Gringolado: Simon Keegan

My first impressions of Brazilian favelas came through the media. I was still living in the United States, so newspapers, films, music, and the internet were my only sources for Brazilian culture. I spent a great deal of time focusing on all things Brazilian throughout college. Yet, despite the depictions of violence and crime, I was intrigued.

When I finally made it to Brazil for the first time, I was an exchange student living in Salvador, Bahia. I lived with a host family that employed a lovely young women who happened to live in a favela. After establishing a firm friendship, she invited me to go meet her boyfriend and his family. When I arrived, the atmosphere was calm and tranquil, yet, the architecture suggested that it was indeed a favela. Still, there were no drug dealers. There was no crime. No violence, at least as far as I ever saw. What I did see were working class families. Children playing in the dirt road. Papayas growing next to the electrical lines. And we were only minutes walk from the best beaches in Salvador!

After this first experience, I knew the depictions I had scene in films and newspapers was not sole true. I had seen otherwise, and decided not to allow the fear created in such violent depictions of the favela scare me away.

That is, of course, until I got to Rio. If you have ever landed at their international airport you know that to get to the zona sul you have to drive by one of Rio’s largest favela complexes. The favela is right there, staring you down as you head south on the highway. For a second I thought to myself, “Holy shit where am I? We’re not in Kansas anymore!” I seriously considered jumping on the next plane back to Salvador.

Then, of course, you hit the Zona Sul; Jardim Botanica, Lagoa, and Gavea. The favelas give way to green mountains, the palm trees tall and growing in force. I most definitely sighed a breath of relief when I realized that my first glimpse of rio; the favelas and industrial waste, would not be the only backdrop to my Rio experience. What a comfortable realization.

After residing in that comfort for a number of months, I realized it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been. Granted, the beaches were nice and the people were beautiful. But, it wasn’t that community I had seen in the favela in Salvador. It wasn’t that drinking beers in the sun while playing cards in the middle of a dirt street with all your neighbors kinda fun. The sterile lifestyle of the Zona Sul was not the cultural experience I was looking for. The friendships weren’t as warm, nor were the bonds that I formed. My neighbors didn’t even talk to me in the elevator. I never even met the guy who lived across the hall.

That whole time, Rocinha was staring me in face; I lived in Sao Conrado. The richest of the rich living next to the poorest of the poor. My curiosity abounded, yet, it was intimidating. Eventually, my hunger overran any fears I might have had and I ventured in for some good eats. Sao Conrado is completely unlivable for a guy who wants to walk out the door and grab some food. But, Rocinha was there for me, and provided me with countless X-tudos for about a dollar apiece.

In the end, you realize, favelas are working class communities. Granted they contain controversial elements. Yet, who’s fault is it if there has been established a parallel power structure? It is exactly this fact that favelas and their populations have been so long ignored by civil society and government agencies, that they have developed a need to defend and provide for themselves. It is too bad that to an extent they have done it “by any means necessary.”

Still, one of the number one misconceptions of the favela is that there is no law. This is false. In fact, favelas have complex systems of enforcing civil codes. Peope seem to think that with the drug dealers comes lawlessness. This is not the case. Favelas are not places without rules. Granted, sometimes crudely enforced; the population does not live in a state anarchy. Crimes like thievery are not tolerated. And the rule is typically obeyed religiously by all.

My experience in the favela had much more to do with community than violence. People say hello. Everyone knows everyone else. They all know each others business, but, for the most part keep it to themselves. They party together. They cry together. More than anything they live together. Everyone knows everyone else’s struggles. And most do their part to help their neighbor. Respect is highly valued, and people typically offer it to one another freely without too much judgment or condemnation. When you are there you are reminded, we are all just human, all just humans in this life together.

To me, that is a beautiful feeling; a beautiful experience to have. To be in communion with others has no other comparable feeling in the world. No false pretense. Just human to human interactions at their purest.

That is what I found there in the favela’s of even Rio de Janeiro, some of the most violent places in the world by some standards. Granted I never experienced any violence, I just experienced a lot of very compassionate folk.


November 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm 2 comments

Volunteering: Changing the favela through technology

Check out this video about CDI, a community organization, which brings computer literacy to the favela. If interested in volunteering check out their website

November 24, 2009 at 6:15 pm Leave a comment

Mos Def in the favela City of God

4REAL tv series did an episode with Mos Def visiting a project called CUFA in City of God with the brazilian rapper MV Bill. Check out the videos.

November 24, 2009 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

Gringolado:Amy in Rocinha

Here’s a youtube video of an Australian girl and her experience in Rocinha.

November 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Volunteering: Catalytic Communities

Catalytic Communities is a Rio de Janeiro-based nonprofit organization founded in 2000 working to recognize, share, strengthen, and project community solutions from Brazil and around the world. Our mission is to provide access to global networks to increase visibility, networking capacity, horizontal capacity-building, and media exposure of community solutions.

CatComm is classified as a 501[c][3] not-for-profit organization in the United States, in addition to its not-for-profit status in Brazil. Though the organization was inspired by local realities in Rio de Janeiro, the need for exchange networks knows no borders. Our on-the-ground work is focused on growing the capacity of the broader global Portuguese-language community to access and participate in global knowledge networks.

Over the past nine years we have developed the Community Solutions Database (CSD), a collection of over 250 solutions documenting the efforts of communities in 21 countries around the world. These solutions span a wide range of topic areas, including business and economy, community-building, culture and leisure, education, the environment and health. In addition to this work, CatComm incubates local projects in Rio de Janeiro with an eye towards developing sustainable models for others to replicate elsewhere. Our first project, launched in 2003, was a community center and technology hub for local civic leaders in Rio called the Casa do Gestor Catalisador (Casa).

In 2009 CatComm and WiserEarth, an international civic directory and networking forum, embarked on a bold new partnership. CatComm is currently syncing its CSD with WiserEarth Solutions. This will enable communities across the world to access one integrated database of civic solutions. The benefits are enormous. Not only will CatComm’s community partners have access to the knowledge resources of WiserEarth’s 1,500,000 users from 243 countries around the world, we will grow this platform to reflect the activities of often overlooked and underrepresented squatter and indigenous communities in the developing world.

To understand how we are using technology today, take a look at our new site concept.

Our on-the-ground approach is informed by and in turn supports our incubation of local model solutions for replication worldwide, starting with the Casa do Gestor Catalisador (Casa), a community center model we incubated and launched as a technology hub for community leaders in Rio de Janeiro from 2003-2008. During this period, we provided more than 1,000 community leaders from 215 Rio neighborhoods, 23 Brazilian states, and 22 nations a range of services, including helping them open their first email accounts, write project proposals, participate in workshops, gain access to RFPs and trainings, and leverage the resources available on the Internet. Most of all, we provided them with an opportunity to connect with each other (view photo archive).

Today we are incubating a new project in Rio de Janeiro. RioFloresta will work to undo decades of neglect in providing green spaces to the communities of Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone while helping mobilize communities adapting to climate change. With less than 5% tree cover, Rio’s post-industrial North Zone is chronically 5°F (2°C) warmer than the city’s South Zone (benefitting from over 70% tree cover). As a result, the region suffers from the urban heat island effect: high temperatures, polluted air, and health problems prevail. There are also psychological consequences of living without access to green space and the sense of impermanence that creates. CatComm hopes to begin piloting RioFloresta in early 2010. We will choose communities to participate in the program based on demand, need, and demonstrated commitment through participation. Tree-planting will be a vehicle through which communities learn to mobilize and adapt to climate change. Capacity-building for the City’s broader tree-planting program and an environmental education curriculum will be additional benefits of the program.

November 19, 2009 at 6:38 pm 1 comment

Gringolado: Mc Gringo

Check out this short clip of a German guy who moved to Rio to sing favela funk music.

November 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment

City of God actors and others discovered in favela theatre project

Nos do Morro has given rise to many brazilian actors that are seen in brazilian novelas and films. This project is based in Vidigal, a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Nós do Morro was founded by a group of friends in 1986, based on the dream of a journalist called Guti Fraga, who wanted to create a cultural movement, using the artistic talent of young residents of Vidigal. The proposal was simple but original: they would develop actors, technicians and audience, presenting all the magic of theatre to the inhabitants of that community who did not have access to art. Everything was made inside the community and, specially, for it. Fred Pinheiro, Fernando Mello da Costa and Luiz Paulo Corrêa e Castro joined Guti to create the basis of this pioneer project and open the doors of art to the people of Vidigal. From 1990 on, Zezé Silva contributed with her energy and became one of the directors of the project.

Check out some of their film projects on youtube cine nos domorro

With an intense production of plays and audiovisual productions, developed over the last 20 years of its existence, Nós do Morro has achieved significant public recognition, being awarded several prizes such as Prêmio Shell de Teatro, Prêmio Coca-Cola de Teatro Jovem, Prêmio Orgulho Carioca (awarded by the City Government of Rio de Janeiro), Honorable Mention from the United Nations, Carioca Merit of Human Rights from the Municipal Secretary of Social Assistance of Rio. In addition, a lot of members of the Group have good reputation in the cultural area, performing relevant roles in the theater, as well as on television and cinema.
Nowadays, the dream has come true proving that life is better when it is lived with art. Nós do Morro now has a theatre with capacity for 80 seats located in the back premises of Almirante Tamandaré Municipal School and also a Cultural Center, settled at the top of Vidigal, where the pedagogical and administrative structures of the company operate.

The project has unfolded and now offers courses in dramatic art (actors and technicians) and audiovisual (screenplay writers, directors and technicians), opening and expanding the horizons of many children, teenagers and adults either living or not in Vidigal

November 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

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