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Jorge Belanko: From master mason to forerunner of natural construction in the Southern Cone - Entevista

Jorge Belanko: From master mason to forerunner of natural construction in the Southern Cone - Entevista

By Juan Pablo Rioseco Díaz and Anita Belén Oyarzún Leal

At fifteen he took the first work shifts; A question that led him from a young age to understand that this trade was a true reflection of the Argentine reality. “Sometimes it seems like you have a lot and after three months you don't have enough for bread. It's like trying to climb a soapy stick. You are excited that you are doing well but in reality you can never go up ”, he explains while brewing a mate recently brought by his wife. Decades of past stories have him receiving us today in his house-workshop that looks at the colossus Piltriquitrón hill, haughty patron of El Bolsón, Province from Río Negro, Argentina. It is spring Thursday afternoon. The sun goes down red. Dressed in a muddy overalls and supported by his overjoyed dog, Jorge takes us into his laboratory made up of small rooms with wooden structures and clay walls. At first glance they appear to be plastered with cement; But it immediately clarifies that in a large part of the Andean Region the clay is grayish and in some places it is even white.

The room is governed by a phrase that he himself made with cut out magazine letters after waking up one morning: “Nature is God, truth is God. The closer to nature, the closer to the truth. "


The mud bug in El Canelo de Nos

Convinced of finding new career paths, in 1988 he decided to move to the Quemquemtreu Valley. He learned that in that unknown corner shaped by rivers that flow from north to south, many families were just settling on the land without the need for title deeds. He and his wife arrived at a piece of land located next to an asequia. "Construction is a very beaten job. Anyone who has nothing to do, boom! We are going to work in construction. In addition, the client asks for an estimate, the new colleagues charge little and then, as they do not fit, they leave the work and they give us a bad reputation. So I came to El Bolsón to get rid of all that, "he explains.

He began by making wooden spoons; then he sold bread at the fair. Changas here and there. During the winter of 1992 some friends told him that they were going to Chile to visit some research sites in alternative energies. You who like inventions! They said to him. He didn't even have to get to Bariloche. His friends financed the trip. Just after the dictatorships it was necessary to take advantage of knowing. They went to El Canelo de Nos, about 30 km south of Santiago. There a group of social activists had organized with the intention of helping the peasants to produce in a sustainable way. Among the many characters with whom they exchanged words, there were two architects who made Jorge get bitten by the mud bug.

"They both studied earth constructions and ecological systems for electricity, heating and all that. I only knew that in the northeast of Argentina there were old adobe houses. Then the bug bit me. I wanted to bring some books to study the matter further. Imagine if there was no Internet, how valuable it was for me to have that information. A Chilean woman named Antonia Izquierdo secretly threw some of the books that Canelo de Nos had in their library and I brought them to Argentina. free we started with an oven, then an improved stove. Clay kitchen. When we gained confidence we raised a wall and there they began to call me the madman of mud. Then came the Internet. The director of a school told me that we need firewood and you make stoves And I started to get jobs related to this.

But the real commotion came after the publication on the Internet of the documentary "El Barro, las manos la casa", a work directed by Gustavo Marangoni which in a very didactic way shows Jorge explaining the various benefits of building with natural materials and participating in the creation of the habitat itself. At the beginning, mark the note with the phrase "A family should build their home." Two hours of audiovisual material that since its completion in 2006 has brought thousands of people to participate in workshops taught by both Jorge and the hundreds of new facilitators in natural construction.

JP: This is very important knowledge, that of being able to build our own things. It allows you to have creative freedom, freeing yourself from clock time. In what way can we expand the circles of influence without the money barrier, and at the same time allowing bio-builders to work full time on this?

They are several things in one. First it is necessary that the workshops continue and multiply. That the work of the workshop workers can be financed economically. It sometimes happens that within the workshops those who organize pretend to pay the instructor and pay for the materials with the money they charge the participants. But they don't realize that there is much left in the place. We are going to build a house, the house remains and the house is worth it. It is not a question of collecting and collecting. We must also highly value pedagogical work. Especially because it is difficult to work with people who know little or nothing about construction. The other day I asked a group to get me bricklayer's tongs and they bought me electrician's pliers and wire-wire tongs. So the workshop worker has to deal with many barriers both in the construction area and in the other areas.

AB: What are those other barriers?

It happens that now we are born in the city and then we believe that life is that. Television talks about broadband, the phone plan, the Internet. Everyone knows what PowerPoint is, the Pendrive, and how much. There is a terrible Anglo-Saxon influence! Marketing creates the need and then sells you everything you think you need; no matter if it breaks, if it works, if you know how to replace it. And we don't know where things come from or how much they are really worth.

AB: Sure. Advertising tells you that you are not capable of doing your thing so you have to buy it. It generates a vicious cycle of consumption ...

... Exactly, but if you come to the steppe you see that families live well without Internet or cell phones. And there you realize that need is the engine of everything. The human being in all his history always needed three things: get food, communicate with peers and build his own shelter. The latter has been stolen by specialists. In any native community since they are little they already know how to build their own place. They go to the jungle, they gather the branch there, the leaf here, another branch and even more ingenuity, they build their own place. But most of our people say how am I going to build a house! Then you go along the route, you see two vertical parallels with two obliques on top and you say ah a house! But the house can have different shapes, it can be a dome, a cave, a circle, a pyramid, whatever. But they gave us a square head.

JP: Thanks to the work of different bio-builders, there is now a lot of support in Argentina. In the province of Rio Negro and Buenos Aires the issue of building with raw earth is allowed and legislated. What advice do you give builders in regions where there are still political obstacles to these projects?

The thing is to have the politicians aware of what we are doing, so that they allow us first of all to work and that people want to participate in this. When I see the good enthusiasts who protest to the politicians, why don't they allow us to build with land! I tell them that nobody can want what they don't know. Politicians go to the talks to give me!, And I answer them that we are all ignorant of different things. I can't blame the councilman for saying that ours is crap if it's the only thing he's heard in his life. So the winning argument is to explain to them that it is convenient in any case to regulate natural construction so that nothing is done. Mud, dirt, or wood may or may not work. It depends how it is used ...

JP: ... And whether it is allowed or not, we will use it the same

Justly. You cannot cover the sun with your hands. This is already and will continue to advance. The Germans have come a long way. There it is allowed according to a regulation. I have a very good friendship with Minke (a German architect dedicated to the study of natural construction since 1970). He told me: At the beginning I started like you with social housing and nobody gave me a ball. When the rich came to build their houses out of clay, the politicians came to ask questions. Unfortunately that is the reality. Note that when we made the documentary film ‘El Barro, las manos, la casa’ together with the producer, we had to make twenty presentations of the film to the neighbors of different sectors of El Bolsón. We went to the coast of the Quemquemtreu River (a sector inhabited by a low-income population) and the most humble nibola gave us. They would stop thirty meters away, look out for a while and then go to their ranches. They would stand thirty meters away, peer out for a while, and then hide in their ranches. But young professionals with a budget began to build their large mud houses and only then did it become a topic for the authorities.

JP: Jorge, over the last few years you have become an educational reference for those who want to get closer to natural construction. Tell us how you have lived this process of learning to teach.

"My first approach to popular education was before arriving at El Bolsón. When I was working in Santa Teresita (between Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata). A neighbor who worked in the municipality came up with the idea of ​​setting up a School of Arts and Crafts. just coming out of dictatorship here. We put a notice so that the neighbors were encouraged to create a school where the students did not pay a peso and the teachers did not charge either. Only the satisfaction of learning and that the neighbor learns. At the first meeting there were seven of us To the second, twenty. The owners of a supermarket that was doing poorly lent us the premises for a year. 450 people came to register. We gave 22 subjects. Pastry workshops, ceramic cooking, masonry, photography, English, French, Italian , site electricity, taxidermy ... "


AB: … Taxidermy?

"Yes! (Laughs). I was also a taxidermist. And since there was a lot of bricklayers, I offered myself taxidermy classes - well! - Communists were the least they called us. With donations we set up classrooms. We even set up a dark room for photo development. My mom and sister went to pastry together. All good until the devil started to put his tail in. Politicians squirmed because imagine the power that school meant. Every neighbor at the end of their work passed to the workshops. Then the Ministry of Education came to offer a half salary for the teachers. I was the vice president of the directive committee. We said no, we were not crazy about it because later they would come to tell us the contents and the methods. But the Most of them, as they needed to increase their salary, finally became part of the Ministry. There I understood that it is not worth spending energy against something but in favor of something.

Barter, land and spirituality

The experience in Santa Teresita, added to his career as a worker, formed Jorge who arrived in El Bolsón already hardened in the arts of gathering neighbors to organize life in community. "Through my militancy in the humanist movement, I understood that active non-violence as a method of struggle is a valid action; injustice bothers me a lot and where I can help I go," he says. This community spirit led him to participate in the creation of the Barter Clubs in the Andean Region affected by the ups and downs of the economy after the 2001 crisis in Argentina.

The thing was simple. Each family decided to participate had to go through three training days in which criteria typical of the cooperative economy were combined. Then the person had to give a value in Patacones to what he was going to barter. The Patacón is a paper signed by the Board of Directors. Each person made the goods they wanted to exchange available and gave them a value in Patacones. More than a thousand families were enrolled in the first Club. A year there were already fifty clubs throughout the region. In other words, a total of 20 thousand people came to pay for their economy through barter.

"We had enviable power. From cars to lettuce. We moved a huge amount of values. Those of the board of directors traveled throughout the region to unify criteria. We had to train people so that they could participate. The principles were solidarity, justice social and make it clear that it was not to save money, but precisely to move those pieces of paper. In Lago Puelo, for example, the guy from the service station sold fuel at cost and difference: In Patacones! It was the price but the value that each one gave to their object. In the schools tables were set up with all the merchandise. The one they produced was surplus. We never had so much work and the refrigerator was so full of food. The doctor, the bricklayer attended , the lawyer. They tempted us with candidacies. One of the four of the board fell into the trap. They started trimming the papers and anyone began to enter.

AB: So, wasn't it open to everyone?

It happens that for these things you must put filters. It is a circle of trust. I'm going to barter with you because I know you. I know I'm going to leave the merchandise here, I'll take the Patacones you gave me and I'm going there to barter with someone else. Who could barter was because he had gone through the training to unify criteria. Then only then can it be assured that it works. So when everyone came in without filters, they started trimming the papers, then they put in the money. And so he disarmed. But, after all, this was very positive for everyone. Because we met among the neighbors producing our own things, furniture, tools, food, clothes. Together we discovered that each of us could manufacture what the other needs. Societies, enterprises, cooperatives were set up that today pay for the local economy.

JP: Jorge, in short, we can assert that the cooperative economy is based a lot on trust, and also on the possibility of having land to produce. The struggle of the peoples of the world is for land and freedom. What advice would you give to those who do not have access to land and who want to participate in this process of change from the cities?

"Look. For the times that come whoever has a piece of land is saved. The loss of land is similar to the loss of spirituality. Land and spirituality are part of the same struggle. That does not mean that you should have your own garden. If your neighbor has one and you buy him a cabbage, then you already know where that cabbage comes from. There are very creative outlets. For example, the man who lives where we will do the next minga-workshop knows about crops. He made a Barter with the owner of the land. He lends him a couple of hectares and he works them. But since he has no resources to begin with, he resorts to presumers. What are presumers? They are neighbors who pay in advance for all the kilos of vegetables that his family will consume for a year. So this neighbor ensures the supply of food almost at cost and supports the community economy. There are also the neighbors who come together to create a cooperative. United we are exponentially stronger. "

"So the invitation is to find a piece of land. Here many families agree, they take land and that's it. Every time it sounds more ridiculous that a person has thousands of hectares without working and uses them to speculate, or to leave it to him. inheritance to a great-great-grandson, while other people are suffering from the lack of that land. It's crazy! Many people have the criteria of saying that I sacrifice for my children, my grandchildren. The best criterion is to inherit the possibility that they make their That is why I put together this phrase that says: "I want little and what little I want I want little."

Let's go to earth

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