On Friday night we will be joined by a man who knows a lot about America. He’s a man who also knows a thing or two about America’s greatest living song writer Bob Dylan. To tell that story Tom Russell went back to Bob’s home state, Minnesota and thought about the vision and precocious talent that exploded onto the world in 1962. Tom will talk about immigration, art and his writing relationship with the great Gretchen Peters. He’ll also sing some killer songs from his fine recent album too.

Tom's the one on the left

We’ll have some interesting things from two old friends: First Caitlin Rose – whose music we have loved these last couple of years and who also managed to be our best guest ever for saying the unsayable about song-writing-rounds among other things…Caitlin, we needed to hear some of that!

Caitlin..the naughtiest girl we've ever had on the show

Then CW Stoneking who made such a huge impression when he performed at one of these very rounds over Celtic Connections. (We like to have it both ways) There will be news too of another old friend of the show who is about to get back together with his old band…..but I’ll tell you more about that one on Friday. We’ll also hear some beautiful new songs from Patrick Watson, Bowerbirds and will play a piece of music for Adam, my regular blog correspondent…my friend, it’s the least I can do. In amongst that you’ll hear a whole load of reasons why we still love country music. Friday is the day before Record Store Day so join us from five past eight when the needle goes down at BBC Radio Scotland HQ.

On Sunday.

I will be talking to the inspirational Hamish Montgomery. For years Hamish was the director of the Tom Allan Centre in Glasgow where he introduced the idea of pastoral counselling. Tom is also an accomplished painter and we’ll talk to him about his life in art too.  In the light of Channel 4’s Derek and The Undateables we’ll discuss how people with disability are viewed in the media.

I’ll also play you some of the recording I did in Brazil a few weeks back when I went back to look at the work of Landless Movement there. …. For those of you who want to read more I am enclosing the blog from Brazil I did at the time. All that and Matthew Johnstone’s on his new book The Quiet Mind. There’s a lot to get through so join me from five past seven on Sunday morning on BBC Radio Scotland.


Here’s my Blog from Brazil…

More than a decade after his first trip, Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross returned to Brazil to discover how Christian Aid partner MST, the Landless People’s Movement, is working to help poor Brazilians get land of their own.

Brazil is one of the world’s biggest economies, but one of its most unequal countries. Two thirds of the country’s land is owned by just 3% of the population. Much of it lies unused, while millions of poor Brazilians have nothing.

The Scottish singer, songwriter and broadcaster hopes his visit will highlight the achievements and new challenges being faced in an increasingly unequal society.


Under the Brazilian constitution, land which is not being used can be claimed for redistribution to people who have no land. Christian Aid partner MST, the Landless People’s Movement, helps make sure that this rhetoric becomes reality.

Since their foundation in 1984, MST protest camps and legal actions have enabled more than 350,000 landless families, 1.5 million people, to get land of their own – the first step to economic security.

Ricky will spend some time in Sao Paulo where he will see how Christian Aid partners are working with some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, and will then return 250 miles north to the town of Promissao, where he will meet with people who are making new lives for themselves with the support of MST.

Follow his blog to find out more about what he learns and who he meets along the way.

23rd February – Going back

In 1998 I was asked to visit Brazil and in particular, the work of MST in the state of Sao Paulo. This was a great experience for me then and the memories of that trip remain with me to this day.

What did I learn? 

I learned that, no matter how impoverished we perceive our own country to be, there is a deeper, sadder and more brutal poverty in the developing world than we can ever imagine. Getting the opportunity to see this at first hand is wholly worthwhile.

I also understood the real importance of fair land distribution: how can any society expect people to commit to their own betterment if they remove access to the places where this can happen?

Finally I understood the reality of a theology of liberation that unites salvation with true freedom. Seeing people celebrating mass after years of struggle was a wholly different experience of the Eucharist than I had ever had before.

Next week I will return to Sao Paulo, to Promissao and see again what is happening to the people of MST. I will try to tell you as much as I can along the way. I hope to meet old friends, see some children who are now adults and meet some new friends.

Till then, até-logo. Ricky Ross.

29th February – A warm welcome to Sao Paulo

It’s my first morning in Sao Paulo and despite my comfortable accommodation with my Scottish Brazilian hosts, the mosquitos still love me.

We got here last night around rush hour and I discovered that rush hour lasts a good three hours in Sao Paulo.

Mara, the Christian Aid country manager for Brazil, met us at the airport and on the journey I peppered her with questions. But in the gathering dark it was difficult to make out much of what we passed in the car other than a sprawling mass of urban living. Estimates about the size of greater Sao Paulo vary, but a conservative estimate is that 12 million people live here.

Helping people in poverty out of poverty

One of the projects I hope to see tomorrow is a recycling cooperative from Christian Aid partner Gaspar Garcia Human Rights Centre . This involves homeless people from the city centre who gather rubbish – cardboard, plastic etc and recycle it to enable them to survive.

Gaspar Garcia helps people gain the skills they need to earn a basic wage, while also giving support and advice to help them get off the streets. The cooperative now runs a small business supporting these people and we’ll see that tomorrow.


On the way here a bedraggled man, in a full-length plastic coat to keep out the daily tropical storms, was piling cardboard and paper onto a precarious looking supermarket trolley. I suspect he is one of those I will meet tomorrow.

However, right now I sit in my host’s serene garden, interrupted by nothing more than the drone of the gardening tools and the chirp of tropical birds. It is a gorgeous day (27º) and after yesterday’s very long journey I’m very grateful to be sitting here in this beautiful place.

1st March – Meeting the partners

Ricky meets our partners in Sao Paulo and sees why preparations for the 2014 World Cup aren’t necessarily benefitting the city’s poor. 

It’s the end of a long day and we’re standing in a rubbish dump. When I say rubbish dump I should be much more accurate; where we are standing is right next to a rubbish dump and it is a recycle centre called ‘Coopere Centro’ and there is a very satisfied smile on Rene’s face.

Rene Ivo Goncalves is one of the founding coordinators of Gaspar Garcia, a neighbourhood human rights centre supported by Christian Aid here in Sao Paulo. Rene’s satisfaction is not misplaced. He’s been a fine guide on our tour round some of the work being carried out in the city and he’d be right to feel proud.


However, he’s also pointing to the roof of Coopere which he designed and built…and heck, it looks good too. Coopere is a recycling cooperative which takes people who may otherwise be eeking out a living on the street and brings them into one of the earliest recycling waste centres in Sao Paulo.

Video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8aV8naqUgE&feature=player_embedded

Support comes from Gaspar Garcia and throughout the day we have been made aware of how important their work is. There is a movement abroad to cleanse this sprawling mass and the city centre is undergoing a huge change to show the world a new improved Sao Paulo in 2014 for the World Cup.

However, the cost of this is to move thousands of families out of their poor housing without offering them real alternatives. Many of these families will be squatting in old property or bits of land where they will live in one roomed houses with next to no sanitation and rather precarious power supplies.

Gaspar Garcia offers these families support and legal advice in how to establish permanent tenure of their dwellings or organising them against sudden expulsions organised to beautify the city in time for 2014.

If you want to gauge how serious a threat this is I asked Benedito Barbosa, a lawyer from the centre, if he now would prefer the World Cup not to happen and he gravely nodded.

Had he known how bad the outcome would be for these families he said he wished it had never been planned for Brazil. From a football loving country that’s quite a statement. Tomorrow I go to the countryside and return to meet some old friends who have made the land their own in Promissao.


6th March – Towards Promissao

Jen (my Christian Aid travelling companion) said to me yesterday,’What has been your favourite moment so far?’

My favourite moment really wouldn’t have happened to me had a series of slight misadventures not taken place…

Firstly we were delayed getting out of São Paulo due to heavy traffic on Thursday. With so many people coming along with us in our minibus, various items had been forgotten and so we were already getting near to the end of the daylight by the time we broke down just outside Bauru.

By the time a brilliant ‘Dunkirk’-like flotilla of MST friends vehicles picked us up and whisked us on our way to Promissão the dark was falling and we could only hope we would catch the sights again tomorrow.

It was the gathering dark however that allowed me to witness one of the most amazing changes since I’d been here the last time. As we headed towards Promissão, Mara pointed to both sides of the road where we could see little twinkling lights breaking through the night.

These were the lights of Dandara, the encampment I had visited in 1998, now a settled community with houses and farms dotted all around. It went on for miles.

My thoughts turned back to having coffee and bread in the tents by the roadside and asking people if they had ever expected to see a day when they would be living on their own land.

Seeing the task ahead of them I often wondered how possible it would be to achieve success, but on that long road at the end of a long journey I realised how completely the MST families have realised their dream.

Video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xrGlQXvXFqA

8th March – Almost home

I am nearly home. Amsterdam seems a long way from home, but you know you can’t be too far away when the British tabloids are on sale at the newsstand.

It’s now that I think of some of the amazing people we met over the last week…

Rene Ivo Gonçalves

A selfless campaigner on human rights whose work with homeless and recycling informal workers in and around the centre of São Paulo continues at the Gaspar Garcia Centre.

Claudia Praxedes

Who joined us on our way to Promissão where she lived as a child in the previous Dandara encampment. She is now a full-time educator at MST.

Our hosts Luiz and Lourdes

Who gave us their beds at the settlement of Reunidas and, having slept on sofas for the night, serenaded us on their veranda with old folk songs in beautiful harmony before we left the next morning.

Luis and Lourdes sing over breakfast


A travelling organiser and singer with MST. His great spirit typifies so much of the movement. Perhaps most importantly he makes everyone he meets laugh. A real gift.


A friend from 1998. Then and now at the heart of the community – serving food, growing vegetables, looking after children and organising the next phase of the struggle.

Gloria’s mother Argentina Maria was killed – some say murdered by vengeful farmers – coming off a bus outside the encampment of Dandara where she was visiting and helping families in 2002.

A mural of Argentina Maria takes pride of place on the wall of the community centre at Reunidas.


A communications officer of MST who has joined the movement to share his expertise, despite not growing up in an MST settlement and coming from the city.

Itelvina Masioli and Antonio Miranda

At MST headquarters in São Paulo. Articulate, strong and considered in their understanding of rights for landless people.

Having grown up on settlements themselves they are now with the movement full time, working to realise the promise the Constitution of Brazil proclaims… that every person should have access to the land to produce food for all.

One last story…

Before I go back to life in Scotland, let me share one last story… we took a little trip along the road from Reunidas to Dandara and met Lucia de Souse, who used to camp on the roadside near here. Now she and her husband live in a little house in the middle of their own farm.

The house is by no means luxurious, but it is a dream away from the tent in which she stayed for seven years.

Behind her bright blue front door there hangs a story which explains so much about Lucia and MST – her front door keys.

At the end of the day she locks her door; not because she fears crime in Dandara – it’s not that kind of place – it’s because she can. For many years nothing more than plywood, bamboo and plastic came between her and the elements and now she has a tiled roof, a brick house and a locking front door.

From her kitchen window she can see her cattle in her own field. That is quite a change from when I saw her and many others all those years ago on the roadside.

Thank you

Finally I want to say a huge thanks to all of the staff at Christian Aid in Scotland especially my great companion Jennifer, and Mara, João, Christina and Ana in Brazil who pulled so many things together to make this trip possible. I should also pay a huge tribute to my hosts Christiana and Eduardo who looked after me in São Paulo.

I think there are at least two people touching down in Glasgow today who would happily call themselves friends of MST.

Till the next time folks!

What next?

You can view a slideshow of Ricky’s trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/54878626@N04/sets/72157629270215144/

Read more about Christian Aid in Brazil.

Make a donation and help us continue the work of amazing partners like MST.

Take action on the root causes of poverty – email the Prime Minister and urge him to put the poor first at the G20.