto Alegre in 2001 and then in 2015 in Tunisia. It is a union, coordination and mobilisation of society and social movements made to confront the crisis and build an alternative project.

Policy options and role of governments

In Brazil, regional development was one of the fi ve strategic mega-objectives of the Lula government. The Executive Committee of the Chamber of National Integration Policies and Regional Development based government actions using regional development programmes already in progress. They did so to obtain synergies and complementarities between the different levels of government in sub-regions and priority areas, generating significant impact in the short and medium term.

“The various Brazilian social programmes, from the Bolsa Família (Family Grant) to the Luz para Todos (Light for All), converged in their impact to boost local access to resources, even in the poorest regions of the country. This convergence has now been enhanced through the Territories of Citizenship programme. This is a type of Rooseveltian anti-recessionary programme able not only to withstand the current turbulences but to trigger a new dynamic of growth, more regionally balanced, and able to include, de facto, rural populations in the development of the XXI century. The aim is a more decentralised state, more participatory, more democratic in its decisionmaking processes, more transparent in terms of information, and with a greater coordinating role of the various agents of social transformation” (Sachs, Lopes & Dowbor 2010).

Popular education: Theory and practice, practice and theory

Citizenship, awareness of rights and the exercise of those rights, happens in communities. It is where learning happens, in the experience of daily life. The Open Letter to Teachers and Educators for a Just and Happy World, proclaimed at Rio+20 in 2012: “We need to learn and practice other ways of making public policy, originating from the communities, and require public policies which are committed to the quality of life for the people. Therefore, it is urgent to strengthen the processes of education committed to human emancipation and political participation in building sustainable societies, where every human community feels committed, active and included in the sharing of wealth and abundance of life on our planet: transformative learning, ecological literacy, environmental popular education, eco-pedagogy, Gaia education, social-environment education. More than ever, we call for an education capable of arousing admiration and respect for the complexity of what sustains life, accepting the utopia of building sustainable societies through the ethics of care, and to protect biodiversity and socio-biodiversity.”

In Brazil, the efforts of society and of social movements are to build public policies with an abundance of social and popular participation. National councils, conferences with broad participation on the most diverse topics – health, family agriculture, human rights, people with disabilities, communication, agroecology, education, youth, women’s rights, traditional peoples and communities, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, our environment – ombudsman, dialogue and negotiation tables, the participatory budget, are part of the building process of policies from bottom to top, respectful of regional diversity and originating from local organisations.

The Rede de Educação Cidadã (RECID), in existence since the first Lula government in 2003, works to train educator multipliers and grassroots leadership. It includes policies of solidarity economy, the Territories of Citizenship, popular health education, environmental education, human rights education, youth and adult literacy. The intention of RECID is to develop educational practices based on the production of knowledge that can serve as instruments capable of influencing decision-making. To have an impact, these practices should question and propose the transformation of structures that generate social, economic and regional inequality, exclusion, hunger, sub-citizenship or non-citizenship.

The overall objective of RECID is to “…develop, together with socially vulnerable families, a process of education and organisation aiming to increase their actual access to public policies (emergency services, local, work and income, education, health and food security structures, etc.) and subjective characteristics (critical awareness, citizen participation, selfesteem) that increases the potential for the formulation and proposal of new policies, respecting reality and Brazilian diversity. This is a process to foster a new generation of policy subjects and the expansion of work at the base, with a view to strengthening democracy in all social spaces” (RECID 2005).

Not the end

“Globalisation cannot and must not create conditions which crush each individual and each community, crush the right of people to keep alive their rites, their mystical aspects, their culture, their own ways of seeing life and the world. There can be no global colonisation. Accordingly, the local remains a privileged space for quality of life, respect for nature, the (re)knowing of the other. The increasing global poverty, misery and social exclusion can be traced back to the world economic crisis of 2008. This crisis is also social, environmental and represents a paradigm of values. To combat the crisis it is essential to preserve a local and regional identity: with bread guaranteed on the tables of all people, with the word, the message, with rights and citizenship, and the project, with hope, the future and utopia” (Heck, op. cit.).

The challenges are many and gather on the horizon every day. Latin America, throughout its history, through popular mobilisation, the experiences of each community and its social movements, and especially in recent decades, through popular democratic governments, supported by social organisations and progressive sustainable development projects, has provided answers to their historical problems and served as a point of reference for the world.


1 / A member of a class of persons who are small farmers or farm labourers of low social rank in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.


Dowbor, L. (1995): Da Globalização ao Poder Local: a Nova Hierarquia dos Espaços.

Heck, S. (2010): Políticas de Emprego e Inclusão social: o Pão, a Palavra e o Projeto – Políticas redistributivas de Renda orientadas ao Desenvolvimento local.

Leal, M. and Frei Görgen, S. (2015): A Hora e a Vez de um Programa Camponês.

RECID (2005): Programa de Formação de Educadoras/es Populares e Nucleação de Famílias.

Sachs, I.; Lopes, C.; Dowbor, L. (2010): Crises e Oportunidades em Tempos de Mudança, Documento de Referência para as atividades do núcleo Crise e Oportunidades no Fórum Social Mundial Temático – Bahia. 

About the author

Selvino Heck is a practitioner of Popular Education, founder of Centro de Assessoria Multiprofissional. He was a Special Advisor to the Cabinet of President Lula (2005–2010). He is currently Special Advisor at the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic, coordinator of RECID and Executive Secretary of the National Agroecology and Organic Production Committee.

Secretaria Geral da Presidência da República
Palácio do Planalto, Anexo II
Ala A, sala 101 - 70.150-900

Adult Education and Development


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