Mariette Huizinga is currently on our 6 week Immersion Programme in Rio de Janeiro volunteering with community organisation, Horte Inteligente. Here she writes about her first impressions and what she learned in her first week about the favela communities of Rio.
We all hear a lot about this. But what exactly is a favela?
And how where they developed?
Favelas are neighbourhoods or slums mostly build on the hills around the big cities in Brazil. With the end of the slavery and because a lot of people in the past moved to the city for work, there was a housing shortage.
So, people started to build their own houses close to the city. Nowadays only Rio counts already like 1000 favela’s.
I visited one favela in Rio called Santa Marta. Favela Santa Marta is famous for having been the site of the clip “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson.
This song explains really good how life feels in a favela. But what is life in a favela; Just an example, for the video clip of this song they needed to ask for permission of the ‘traficante’ drug dealer of this favela. Because every favela has their own rules. Like it’s forbidden to rob. And if you want to start with a social project, you need to talk to the government and ask permission of the traficante. The other way around doesn’t work.
The favela is a maze of stacked houses and narrow streets tumbling down the steep Rio hillside. I was blown away by what we saw when we made our way down through the favela Santa Marta. It’s colourful, you have an amazing view over the city and the sense of community is incredible. We passed by crèches, supermarkets, bakeries and bars inside the favela. Everything is there.
Santa Marta was the first favela to undergo a pacification program where control of the favela is passed to the police who then set up a permanent presence in the favela in an effort to remove drug gangs and reduce crime while implementing social change projects. Especially because of the big events like the football world championships and the Olympic Games. Nobody knows what the future will bring after these events?
The story they told us is as follows: the people in the favela’s work hard but still earn less money. Kids go to public schools with a bad quality, after many years of school still some of them are analphabetic. And this generation is also popular for drug dealers.
Why? These kids are free in the afternoon, there is little for them to do in the favela. The perfect target group for drug dealers because kids are protected by law. They start already with involving kids when they are 5 years old. By asking them to deliver some groceries and then they will receive a candy or money. Which is potentially enticing because the kids having nothing to do and are bored. When these kids reach the age of 7 they are considered ready to deal drugs. So you can imagine how happy parents would be, if these kids had a football field or other activity and social programs, to give them a feeling to have a future.
For parents it’s very hard because they work the whole day and need every cent. And with the corruption in this country it’s hard to believe in a good future, sometimes they have more trust in the drug dealers than in the police. How is it possible that there are so many drugs in Brazil but they are not from here? There must be a great demand otherwise it would not be here.
And why is a favela unsafe? Because it’s all about money, everybody want to earn money. As the songs says: they really don’t care about us, the government is not really involved in improving the situation but only in getting the money off the traficante.
(Suggestion: watch the movie City of God)
This was originally posted on Mariette’s personal travel blog on November 14th 2016.
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