Just when you thought this blog was all fluff, I serve up substance. Above is a photo of the favela near our kids’ school and across the street from the church we help out, Nova Jerusalem.
Favela: such a pretty word for such an ugly thing, like something Hannibal Lector would serve up with a nice Chianti. Favela is the word used to describe Brazil’s shanty towns and the word comes from the favela plant. Favelas came into being in Rio the late 1800s when many soldiers and former slaves (some accounts say 20,000) left Bahia and moved where the work was in Rio, squatting on public land.
There is a favela in the middle of Sao Paulo’s business district, close to fancy hotels and a shopping mall, that is made of plywood and cardboard. The residents do not want to move because they are close to work; if they move to a favela on the outskirts of the city, it could easily take them more than 2 hours to get to work one way.
Much has been written also about the social identity of a favela, from whence many of the samba music and schools originated. “Contrary to prevailing wisdom, living in a favela is no longer synonymous with living in poverty.” *
Someone told me there are 750 favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Most are tucked into the hills but there are many sandwiching the highway which runs to the international airport, making travel dicey in the evening if you are traveling in a big tourist bus. Usually, there is no vehicle access to a favela, sanctioned electricity, or sewage services provided by the government. Gangs and drug violence run rampant in some favelas and the police refuse to enter them in pursuit of criminals. Proctor and Gamble moved it’s warehouse in Rio due to the violence – too many of their workers were assaulted on their way to and from work. The warehouse was next to the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela about which a movie was made in 2002. I am too afraid to see the movie.
When it rains really hard here, which is often, I think a lot about people living with leaking roofs, dirt floors, and landslides. Maybe it is just the American in me but I think social identity can be preserved, possibily enhanced, with clean water, infrastructure, and a crime-free environment.
*Janice Perlman, http://www.worldbank.org
Please also see http://www.favelafaces.org and wikipedia.com for more on favelas.