ATALC: Sustainability School

building capacity to resist, mobilize and transform in latin america and the caribbean

ATALC Sustainability SchoolIn 2006, FoE Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC) decided to start building a school to train younger activists from the different Latin American countries in which FoEI has a presence. The Sustainability School was born in 2007, after a collective process to define its objectives, curricula and methodologies.

The Sustainability School was conceived as a learning process, through which participants share and consider analyses, reflections and actions relating to ATALC’s commitment to transform through resistance and mobilization. The School’s collective spaces are not only for members of FoEI: they are also open to leaders and activists from other social movements and grassroots organizations with whom FoEI members have built alliances at the local, regional and international levels.

The school hosts an annual regional encounter, and numerous national sessions throughout the year.
 Participants depart from and contribute their own experiences in the struggles in which their organizations, movements or communities are involved. Using diverse teaching strategies, a consciousness-raising process takes place around local, national and international realities and the socio-environmental problems faced; and the struggles for sustainable societies based on environmental, social, economic and gender justice, and peoples’ sovereignty and rights. The School also offers space to develop a theoretical political reflection on and response to the problems and struggles analyzed.

Groups and activists participating in the regional encounters commit to organize national and local educational processes. This is a fundamental pillar of the School: each participant and his or her organization, community or movement, becomes a ‘multiplier’, sharing their experiences and catalyzing collective popular educational processes.

what happened?

The Sustainability School’s first regional encounter took place in Colombia in November 2007, and was organized by FoE Colombia/CENSAT Agua Viva. This first regional session addressed the major issues concerning the environmental movement in Latin America.

Through round tables, plenary and working group discussions, five thematic areas were addressed: the relationship between ecology and culture; the geopolitics of the world and its territories; political ecology and environmental justice; social dynamics and politics of environmentalism; and strategies for working together. Other more specific issues included the commodification of life; the reconfiguration of territories as a result of colonization; the relationship between urban and rural spaces; the worldwide appropriation of nature; ecological economics; the flawed assumptions and negative impacts of free trade agreements; and the importance of food sovereignty.

The second regional encounter took place in Uruguay, in September 2008, and was organized by FoE Uruguay/REDES. Departing from the previous regional and national processes, this session concentrated on FoEI’s programs and their implementation in Latin America. Its specific objective was to demonstrate the strategic relevance of working at the local level, while confronting global problems, and to ground international work in local realities and struggles.

The program was organized on three levels. The first considered key elements of ATALC’s work and campaigns in relation to FoEI’s programs, allowing the participants to analyze the political and strategic frameworks of each program from the perspective of their own realities and the problems they face in their communities. Issues dealt with included the expansion of agribusiness; the privatization and the commodification of nature; and feminism. New FoEI programs established by that time were those focusing on Economic Justice-Resisting Neoliberalism, Climate Justice and Energy, Food Sovereignty, and Forests and Biodiversity.

The second level centered on the work of and with communities, adopting a theoretical approach to the working methodologies developed and implemented by some of the ATALC’s groups. Here, participants were able to engage with FoEI’s developing Mining Program, through the work of FoE Guatemala/CEIBA.

The third level consisted of a visit to the La Calera Farm School in the Treinta y Tres province, 300km from Montevideo. The school houses several projects that are part of the provincial government’s Food Sovereignty Plan, including the Popular Local Seeds Bank, and projects on the cultivation and use of medicinal plants, and environmental education. This visit allowed participants to learn more about local experiences relating to the development of agroecology and the recovery of biodiversity, in which young students, teachers and family farmers and peasants interact.

lessons learned

One of the lessons learned was the importance of having a strong practical element relating to grassroots work and movement building. It is not enough to address such complex and urgent issues theoretically, yet it is essential that activists really understand local and national concerns and the way in which these are addressed by communities and social movements in their struggles and initiatives.

what next?

ATALC’s member groups will continue to engage in this collective process, with a view to enlarging the number of activists committed to its work and the struggles of its allies and partners. The Sustainability School’s next regional encounter will take place in Costa Rica in 2009.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)


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