CFR Santarem 9


Located within 40 kilometers of Santarém are 16 rural communities where the majority of individuals eke out a meager living on small family farms. Despite the Eixo Forte’s proximity to area tourism and Santarém, the third-largest city in the Brazilian Amazon, about half of the region’s residents earn less than $2 per day. Lacking sufficient access to adequate education and a means to some degree of upward mobility, many of the area’s young people leave for the questionable promise of a better future in the big city. This exodus of youth in turn means these communities will continue their hardscrabble existence. Without the energy and enthusiasm of youth, old ways die hard. The solution is to help folks understand and embrace new methods and practices in order to achieve sustainable livelihoods.

That’s where the Rural Family Home (Casa Familiar Rural or CFR) of Santarém comes in. This three-year vocational school provides young rural men and women with the tools they need to leverage available opportunities and create sustainable livelihoods for themselves, their families and their communities. By providing locally relevant, interdisciplinary education, the CFR enables local youth to become rural professionals who are prepared to fully exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Education in the science of agriculture, animal husbandry, responsible land use, protecting the environment and tourism are but a few of the topics the CFR staff seeks to convey in a consistent curriculum.

The primary focus of CEN is to foster sustainable self-reliance by supporting communities’ efforts to achieve their own specific objectives. The following priorities reflect those areas where we feel that our resources and expertise will have the greatest impact on the positive growth of the Rural Family Home:

  • Continue to assist the CFR to secure the resources required to complete the artesian well project.
  • Continue the development of the CFR staff via exposure to the best practices of similar programs.
  • Assist the CFR - Santarém to take advantage of lessons learned, especially those related to acquisition of improved funding.
  • Facilitate collaboration among rural education institutions, as well as international nongovernmental organizations.
  • Support CEN local partner Eunice Sena’s efforts to secure funding for a suitable permanent school building.

Specific initiatives:



The Eixo Fortethe eixo forte is a region of 16 communities located approximately 25 kilometers from the city of Santarém, near the confluence of the Tapajόs and Amazon rivers. Despite its proximity to the city of Santarém, and the growing tourism industry, 45 percent of the region's residents earn less than $2 per day, and most residents continue to live on subsistence agriculture. The production of açai and other fruits has increased modestly in the region; however, the market for these products is limited by a lack of consistent production, refrigerated storage and pulp production facilities. The production of manioc, an edible root that is a staple food throughout the region, remains as the leading source of income, excluding government subsidies, for the families of the region today.

While many companies and individuals from outside the region earn considerable income from industrial-scale farming, fruit processing, forestry, and tourism in the region, many residents, especially youth, see few economic opportunities for the local populations beyond subsistence agriculture. As a result, youth and young adults flock to Santarém and other cities in search of work and education.

One of the greatest threats to these communities is the loss of their young people. When youth leave a community, they essentially take the future of that community with them. This influx into the city also aggravates existing urban overcrowding and poverty. To complicate matters further, once they arrive in a new urban area, the reality seldom squares with the expectations of these young people. They quickly realize they are unable to gain meaningful employment in the city due to a lack of education and necessary skills. Once youth leave, they seldom return to their home area.


Traditional formal education doesn't meet the needs of local communities

Residents of communities along the upper Tapajós River, including those of the Eixo Forte, widely heralded the arrival of secondary education several years ago. They had hoped it would keep youth from leaving the communities; however, this turned out not to be the case. Although there are no official statistics available, community leaders and the youth themselves contend that youth out-migration has in fact increased significantly since secondary education was first offered. One leading cause of this is that since more students are receiving a secondary education, a greater number of youth then leave seeking higher education opportunities, which are not currently available within the communities.

In addition to accelerating out-migration from rural areas by youth in search of higher education, the traditional formal secondary education model also encourages youth to leave rural areas because it is geared toward preparing them for the urban workforce. Unlike urban areas, few proper businesses offering employment currently exist in the Eixo Forte. The answer is to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas by arming youth with entrepreneurial skills and know-how to transform natural resources into products for which markets exist or can be created. Unfortunately, the regional formal secondary education model does not provide training that is relevant to the rural environment.

As a result, local youth have also become less involved in community leadership in recent years. Prior to the widespread introduction of secondary education in the region, youth groups were among the most active sectors of civil society in the communities. Following graduation, many leave their communities, usually permanently, in search of further education and employment opportunities. The expansion and improvement of cellphone service and Internet access has increased youth exposure to the world beyond their home communities, the regional cities and the country itself.

Community response: Rural Family Home reduces rural youth migration

In many parts of Brazil and around the world, Rural Family Home (CFR) centers have proven to be a successful catalyst for defining a viable path to improve quality of life through regionally relevant scholastic and vocational education. CFRs teach youth how to create sustainable vocations for themselves and their families without moving to urban centers while providing them with the skills to do so. This approach has helped to stem migration, increase family incomes, and build more vibrant communities.

CFRs are three-year vocational training programs offering young rural men and women a locally relevant, interdisciplinary education that enables them to become rural professionals who are ready to exercise their full rights and responsibilities as citizens. As an alternative to the formal secondary education provided by the government, CFRs provide students with a core academic education, as well as the practical skills and experience needed to create sustainable vocations for themselves in such fields as farming, livestock production, and tourism, right within their own communities. Read more about Rural Family Homes.


The CFR of Santarém offers region's youth skills and opportunities

In 1999, the Rural Family Home of Santarém in the Eixo Forte was established in hope of replicating the success of CFRs in other parts of the country. Approximately five CFRs were also begun in other communities around the region. The CFR of Santarém has now been operating on and off for over 10 years.

The CFR - Santarém currently has 51 registered students, including young caboclo (a mix of European, black and Indian blood) men and women from agricultural families, quilombolas (descendants of slaves), and indigenous youth. Most of the students come from families that earn a living through small-scale family-based agriculture or fishing. Students come from communities of the Eixo Forte; the RESEX, an extractive reserve located on the western shore of the Tapajós River; Arapiuns River; the Planalto and along the Amazon River itself.

Over 100 youth have completed the program, many of whom have remained in their communities and apply what they learned to increase their family’s income by diversifying beyond raising manioc, the staple crop that families have raised for generations. Others have found work with a nearby forestry school and government agencies, where their hands-on knowledge gives them an edge over applicants with simple book learning. Many have started their own families. In 2015, new applications for the CFR program exceeded available space. This good news demonstrates that an increasing number of families of the region see the potential of the program.

The CFR - Santarém’s significant progress is all the more impressive given the multitude of challenges that the staff and students continue to face.

Facilities and Infrastructure Challenges

CENBrazilTripFeb2013 337v229The program has operated out of a variety of locations  since its inception, including the offices of several different nonprofit organizations, which were crowded and not designed for student use. Currently the CFR uses a makeshift shelter within the community of Santa Maria as a kitchen, dormitory, and a classroom. This structure has only one wall and a thatch covering and dirt floor. The program sometimes also uses a nearby covered concrete slab owned by a local resident. The nearest drinking water is more than 5 kilometers from the CFR and needs to be carried there by students and staff – a significant burden. The lack of adequate facilities contributes to staff frustration and burnout, complicates the staff's ability to provide a quality educational experience, and negatively impacts the CFR's ability to recruit students to enroll in the program.

The CFR - Santarém has a long-term lease on 4 hectares of land about 1 kilometer from the community of Santa Maria. Over the past few years, a few improvements have been made to the land, including the creation of a vegetable garden for its horticulture program, and the installation of a drip irrigation system. In addition, the school is in the process of digging a well that will deliver clean drinking water for the staff and students, and residents of the host community, as well as water needed for irrigation. (Please see Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project for more details.) Also, with the assistance of our partner, Eunice Sena, the CFR - Santarém has submitted a proposal to a Brazilian government program to make significant improvements to the school's building. (footnote)

Financial Challenges


Brazilian_Reais_with_changeOf all the headwinds facing the CFR - Santarém, accessing adequate financial resources to run the programs is perhaps the strongest. For example, with the exception of one part-time assistant, the entire operations and teaching staff is unpaid. The absence of a permanent paid staff means the consistent delivery of the core curriculum is at times questionable. Classes are often disrupted in the event of resignation.

The shortage of funding also frequently makes it impossible to buy enough food for the students, most of whom board at the school for a week at a time.

Due to the shortage of funds, the CFR is in arrears paying its federal taxes and various licensing obligations. In an effort to repay these debts, the school administration has run various fundraisers, such as bingo, which diverts the attention of the already overwhelmed administration from running the school.

The CFR - Santarém’s difficulties securing adequate funding have a myriad of causes. The state government, which is responsible for paying for teachers' salaries and many other expenses for public schools throughout the state, also provided limited support for rural education programs like the Rural Family Home following many years of struggle. After only a short period, though, the state of Pará’s Department of Education withdrew its support and stopped paying.

Governments of some other states, such as the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, pay for teachers' salaries for similar organizations. However, the state of Pará’s Department of Education does not because of its objections to the CFR's curriculum and teaching methodology and because of claims that the CFR is a private organization; notwithstanding the fact that it does pay teachers’ salaries for CFRs in other parts of the state that follow similar methodology and curricula. The management of the CFR -Santarém’s support of an opposition political party may be influencing the state Department of Education decision not to support CFR - Santarém.

Unlike in southern Brazil, where multinational and local corporations provide vital support to local CFRs and other similar rural educational programs as part of their legally mandated corporate and social responsibility efforts, such organizations have not provided a significant level of support in the state of Pará. Fewer large corporations operate in the state and the local economy is much less developed. Local companies have fewer resources available to support the project; however, untapped opportunities for corporate support do exist and should be explored more. Increased financial support is essential to the success of this crucial program.

Programs and Staffing Challenges

CFR Santarem 25 337v229Two substantial mileposts have been realized with the acquisition of necessary certifications and formal approval of the charter by the state education council. In addition, CFR - Santarém has gained approval by SETRAN, the state department of transportation, for student transportation.

The inability to pay teachers has resulted in its own set of challenging issues. Staff turnover is a constant undertow. While the educators on staff are highly motivated and committed, they are typically newer and lack experience, adding to the high turnover and the constant need to train new staff.

The ability to provide adequate financial resources will dramatically improve the stability, effectiveness and productivity of the program. Funding is essential to the CFR - Santarém's ability to provide a consistent program so that local youth develop the essential skill sets necessary to stand on the power of their own initiative.


Project Plan

CFR Santarem 3B web

In 2010, CEN partners Eunice Sena and Paulo (Paulinho) Melo began holding meetings in the Eixo Forte's communities in an effort to mobilize the communities to develop their own vision for regional development. Under Eunice and Paulinho's guidance and mentoring, the communities developed a comprehensive regional action plan to increase family incomes on a sustainable basis through community-based tourism and in turn strengthen the region socially and politically.

The following is a synthesis of the objectives for the Rural Family Home (CFR) as identified by the communities of the Eixo Forte region in their regional action plan, and those identified by the management of the CFR itself:

  • Reduce youth migration from the Eixo Forte and the surrounding areas by increasing youth awareness and developing the skills they need to achieve sustainable livelihoods based on high-value farming, livestock production, tourism and related areas within the region.
  • Educate youth of the region to become active citizens with the awareness and ability to fight effectively for the rights of the local population, as well as to safeguard the environment.
  • Foster local and regional discussions about the Amazonian environment and family-based agricultural production via secondary school level environmental education and other programs.
  • Increase the incomes of families in the region.
  • Strengthen the financial and operational sustainability of the CFR.
  • Create an additional tourist attraction for the Eixo Forte by offering a space developed in harmony with nature, demonstrating viable alternatives to address the problems of water, sanitation, housing, energy and food.
  • Strengthen the CFR's movement throughout the northern region of Brazil.

CEN primarily focuses on helping communities achieve long-term sustainability by helping communities recognize locally relevant opportunities and empowering them to achieve their own specific objectives by providing a formal program of scholastic and vocational education. The following priorities reflect those areas where we feel that our resources and expertise can have the most impact:

  • Continue to assist the CFR to secure the resources required to complete the artesian well project.
  • Continue the development of the CFR staff via exposure to the best practices of similar programs.
  • Assist the CFR - Santarém to take advantage of lessons learned, especially those related to acquisition of improved funding.
  • Facilitate collaboration among rural education institutions, as well as international NGOs.
  • Support CEN partner Eunice Sena’s efforts to secure funding for a permanent school building.

The following is a rough outline of the Rural Family Home’s primary initiatives over the next several years. This timeline is subject to change.

The total cost of each subproject, aside from that of the artesian well project, has not yet been determined. The budget for CEN's management and development of the overall program for 2016 only is $4,983.

Build horticulture facilities 

Over the past few years, the CFR - Santarém has completed a number of improvements to the campus, including the creation of a vegetable garden for its horticulture program, a greenhouse, and the installation of a drip irrigation system.

Goal: Build facilities needed for a horticulture program, including fields, a greenhouse and a drip irrigation system

Budget: NA

Status: Completed


Rural Family Home artesian well

Read detailed project description including status

Goal: Provide clean water for students, staff and residents of the host community of Santa Maria

Budget: $9,000 (More detail)

Estimated Completion Date: Mid-2016

Construct a permanent school facility

As mentioned above, the CFR makes use of a single-room shelter with a single wall, thatch roof and dirt floor, within the community of Santa Maria as a kitchen, dormitory, and sometimes as a classroom. A new facility will be built on the 4 hectares of land the CFR is leasing adjacent to the community of Santa Maria. Although it is not envisioned to be extravagant, the new facility will have block walls, a concrete floor, a permanent roof, indoor plumbing and separate classroom, kitchen and dormitory facilities.

Goal: Replace the current CFR facility with a classroom, kitchen, and dormitory for boarding students

Budget: To be determined

Estimated Completion Date: 2017

Secure stable funding for the CFR - Santarém

Although the CFR - Santarém has been successful securing some funding from NGOs (including from CEN) and government sources for capital improvements, such as the artesian well, it has very few commitments to assist with program operation. As a result, there is inadequate funding to pay for immediate operational costs, including teachers' salaries and food for the staff and students, let alone for improving and expanding programs. Similar programs in other parts of the country, such as ARCAFAR-PA and the CFR in Marabá, Pará, have been considerably more successful in securing financial support from a variety of government programs, and NGO and private sector organizations to cover operational costs. Through ongoing discussions with the staff of these programs, NGOs and corporations, we intend to secure adequate funding to support the operational costs of the center.

Goal: Secure state, federal and other financial contributions to the program for the short, medium and long term

Budget: To be determined

Estimated Completion Date: 2018

Improve staff qualifications and core academic programs

CFR - Santarém appears to be meeting many of the program’s goals; however, currently there is no framework in place to adequately measure just how effective it is. The lack of meaningful metrics prevents the clear presentation of the program’s overall performance and complicates the ability to secure necessary funding or improve existing programs.

By expanding partnerships through local, national and international organizations, the CFR - Santarém intends to collaborate to exchange best practices and introduce promising programs to the CFR - Santarém. Organizations with which the CFR - Santarém could potentially develop partnerships include STTR, a local labor union for rural workers; Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará (Federal University of Western Pará); the government of the Santarém prefecture; FAMCEEF, the federation of Eixo Forte communities; EMATER, a government technical training program; ARCAFAR-PA, the association of CFRs in the state; and 4-H, among others.


  • Improve measurements of the effectiveness of existing programs
  • Improve the effectiveness of existing programs
  • Develop additional programs to achieve the mission and goals of the CFR - Santarém

Budget: To be determined

Estimated Completion Date: 2018

Establish a permaculture program

One important objective of the regional action plan is to stabilize and build CFR - Santarém's long-term sustainability. Based on discussions between members of the CFR and the technical team that assisted in the preparation of the plan, the community and CFR management concluded that these goals could be met by creating a permaculture and recycling center at the CFR. The center will be used to develop and demonstrate sustainable and locally appropriate techniques and technology for food production, the capture and use of drinking water, alternative sanitation techniques, ecologically sustainable buildings, the use of renewable and clean energy sources, and the use of recycled materials. The center will also be important in the CFR's efforts to attract students, as well as key resources to improve the CFR's financial sustainability through income generated by events promoted by the center. For example, the CFR could offer workshops to the general population, ranging from the standard course in permaculture to workshops on specific solutions developed in each area. The center would also serve as an additional tourist attraction to the Eixo Forte region. The structure will be built on the CFR’s land, adjacent to the community of Santa Maria.


  • Source of additional income for CFR - Santarém
  • Promote the development and dissemination of locally appropriate permaculture techniques
  • Teaching tool for CFR students
  • Recruiting of students
  • Attraction for visitors to the region

Budget: To be determined

Estimated Completion Date: 2018


Project Team and Partnerships

The project is currently managed by the CFR - Santarém Association, which in turn is advised by Eunice Sena. Ms. Sena is a highly experienced community organizer and has been working closely with the communities of the region since 2010. She also currently serves as the local project manager for CEN’s community-based tourism project in the Eixo Forte, which is assisting the region to implement its comprehensive regional development plan.

Over the next several years, CEN plans to achieve the program's objectives by continuing to collaborate with local, national and international associations, cooperative, government and nongovernmental organizations and private sector corporations, such as the CFR - Santarém Association; FAMCEEF, the federation of Eixo Forte communities; EMATER; CEFT-BAM; 4-H/4S International and Cargill. CEN also plans to facilitate greater interaction and cooperation with other CFRs and Escola Família Agrícola (Agricultural Family School) locations in the region and other parts of Brazil in order to better share best practices, contacts and resources.

The Community Empowerment Network and Santarém-based NGO, CEFT-BAM will likely provide operational support for the project. Additional partners will be brought in as the project progresses.

Team member Role in project
Marlene Rodrigues Rocha, treasurer of Association of CFR-Santarém Co-project manager
Francinete Dias de Sousa, operations agent of CFR-Santarém Co-project manager
Eunice Sena, local project manager for CEN’s Eixo Forte Community-Based Tourism Project Project advisor
Robert Bortner, Director, Community Empowerment Network Operational and financial support
Maria Graciede Bentes de Lira, Director, CEFT-BAM Operational support


Project Status

The following is an update on the progress of CEN’s efforts with the CFR - Santarém as of January 1, 2016:

  • Over the past few years, the CFR - Santarém has completed a number of improvements to the campus, including the creation of a vegetable garden for its horticulture program, and the installation of a drip irrigation system.
  • The CFR - Santarém is near completion of the construction of a well that will deliver clean drinking water for the staff and students, and residents of the host community, as well as water needed for irrigation. (Please see Rural Family Home Artesian Well Project for the latest details.) Few other improvements have been completed on the current facility. However, with the assistance of our partner, Eunice Sena, the CFR has developed and submitted a proposal to the Brazilian government.
  • Although the state government began paying teachers' salaries around approximately 2013, it again stopped. As a result, faculty members are now working entirely on a volunteer basis. On a positive note, CFR Director Marilene Rodrigues Rocha has recently succeeded in securing funding for a part-time technician for the school.
  • In December 2015, CEN Director Bob Bortner visited similar programs in the south of Brazil that are working more smoothly. He discovered one program in Macapá in the state of Pará (where the CFR - Santarém is also located) in particular that seems to be quite successful. For example, the Macapá program seems to have been able to access a state education fund that is typically only open to public schools. The other programs in the south have also had significant success gaining financial support through the private sector, something that CFR - Santarém hasn’t successfully tapped. Bob sees a strong opportunity – and benefits – for stimulating the exchange of information and ideas between CFR - Santarém and these successful programs.



CFR stokes Madson Santos passion for nature

CFR youth

Madson Santos comes from the small community of Vila Nova in the Eixo Forte, about 20 kilometers from Santarém. Like many other remote villages in Brazil, Vila Nova is seeing many of its youth flock to larger cities for high school in hope of more vocational opportunities, taking with them their communities’ hope and promise for future prosperity. Stripped of their youth, these communities hollow out and slowly begin to die.

Rather than follow his friends to Santarém after middle school, Madson Santos chose to join the Rural Family Home (CFR). This unique concept provides students with training in agricultural practices that they then apply back in their home communities. For every week of training, the students spend two weeks in their villages implementing what they’ve learned. After completing training, these young adults bring these skills home and share them with friends and neighbors, breathing life back into their villages.

Through the CFR, Madson developed a passion for forestry that he used to secure a full-time job at a forestry school upon graduating. The school was so impressed with his firsthand knowledge of the forest that it is exploring a formal partnership with the CFR to train others to become teachers at the school, which would provide more youth from Vila Nova with the opportunity to lift their home out of poverty.

CEN’s focus isn’t to simply fund projects, but rather to offer mentorship, coaching and training, through which communities and their residents strengthen their ability to achieve their development objectives through their own efforts.

To date, over 100 youth have completed the program, and many have resisted the urge to migrate to the city by applying what they learned through the program to help their family diversify their income beyond raising manioc, the staple crop families have raised for generations. Others have become active environmental citizens and found work with a nearby forestry school and government agencies, where their hands-on knowledge gives them an edge over applicants with simple book learning. The growing waitlist for the program is evidence that an increasing number of youth and their families feel that the program is improving the quality of life and offering the potential for creating sustainable livelihoods within their communities. Thanks to an increased awareness of local opportunities, many program graduates no longer have to look for employment in urban areas.

Here are just a few examples of the many CFR - Santarém graduates who are successfully creating sustainable livelihoods as a result of attending the CFR:

  • Odila – community of Anã – graduated in 2012: raises fish and bees
  • Alexandre – community of Anã – graduated in 2009: produces açai and cupuaçu, among other tropical fruits
  • Alessandra – community of Iruramã – graduated in 2009: raises chickens, gardens, and grows ornamental plants
  • Amauri – community of Ponte Alta – graduated in 2012: gardens
  • Madson (see the side bar) – community of Vila Nova: works as a technician at a nearby forestry school

These students and others have realized a positive impact on their lives and their families. The Rural Family Home has also had significant positive impacts on the operational sustainability of the CFR itself, as well as on the quality of community leadership.

For example, according to CFR Director Marilene Rodrigues Rocha, the Rural Family Home has changed how teachers teach. Instead of heavy reliance on rote memorization, which is still the norm in many classrooms in the region, CFR students learn to teach using constructivist methodologies where students learn by doing rather than by just being told what they need to know. Students learn how to learn, developing critical soft skills they can apply throughout their lives. One unintended benefit of the rapid turnover of teaching staff – since few teachers can volunteer with no salary for very long – is that teachers learn important new teaching skills at the CFR that they can apply in their next government teaching job.

The artesian well, which CEN continues to support, strengthens the operational sustainability of the CFR by improving the health of the staff and students and saving valuable time that the staff and students formerly spent hauling water several kilometers. In addition, our involvement continues to improve the ability of staff and community leaders to solve problems they face.

The CFR staff has been able to nearly complete construction of this project well below initial budget projections based on the staffers' creativity. Had they simply been provided 100 percent of the project’s cost, they would not have had to exercise such creativity. In addition, the community has been successful in leveraging the contributions of our supporters to secure more local support. (Please see artesian well impact for more details.)


Additional Resources