There will always be people who are critical of others they don't know. I have been involved in community activities here in Rocinha for about 11 years. My belief has always been, that in my work, there needs to be the service or voluntary aspect. I have no problems showing the work I do. I understand there are ethical questions that people may ask about how can tourism help a community like Rocinha. I am not the only one confronted with this legitimate question.
Anyone that works in this community deals with the question, "How can tourism here benefit the favela"? Read this blog post for more details.
I have always had this idea of tourism where everyone benefits a little, like sharing the wealth. I started the tourism initiative in 2007 out of a request of many here who thought I would be a good representative of this community. It was not easy at first to do this kind of work with those people who thought that this was exploitation. It is understandable, I get it.
I started doing this kind of work for 3 reasons. I got tired of people outside of Rocinha always asking me, "How can you live there?" or "Isn't it an ugly and dangerous place?" The second reason was because I would hear guides who are not from here tell lies about the community. This does a great disservice to this place. It's bad enough with the media, but now outsiders repeating this same stuff? And on top of it, these outsiders making money off of the favela with their negative attitudes and not contributing any money back into the community. The last was, I thought that this place needed accurate representation, not only by me but by others involved in this kind of work. There are many guides and community activists working to bring visibility to favelas like Rocinha.
A woman once said to me, "You know Ze, I like the work you do because you give us (the favela) value." Powerful words that I felt I need to fill big shoes of expectations.
With tourism can open up other opportunities. The first was donations. People started asking me about donations and how they could help. In the beginning back in 2007, I would collect donations for Tio Lino's Art school "Rocinha Mundo da Arte". During my tours, I would bring people by his school and they could donate directly to his project. I remember when Freddy Gomes from Holland contacted me a years ago and wanted to donate to Tio's school. He came and he brought a suitcase full of supplies for the kids.
Tio passed away a few years ago but he was someone I looked up to in his more than 30 years of voluntary work with kids, after working as a life guard on Sao Conrado Beach. He had a heart of gold and I still miss him to this day. He left me with lasting impressions about service to others and I learned a lot from him.
After Tio's school starting receiving outside support and they reconstructed his building through fundraising, I stepped aside to find other projects to help. I moved on to buying and receiving donations of school supplies. We have many independent study groups called "Reforca Escolar", and I started donating to those projects. Many kids need, pens, paper, notebooks etc. for school.
In 2011 I finally opened my dream project which is "Spin Rocinha" Dj school.
After being a dj for over 16 years, this was the ideal project for me. I focused more on that because the buying of Dj equipment was very expensive. I still would sometimes receive school supplies and would distribute them to the contacts I had here. With the Dj School, I spent over 50,000 reais over a period of 4 years to complete the Dj school.
After working with Spin Rocinha, we started to get a lot media attention about the project, people would contact me about wanting to give workshops to our students. The Dj school is still running but with a different format due to the transient nature of life in the favela. Students come and go depending on school, work or they move away. Our classes are now active on the weekends so I can manage the other projects that I am involved with.
In 2014, I met Luciana who owns and runs a daycare out of her house. We started supporting her with buying school supplies, food and diapers for the babies.
Berit has been a donor of clothing, toys and art supplies when she visits Rio.
She donates 5-7 suitcases of much needed supplies to many projects in Rocinha.
Last year I met with a woman (Ruth), who I have known for a while in seeing her almost everyday. She mentioned back in 2016 that she had many animals and needed help. I wanted to see how I could contribute. She would contact me about once a month in need of food for her animals. So, I would buy her cat or dog food. On my tours I would talk about her project and then people began donating money for the purchase of food. I would contact her, we would meet at the Rocinha Pet Shop and I would buy the food for her. I would take a photo of her with the food and the receipt showing the date of purchase and I would email it to the person who donated. She understands why I do this and she is benefitting from the promotion of her animal shelter which she started construction in mid 2017. The more people can see her need, the more potential to receive help. We also were able to get another person to help her. Charmaine in Copacabana helps buy food too when she can.
The only way to build trust and attract more donors is to show through your actions...what you say, is what you do.
The next thing was that people who came to visit Rocinha would ask me how they could help the community. I gave them some ideas and referred them to honest organizations here that I trust. Eventually people would ask me about volunteering. I told them that I am NOT a volunteer type agency. What I can do is connect them to projects that they have interest in. So, for a while I did this as well, just connecting people, but not much else.
I started to get more interest in people wanting not only to volunteer but to also stay in the community with a family or rent a place. When it got to the point where I felt there was a big time investment, I started thinking about this like a job. With people not from Brazil and who don't speak Portuguese, it can be a lot of work. They have many questions, especially when it comes to staying or working in a favela. You can't just have a foreigner come here and expect them to automatically know their way around or know how things work here.
From the first email, it's about finding out what people not only want to do, but what they can do. A volunteer should come here with a plan and for example, if they want to teach English, they should have some experience with this. I also advise that they should at least learn some basic Portuguese if they are going to stay in the community. If you can speak some of the language, your experience will be that much more enriching for you.
There has always been this question of should a person "pay" to be a volunteer?
I have never agreed that people should pay to be volunteer. If people come here on their own and want to volunteer, I can connect them with projects. Mary Overby is one person who taught English here at our new school called "Rocinha in English". Tijl from Belgium, is another who came to volunteer at Barbara's Garagem das Letras and train jiu jitsu. Phoebe from the UK, came here for 2 months and taught children at a dance school. Dana Hernandez from Argentina has visited Rocinha about 4 times in the past 2 years and she always volunteers at the daycare that we partner with.
All these people came, stayed in Rocinha and volunteered with projects that I connected them to, and never had to pay anything. It can be done if you have the right contacts and you do your research.
You cannot just come here and expect everything will be free. You will need to pay the host family you stay with and your food, transportation etc. I don't know of any volunteer agencies even where you don't pay, other than the Peace Corps. But private volunteer companies will charge you and charge you a lot of money.
The problem is you don't know where that money goes. If these companies were more clear on the percentages of the payment fee and what they cover, it would cause less confusion. Unless they are 100% transparent and show you, you will never really know especially if only one person is control of their books.
I knew people who volunteered with Iko Poran in Rocinha in 2013 and although they were promised Portuguese language classes, they never received them. Also the projects they worked at were not organized properly to receive volunteers. At times the volunteers were confused to what their responsibilities were when they arrived at the project. These people were from the UK where it's popular after high school to take a "gap year" and volunteer somewhere in the world. I met them in a restaurant here in Rocinha and they told me their stories.
Now that I have started working with volunteers, I sometimes charge a service fee. This fee depends on what exactly I have to do for the volunteer that is coming here. How much time do I need to invest in the volunteer coming here. I am partnered with over 30 different (art, music, health, sports, children, environmental) projects that are open to receiving volunteers. I am known in the community and have a good reputation. These partners want me to attract volunteers to help their projects.
Things I consider regarding the service charge. Do I have to set up everything for them (organize the volunteers work schedule and what they will be doing)? Do I need to bring them to the projects and introductions/translations? Do I need to meet them when they arrive in Rio and bring them to where they are staying? Do I need to show them around or give them a complete tour of the community? Do I need to be available at anytime to help them with whatever they need? E-mails, skype calls? What I earn as a service charge depends on exactly what I need to do and how much time I need to take off of my other job. I only get paid as a tour guide when I work. So, if I am not making a tour, I don't earn anything. Yet, I still need to pay rent, pay bills, food etc. Work has value and everyone has the right to earn a just salary.
Not every volunteer do I charge this service fee. It's not necessary as most of the volunteers I have helped usually have a place to stay, speak some Portuguese and are independent enough that once I give them the contact of the project, they can do the rest. As a said, I'm not a volunteer company. Volunteers do give value to the projects and the community appreciates the help.
For volunteers, first objective for the volunteer is to feel they are contributing to a worthwhile project. They want to feel their work has value. The second is to make sure they are in a safe environment. These are the MOST important things for people who come here. Connecting with the right people can help volunteers do this. I am just one person here and when people contact me, I don't have help to do this. There are others in the community who are creating experiences for visitors who want to help in some way. Other guides and community activists find their own projects to help based on need.
Before volunteering, please do your research. Make sure your first contact for volunteering not only lives in the community but is invested in it as well.
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