Education for the transformation of the territory: the experience of Félix Muriel Secondary School in Rianxo

At the end of March 2019, smoke once again darkened the sky over Barbanza. Spring was still arriving, but the fire, encouraged by an intense northeast wind and driven by the forest monoculture and the state of the forest, was devouring around 1200 hectares in the municipalities of Dodro and Rianxo, dangerously approaching several population centres and forcing the eviction of the IES Félix Muriel de Rianxo.

After a couple of days, the wind began to die down and the fire could be controlled by the extinguishing services, but as had happened in Baroña and Froxán, it became a turning point. The storm did not give way to calm, but to action. In mid-April, the Plataforma en Defensa do Monte (Plat was born, made up of most of Rianxo’s forest communities, convinced of the need to move together towards sustainability. A few months later, the Félix Muriel secondary school launched the Monte Vivo Project. The aim was to link educational practice with the territory and the communities, promoting a more active and participatory learning model that would be directly connected to the reality of the students and would allow a greater projection of their work in relation to the environment.

The communal forests of Rianxo, in context

Rianxo has thirteen communal forests managed by ten communities, in some cases made up of the inhabitants of a specific village and in others by the inhabitants of an entire parish. After the plundering of the forests by the State Forestry Patrimony (PFE), over the last fifty years the organised neighbours managed to recover them, under the protection of the laws recognising neighbourhood ownership of 1968, 1980 and 1989. The first of the registered returns took place in April 1975, still in the final phase of Franco’s dictatorship, while the last one so far dates from the summer of 2006.

At present, the area declared as MVMC in Rianxo exceeds 2000 ha, i.e. about 35% of the total territory of the municipality. The data fits in with the general reality of Barbanza, which allows us to think of this municipality as a scale representation of the problems and potential of the region. For their part, the eight communities that together with the neighbourhood association Fousas al Monte make up the Plataforma en Defensa del Monte, formed with the aim of developing a joint sustainable management project, have more than 1,500 ha, i.e. around 26% of the municipal area.

The communal land (in green) declared in Rianxo comprises 35% of the total area of the municipality, a very similar proportion to that of the Barbanza peninsula.

Education, the key to change

Rafael Saco, a philosophy teacher at IES Félix Muriel and a member of this platform, sees in this context an opportunity to involve students in the process of territorial transformation, seeking to build bridges between the educational centre, the forest communities and the associative movement.

The ideas take shape in the Monte Vivo Project, an interdisciplinary proposal built on the concept of bioculture, which seeks to promote eco-social awareness in favour of an integral conception of the territory. The methodological basis is provided by the so-called service-learning, an educational proposal in which the participation of students in activities and projects is aimed at providing services to a community, in this case to the neighbouring woodland communities. In this field, the project is supported by the AVOAR Association and the Esculca research group (USC).

From the point of view of the educational process, Saco considers it necessary “to take advantage of those years that the children are here and integrate them so that the knowledge has a meaning”. In his words, not doing so would be a “waste of resources”. “Education has to start from real problems”, he continues, which gives it the opportunity to become a means for change. And this is where philosophy plays its role, which has the capacity “to build machines for the transformation of thought and reality”, but also many other areas of knowledge, which are integrated into the project through the different educational departments of the centre.

Thus, Monte Vivo began its journey in the 2020-2021 academic year with a process of transformation of the school playground, which had been surrounded by fire in March 2019. One of the most important actions in this first phase was the removal of 45 large acacias, an invasive and pyrophytic species that dominated the area. On the other hand, the students began to develop projects linked to the different subjects – currently around twenty teachers from the most diverse departments are involved – from carrying out studies and designing proposals for the communities themselves to making the documentary Monte Vivo, which won an award at FICBUEU 2021.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)

Transforming the territory from bioculture: the impulse of the Laboratory

During the current school year, the activity of the Monte Vivo Project is intensifying. One of the reasons for this is that the proposal “Transforming the territory from bioculture”, presented by the IES to the call for Seed Projects of the Barbanza Ecosocial Laboratory, ended up being one of the three initiatives financed.

Saco considers that the support of the Laboratory is an important boost, firstly as “recognition of an initiative that started alone”, but also because it allows “consolidating the link between educational project – communities” also from a “practical point of view, allowing facilities in conditions that would be unacceptable“. In this sense, the teacher highlights the practical and direct help of the Laboratory, but also its role in “disseminating the project, expanding it, giving it more body and coherence“.

Another of the teachers involved in the project is Pilar Pérez, a technology teacher, who is currently coordinating with her students the design of the greenhouse and the seedbeds, as well as the water and energy circuits that feed them. For the teacher, it is not the same to set up the circuit “in a programme like Arduino, something they are not going to see”, as it is to set it up for a greenhouse in which they themselves have to work. Measuring the degree of humidity, designing a water pump that is only activated under certain conditions…. The kids are very involved and very interested,” he says. These installations, together with the implementation of a research process on the memory of the mountain and the holding of conferences, are some of the activities financed.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)

Linking generations, building the future

School, communities, associations… In addition to the importance of generating synergies and the multiplier effect that a network like this can have, Saco also highlights the pragmatic aspect that justifies Monte Vivo: the students of the school are the communal land community members of the future.

Iker Lorenzo, a student in the 1st year of Bachillerato, points out how “enriching” it has been for him to be part of this educational proposal. In his case, he developed a summer camp project in the communal land with the aim of allowing children from other places to get to know the area and get to know in a playful way everything they are discovering through classroom work. In addition, he highlighted the workshops with people from the communal land communities, which allowed them to understand, among other things, “the relationship between the health of the land and the health of the ría“.

Elena Ramos, also from the 1st year of Bachillerato, highlighted the possibility of interviewing neighbours and making documentaries. In her case, the project in which she participated revolved around the introduction of horned cows in the Araño communal land community, a proposal designed to be sustainable – it would fertilise the woodland and reduce the risk of fires while mobilising the community and boosting the economy of Araño – and also educational, through excursions to learn about the role of livestock and its relationship with biodiversity.

These and many other proposals are now in the hands of the communal land communities, which, thanks to Monte Vivo, were able to show the high school students how they work and the essential role they play in the territorial reality of Rianxo. Asked about the future of the initiative, Saco points out that there is a “very clear form of quantification, independently of the academic results, which is the evolution itself in the transformation of the forest territory of Rianxo. The way to see the projection of the project is to know if in 10-15 years time there will be a reversion in the management of the community’s forests“, he concludes. The objectives are ambitious, but work, enthusiasm and energy will not be lacking.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)