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.



Filed under People, Travel

9 responses to “Favela

  1. Margaret

    Good blog – very educational.

  2. Angel

    Kudos to you for writing about these social issues, Mom. I am impressed by your research.

  3. gamamãe

    thank you mk- I will try to find and send you some info about projeto asfalto e morro- about a community center in Vidigal, one of Rios favelas right above the Sheraton hotel and its private beach. The center strives to establish partnerships and programs that can link life on the outside
    ( asfalto/asphalt) and the inside( morro/hill/favela) of the vidigal community. The residents want to have pride of their community, of where they live and come from, not stigmatized because of it. My MSW is showing, sorry! Keep writing about subjects like this, as often as you´d like. I will readm,and comment.

  4. expatprincess

    What is MSW? I think the violence problem, more than the living conditions, is the stigmatizing factor. Muito complicado. Keep setting the record straight!

  5. gamamãe

    Masters of Social Work..The violence is enmessed in everything.Infelizmente.

  6. I was born and raise in a favela and where I live is not “ugly”. it is our home….please respect us for who we are not how much money we have.


    • Sarah P

      I don’t believe she was trying to disrespect where you grew up, she was trying to explain the plight of the person in the favela.

  7. Susan

    I also want to defend the expat princess who spent countless hours making sure that children in the favela Nova Jeruselum in Campinas all received Christmas Presents. This was quite an undertaking. After she left Brazil she enlisted her friends to carry on her efforts. This was all done to help those less fortunate, without passing judgement on anyone. She also helped throughout the year.

  8. Zezinho,

    I appreciate your comment and have given it a lot of thought. In the future, I will be writing more about my impressions of favelas, the choice of Rio as the site of the summer Olympic Games in 2016, and the Brasilian government’s failures to its’ citizens. As an outsider, I certainly meant no disrespect, as my commenters have so nicely articulated for me. I have visited your site (www.favelatours.org) and, if I return to Brasil, would love to go on one of your tours. I can see you are doing good, important work for your community and country.

    However, until the Brasilian governments addresses violence and drug warfare in favelas in a meaningful way, I am not changing the use of the word “ugly”. Self-inflicted genocide is ugly. Fear and despair are ugly. Corruption is ugly. I also oppose the romanticization of favelas. My favorite Rio website, http://www.riodepaz.org.br, documents the number of homicides in Rio. From January, 2007 to September, 2009 there were 20,255 homicides. If you read more of my blog entries on Brasil, written in 2007, I think you will understand that my opinion is based entirely on an, admittedly, self-conflicted love of the country and its people.

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