This statement says a lot about society. I do not think anybody wants to be raise in poverty. When we are born, we really do not have choice what class we are born into. I never asked my parents to be born here in Rocinha, it just happened. Rocinha is a place like any that a child would not know anything diferent unless taken outside of Rocinha. I just thought everybody lived like me. It was around 12 years old that I could see and understand that we had diferent classes of people depending on how much money you made. My father tried to protect me from seeing the realities outside of the favela becase he was ashamed of his own circumstances. I remember the first time leaving the favela to go to centro to meet some my fathers friends and seeing a public bathroom and places and how diferent it was from the favela shocked me.
As a kid going to school I was made fun of because of where I lived. I went to a public school where there was a mix of kids. There were basically two classes of people in the public schools, those of us from "the hill" or favela, and those that were from the "asfalto" or formal city. We were the favelados or slumdwellers. The rich always went to private schools and did not want to mix with the lower classes. Still, in public schools the non favela kids who were poor but not favela poor, still made fun of us. I guess they felt better becase they could pick on us. I am sure looking back that they got picked on by the upper class kids, so this was a continuation for them to pick on us. A cruel cycle but reality. Being from the favela was just one step up from being homeless or living on the street. If I look at it that way, I am so happy I had a home, favela or not, I had roof over my head, oportunity for school, and some food in my stomach.
We had little but we made do. I had one pair of shoes that I was only allowed to wear to school and otherwise I wore sandals. My father wanted our shoes to last. As my three brothers grew older, shoes and clothes if in good condition were handed down. I remember owned 1 jacket, 1 hat, 4 t-shirts, 1 nice slacks for church, 1 nice button shirt, three shorts, 4 underwear and 2 socks. We ate 1 large meal a day and one snack or small meal. We had acess to Jaca fruit which we ate everyday becase you could eat it off the tree. Every meal had rice and beans. On a good day we had chicken or fish. Rarely did we eat red meat becase it was too expensive for us. Life was simple and predictable.
The area I was raised to what is now Rua 1 high up on the hill, was mostly barracos or shacks of wood. We lived in a two room shack all 6 of us. The bathroom was outside and we had to shower outside in our underwear. A shower was two buckets of water, one to get wet and soap up, the other to clean off the soap. This was life and you get used to it. We had no eletricity, just lamps and candles. We finally got a Tv hookup when I was about 9. He had to run a wire from a neighbors house to get power. My father loved radio and Pagode music, so at least we had noise in the house. The radio was battery operated.
When I was about 11, we moved into a larger more stable house. It was what I called it the half and half. I told my friends that if they wanted to find my house just look for the brown and rust colored, half and half. It was a joke but true, our house was half wood, half brick. So, it was easy to find. We were in a beco that was made of dirt becase cement roads where we were, was not common. In the rains the dirt road would become mud and dangrously slippery.
The house was four small rooms, two bedrooms, one for my parents and the other for us four kids. My father was a construction worker who build level beds for us, one on top of each other. There was a small eating/living room area and small bathroom with a toilet and shower. Outside the side door of the house was a tiny sink with a small tacked to the wall mirror, to wash hands or shave. We did not have windows, just sheets of plastic we would use to keep the rain out. We had a small fridge, sink and hot plate type thing that plugged into the wall. Very few people at that time had stoves, like they do today. We had eletricity but it was minimal and did not always work. My father bought kerosne lamps as a backup. We often studied by candle light. Water was inconsistant and you could not drink it. There were days when we had no water which was dificult to wash clothes, shower or clean dishes. Often we would go to neighbors as this was life in a favela.
We did finally get a small used television but we did not watch it much. My mother ruled the tv in the nighttime inviting neighbors over to watch the novelas. Most of the time we were studying or playing outside when she watched tv. That was her time for socialization and connection with community. She also liked to sew and make clothes. She was a English teacher so she had plenty of work but liked being around the house too to take care of us.
Development in my area was slow until a huge migration of people especially from the northeast of Brazil, in the late 70s came to Rocinha. Then some major building took place in many areas of the favela. Everywhere you walked people were busy building, tearing down, creating some sort of house. It was exciting but also crazy time. Strange accents and expressions were heard and with this migration brought crime. Mostly petty crime but still bothersome to the existing residents.
The drug gangs came into power around this same time and instituted rules in the favela. Since the goverment and police never came here anyways, the drug guys took control of the neighborhoods and set the rules, no stealing, raping or killing inside the favela. I am not sure on the exact details becase I was a kid, but the dealers set up a coexistence with the police. The police were not to enter the neighborhood, and the dealers would keep peace among the residents. This was also a time of tension becase the residents association which was formed in 1961 and established, was not sure what to make of the drug gang. The drug gang bought hearts and minds by aiding some of the poorest residents by providing food and necessities. Also many in the drug gang were cria or from the favela.
Interesting dynamic it is and far more complicated than I can explain here. The drug gang became the parallel power and filled the role of the goverment. The gang built community centers and had simple roads paved. If you live in the community what would you think? After years of being neglected and shunned by the goverment, who do you turn to? The gang filled that role. I wouldnt say people were happy about it, but they accepted it. What else could they do?
For me, school was never fun and it was dificult to make friends. The kids from Rocinha stuck together and the non favela kids had their groups. I hated this becase I wanted to learn about others and make friends. Reading was my favorite subject. I did make some friends from outside of Rocinha, but never did I get to visit their homes or create real friendships with them. It was all superficial. And it was like in my face they liked me but if they were with another non favela kid, they would pretend they did not like me. Weird peer pressure.
Its kind of sad becase in youth is where prejudices are born. It where people learn to hate. As I said in another Blog entry that is in another place: ignorance + fear = hate. How true. So sad becase understanding and learning is what we need. Why cant favelados and asfaltos be friends? Again it goes back to education!
The outside world sees favelas as a place where people have stolen everything. To them we have taken electricity, water, land and do not pay taxes. Favelas are places where "those kind of people" live, dirty, theives, uneducated etc..And there is some truth to that, but rarely do people want to know the "why"???? Why do favelas exist?
We lets start with a history lesson, the goverment promised soldiers who were freed slaves, that if they fought in the war of Canudos (1893-1897) in Bahia, that they would provide these soldiers with jobs and housing. After this war, many migrated to larger cities in the south of brasil. Areas like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo brought many people with the hopes of jobs. People were able to find jobs but could not find afordable housing. When the soldiers asked the goverment for help, the goverment turned to the hills pointed and said "build your houses there". So, the people did just that without goverment help. The first official settlement was in dowtown Rio in a area called Morro de Favela after the plant that grew there on the hill. Later the first favela was named "Morro da Providencia" or Providence Hill. Morro da Providencia still exists today in dowtown Rio de Janeiro.
If a favela is without government control or structure, it is obvious that services like water, eletricity, sanitation and proper sewer systems will not exist. If the government does not even recognize you enough to put your community (of 250.000+ people) on a map, that says a lot about discrimnation. So, then where does the community get these things? Well several places. In Rocinha the Estrada da Gavea was paved in 1939 way before Rocinha was favelized (if that is a word). Back then it was a small community of farms where vegetables were sold and car races used to run up and down the estrada. Eletricity was brought to the main street by the influence of the catholic church, who was instrumental in the 1950s to getting services for the people who settled there. Today there is formal eletricity to most of the residents but not all. The company called Light is located at the bottom of the hill near the pasarella. If you are one of the residents who lives deep in a beco, you probably run a gato or line to your neighbors and get power from them. But in turn that persons light bill is higher, so nobody gets for FREE! I am sure there are people who have rigged the system and do steal, but that is a minority.
Water has always been in Rocinha but acess has not always been easy. There is a water source deep in the woods close to Portao Vermelho and other areas higher up where water is pumped by CEDAE, which is a municiple company. The majority of residents have water but still problems occur. Two months ago I went 2 days without water and had to use neighbors facilities.
Sewage is more dificult to understand as it exists but there are many open places where sewage is visable and contributes to health hazards for residents. There is a open sewer ditch in a area called the Valao, instead of building that PAC project of the futebol field/swimming pool next to the samba school, they should cover the Valao! There are pipes you can see that criss cross the hill but nothing like the USA where you never see or hear it.
Sanitation and garbage pick up a problem. There are areas on the side of the road desgnated for pick up. The prefeitura is supposed to pick up the garbage 2 times a day, but rarely do they.The residents also need education about not littering in the becos or small alleyways deep in the favela. But it starts with having garbage cans available for people to put garbage in! The residents association does have people who they hire to clean the streets. I would think it would be easier for them to clean if there were garbage cans around. I walked one day for about 30 minutes before I found a garbage can. Garbage on the streets and in the becos also attracts rats!
As far as taxes, well in Rio, if you make under 1.300 reais a month you do not pay taxes. The majority of favelados that I know make from $500-$800 reais a month. So, that explain the taxes situation. And with that little money, where else could you live but a FAVELA!
Many of the services came about due to the residents association and the influence of the church. They both fought for attention to be brought to the community. The services are still substandard but are better than nothing.
If somebody does not understand the community or have fear, they create a dislike automatically and avoid. This is how I feel the asfalto world looks at the favelas. Better to avoid and marginalize, than to include in everyday society. This is where opportunity comes in. Who has it, and who does not? The people in power distribute that opportunity according to ones worth. In Rio, monetary worth, specifically, where you live. If I live in Gavea or Barra de Tijuca, automatically, I am seen as a person of value and opportunities of all types are given without question, to me.
If I am from Rocinha or another favela, I am seen as a person not of value. Instead I am seen as a servant to service the upper classes.
Opportunity changes things dramatically. But opportunity comes in diferent ways. Education is number one! They say in Brasil, everybody has the right to education and that is true, but the quality of education is what everybody deserves. The favelado gets minimum education that prepares him to be a servant for the rest of his life!
If a person has access to decent education, they can change their life. How much, is dependent on what society will allow. What I mean by this is if a guy from the favela is smart enough to become a doctor through all the schooling necessary, will he be given the chance to practice? Or will he be not valued just becase he comes from the favela? Hard to say on that becase the few who do make it to that level, have to lie and deny their roots just to get ahead. I am certainly not close to that level, but in my past I lied about where I was from, becase the media constantly pumps negative images about favelas in the news. Who would want to say they are from such a horrible place.
So now back to this statement:
I believe that the lack of empathy and understanding from outsiders remains a big obstacle to long-term improvement of life in the favelas.
There is much truth in this, but I feel there needs to be exchange on both parts, favela and asfalto. Only the next generations can change perspectives about how each are viewed. The outside needs to get to know and understand people of the favelas. And the favelados need to give them the chance to get to know them.