Claudio Oliver is a community builder and urban farmer. His community, Casa da Videira (House of the Vine), is a collective of families and singles in Curitiba, Brazil, dedicated to “following the steps of Jesus.” At first focusing on serving the poor – homeless individuals and directionless youth – Casa da Videira eventually shifted its attention and location in order to live among the poor. It is now based in downtown Curitiba, where its locally run businesses serve those directly around them. It works in organic gardening, waste management, and fair trade, selling traditional bread and groceries as well as soap made from recycled vegetable oil. The group accepts people of varying commitments and beliefs, but major decisions are made by core members. What follows is taken from a letter by Claudio Oliver from September 2021:
I hope that even though Brazil has become an international pariah, you are still receiving some news from here. The past two years have created more space for the resurgence of an old phantom: fascism. Presently, 349 neo-Nazi groups are active in Brazil, as well as 50 KKK cells. Since 2019, 91 percent more guns have been registered, including, last year, more than 170,000 new rifles and automatic weapons.
This comes on top of the loss of almost 600,000 Brazilians to Covid-19, a 13 percent unemployment rate, and the problem of millions without housing; government and corporate corruption; violence against the Indigenous and Black people who are 54 percent of our population; the incredible profits of bankers and financiers while 52 percent of the population is experiencing food insecurity; the growth of the number of billionaires among the elite (forty new ones in the last year according to Forbes). Our country is staggering under blows from all sides.
How will our community respond?
Casa da Videira has not committed itself to finding the “right answer,” but we try to give the best response that is possible to the challenges closest to us. First, we joined our city’s Food Security Council, where we can influence laws and policies; we started a program that’s now donating four tons of food a month; and we are supporting the National Homeless Population Movement with food and projects. We joined demonstrations and protests against the government, for life, and for vaccination – remember that for decades Brazil has been a world leader in vaccination and universal health care. We are giving emotional support to those in the LGBT community who have repeatedly been threatened and had friends murdered by right-wing radicals. We want to continue to show love for those who act and think differently from us.
We are working to join forces with others in a new program called “Gardens of Hope,” which will be based in a central area of our city, Curitiba. Our plan is to start a commercial organic garden and a gardening school for homeless people. We’re inviting city council members, lawyers, social entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, social organizations, and volunteers to help us build the best program possible. We’re presenting this concept to city authorities, but also to other players, and are thinking about how to involve the refugees from Venezuela and Haiti who continue to arrive here.
We have created a fund to help small entrepreneurs, small farmers, and people who were recently homeless to get ahead in life. The “Emancipatory Fund” not only awards money for entrepreneurship but transforms recipients into donors to the next person in need of support.
As a community, we have tried to keep our sense of humor and our peaceful environment, becoming nerdier than ever while stuck at home with our books! At the same time, the work at the garden, the bakery, and the kombucha lab keeps us busy from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
We have hired a very poor family; they now work alongside us in our various projects, and an unemployed taxi driver has become our delivery man and assistant twice a week.
I did not want to only share bad news with you, as I have done sometimes. We are trying to keep the light in the middle of this darkness. But it is not an easy time. My father-in-law was lost to Covid last month, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law recovered from it, and some members of our immediate family were in intensive care.
Our group is still small. We are only eleven. Our most important prayer request is: Pray for more laborers for the sowing. We will need more help in the future for the harvesting season that will come.
Sometimes we feel horrified, sometimes we check our plans B, C, and D, depending on the developments of the political turmoil and craziness. But wherever the Lord decides to plant us, we are committed to bear the best fruits possible, in any situation, in any place, knowing our home is set in the future, and our loyalty belongs to our King.