Friday, October 13, 2017

A teacher has some questions from her students

I often receive messages from people who have questions about life here in Rocinha or questions about favelas. I like to write my responses in my blog because this way others who may have the same questions can read my answers
  • Even though there are issues of gangs or poverty within some favelas, is there still a big sense of community with positive role-models? -- Yes, there are many role models here to look up to. And I like living here because people are friendly. Everyday I walk the streets here, I meet my friends and also people who I may not know very well, but they want to give a big hello. People also help each other here. A friend of mine who from another favela to Rocinha moved here 5 years ago, told me about arriving here. When he moved into his apartment his new neighbors greeting him, introduced themselves to him and asked if he needed any help. He arrive in Rocinha with a few suitcases and no furniture. One of the neighbors gave him a mattress to sleep on and another gave him a shelf unit for him to put his clothes. There is a big sense of community here. It's one of the best things about living here.
Caio, Rocinha resident (lime shirt) meeting guests from China. 

A daycare in Rocinha that received donations from visitors.
  • Do you like living in a favela? -- I do like living here because I know so many people and they know me. When I leave my apartment each morning and walk down the hill, everyone says good morning. I also greet people too. There are challenges to living here. Sometimes water runs out or the electricity doesn't work, but you get used to things not always working. But what makes Rocinha special. it's not the poorly built houses, it's the people that make Rocinha a good place to live. 
I have a lot of friends in Rocinha including my furry ones with 4 paws. 
  • How does leadership work in a favela? Do people in favelas nominate and vote on their own leaders? -- We do have a community government that is elected every 4 years. I don't really like politics because most politicians make promises they cannot keep. I think this is common thing throughout the world. The government here acts as a liason between the favela and the city government in Rio. I don't pay too much attention to what goes on here politically unless it puts us in danger. 
  • What is the government involvement in favelas like? Would you say most people in favelas don't want the government to interfere in favelas, or that they want the government to help them but the government abandons them? -- The city government only cares about favelas when elections time gets close. They only help favela if it benefits them. Most here do not like or trust the city government. Same as I mentioned before, they make promises they can't keep. We who live here are not stupid. Actions speak louder than words. We still have problems with water distribution and electricity, yet the city government doesn't do anything to help improve these conditions. 
  • How does race or ethnicity impact life in favelas? Are minority groups accepted? -- The favela accepts everyone. Favelas are for marginalized people of all races, colors etc. The government and system of classes in Brazil creates this marginalization of people who live in favelas. We think of ourselves like anyone else, but the system doesn't treat us this way. It's classist prejudice. In Rocinha we all get along for the most part and you see very little racism. You would not survive here long if you have racist attitudes. The origins of the favelas started as senzalas or places where ex slaves lived but things have changed a lot as now favelas have many mixed and white people living in them. Rocinha is very diverse community. 
There is a lot of diversity in Rocinha as seen in this photo of Berit with her "children". Berit visits Rocinha often and brings donations of clothes, toys and school supplies to distribute to several daycares. 
  • We even have a small gay community here. I enjoy the diversity as it gives a interesting humanity to our favela. 
A banner at the entrance of Rocinha advertising the gay pride parade October 24.
Rocinha had it's first Gay Pride Parade in 2010 without any problems. Over 30,000 people showed up to this event. Many came from other communities to show solidarity. Even though many people in favelas are religious, the feeling is of mutual respect for each person regardless of their differences. This is what I like about Rocinha.
  • Do you think police pacification is really helping with gangs? -- There are mixed feelings about the pacification. The problem is lack of training by the police in how to deal with people in favelas. People here are tired of being abused by police. The majority that live here are not involved in any kind of crimes. They are just honest hard working people who earn little money. When you have a minimum salary of 900 reais a month, where else can one afford to live? Every community needs policing, but it needs to be done in a way where respect is shown to the residents. 
  • Have you ever been threatened by police? -- I have never been threatened by police but they have stopped searched me for drugs. But I just talk to them without getting angry. If I show emotion then it only gives them reason to possibly abuse me. So, as much as I don't like it, I know I am innocent person. I just calmly show them my ID, explain, I don't use drugs and I think they can tell, and then they tell me I can go. 
Police searching a resident of Rocinha. Unfortunately, this happens when there is lack of trust between resident and the system. A father carrying his child has his backpack searched for drugs or guns. 
  • How frequently are innocent people killed or arrested by police? -- There are over 1020 favelas in the state of Rio. The police arrest those who they target or who are known who sell drugs. The majority of people killed in favelas by police are the drug dealers. Innocents do get killed but not as often as you would think. It's mostly stray bullet that would injure or kill and innocent person. This is the sad thing about living here is when innocent people are injured or killed, especially children. 
  • How do adults or kids react when police come by- do they hide? -- Most people don't hide anymore if police come by. If you are innocent, no need to hide. The only time people hide is if they hear gunfire. Then people stay away from windows and get on the ground and stay there until it's over. Now many in Rocinha have cel phones that have internet and people have access to communications as to where in the favela the shootings are happening. Apps like "whatsapp" have groups where people post in live time whats going on in the community. 
  • Do children in favelas feel safe? -- I think most of the time yes. Right now we have been going through a difficult time. Since September 17th, there has been a turf war between 2 gangs who want to control my favela. At least 3 times a week there have been shootings. Schools have been closed for a few weeks, Buses in the favela have stopped operating, businesses have shut down and twice the military has had to come inside here to support the many police operations going on to find the two gangs responsible for the violence. In the last 3 weeks, 16 people (drug dealers) have been killed. Right now, the favela is still unstable as these two gangs are still fighting it out. I have no idea when the "war" will end. Some photos below from some of the days during these conflicts in Rocinha.
 A motor taxi drives by garbage that was lit on fire by dealers to distract police.
 A house on Second street covered with bullet holes from machine gun fire.
 A tank, soldiers and police stand at the entrance of Second Street in Rocinha.
 The military was called in to support police forces to prevent more violence.
 This was close to my house. The military presence has enabled peace somewhat.
 The elite forces known as BOPE are highly trained like the SWAT in the US.
A man being rolled out after being shot and taken to an ambulance. 
*For those who are killed, the police always cover the face of the person. 
  • Do people in favelas get scared when there's a shooting, or are they used to it?  -- I am used to it. I don't like it but after a while, you do get used to it. I am an adult so my mindset is that it will eventually end. Each person reacts differently and has their own experience to gunfire. I guess I rationalize it as, I know they are not directly shooting at me, so I don't have as much fear. But it's not like I want to go outside and see it either. I am not stupid or reckless. I think it's bad for children as it can leave emotional scars on them. For those kids who see shootings or bodies, it affects them even more. Children should not have to live through this type of violence. I don't think ANYBODY should, but I think adults in the favela understand why these things go on. I would prefer total peace and no violence, but that's not the reality of the word we live in. As long as you have people buying drugs, you will have people selling drugs. This is not just in favelas, but everywhere. I just try to continue on my life path of being a good person. 
  • How is health care in favelas? --This is kind of a general question. In favelas, the quality of health care varies according to location and population. Rocinha has an estimated population between 250,000-300,000 people. We have three health clinics that serve our community. I had to go to a clinic once and I thought the treatment was good. Basic health care is free. There is insurance plans available for those who can pay, but few in favelas have this.
Our 24 hours health clinic located in the area called "S Curve" in Rocinha.

Since the shootings one of our magazines did an article about children in Rocinha and their reactions to the current violence. They also asked the children about their hopes and dreams and to draw a picture of their life. Here are two stories and these are words of the children. To read the rest of the article here is the link: 

Asheley Rodrigues Almeida, 10 years old. Resident of favela da Rocinha.

“Quando crescer, quero ser bem famosa. Penso em ser cantora, mas minha avó diz que tenho mais jeito para apresentadora. Sou boa aluna e tiro notas altas. Minha matéria preferida é ciências. Adoro conhecer lugares novos. Queria ir ao AquaRio, mas a escola não tem ônibus para levar a gente. Eu até passeio bastante, mas tenho amigos que nunca foram ao cinema. Acho isso triste. No dia do tiroteio eu estava em casa e tive muito medo. Ninguém me falou nada, mas vi tudo na TV. Fiquei tão assustada que até chorei. Tinha certeza de que muita gente ia morrer. No Dia das Crianças eu queria ganhar de presente a paz na Rocinha, ser feliz e uma casa dos sonhos da Barbie. Acho que o mundo seria legal se não tivesse tiroteio nem drogas. Meu pai conversa muito comigo sobre drogas. Ele diz que tem de ter muito cuidado porque elas não fazem bem para a saúde. Nunca vi arma nem gente morta, mas sei que acontece aqui porque vejo na TV. Morar aqui tem isso, a gente nunca sabe o que vai acontecer."

"When I grow up, I want to be very famous. I think of being a singer, but my grandmother says I have a way for a presenter. I'm a good student and I make high grades. My favorite subject is science. I love learning about new places. I wanted to go to AquaRio, but the school doesn't have a bus to take people. I have gone a lot, but I have friends who have never been to the movies. I think that's sad. On the day of the shooting I was at home and I was very scared. Nobody told me anything, but I saw everything on TV. I was so scared I even cried. I was sure a lot of people were going to die. On Children's Day, I want to see Rocinha have peace, to be happy and my dream is to have a Barbie doll house. I think the world would be cool if there were no shootings or drugs. My dad talks a lot to me about drugs. He says you have to be very careful because they are not good for your health. I've never seen a gun or dead people, but I know it happens here because I see it on TV. Living here has it, we never know what's going to happen."

Brendo Lima de Freitas, 10 years old resident of favela da Rocinha

“Estou muito assustado com o que está acontecendo perto da minha casa. Pedi até para dormir na cama dos meus pais. Lá o medo passa. Sempre brinquei na rua, mas agora eles dizem que está muito perigoso. Vi na televisão os repórteres falando da Rocinha, e meus pais me explicaram que existe uma briga política, mas não consigo entender por que tem de ter esse monte de tiro. Em muitos lugares as pessoas vivem tranquilas. Queria que aqui também fosse assim. Teve dois dias que eu, a minha mãe, que está sem emprego, e meu pai, que trabalha numa loja de embalagens na Via Ápia, ficamos em casa no escuro. Acho que as balas acertaram um poste. Mesmo assim, sou feliz. Eu estudo, tenho amigos e faço aulas de natação, skate e futebol no complexo perto da passarela lá embaixo. O meu maior sonho é ser jogador de futebol como o Neymar para ajudar a minha família e morar num lugar melhor. Mas não vou gastar o meu dinheiro com bebidas ou drogas.”

"I'm really scared of what's happening near my house. I even asked to sleep in my parents' bed. There the fear passes. I've always joked on the street, but now they say it's too dangerous. I saw the reporters on the television talking about Rocinha, and my parents explained to me that there is a political fight, but I can not understand why you have to have this much shooting. In many places people live quietly. I wanted it to be this way, too. Two days ago I, my mother, who is out of work, and my father, who works in a packaging shop in Via Ápia, stayed at home in the dark. I think the bullets hit an electricity pole. Even so, I am happy. I study, I have friends and I do swimming, skateboarding and soccer classes in the complex near the footbridge below. My biggest dream is to be a soccer player like Neymar to help my family and live in a better place. But I will not spend my money on drinks or drugs."