Sunday, November 7, 2010

Shelly and the Capoeira Project

2 November, Tuesday 2010

In the foto: Shelly Steffler is seated wearing black with glasses)

My day was planned to meet my friend Shon Starr and take him around Rocinha to take fotos and film of my community. I had no idea how interesting the day would become.

I first met Shelly Steffler through a friend who booked a favela tour with me about 1 month ago. I met the group at the General Osorio Metro station in Ipanema.

After the groups visit to Rocinha, Shelly kept in touch with me and made many contacts with people in Rocinha and wanted to help in some way with something here in the favela. She met with Leandro Lima who works with the PAC project in communications here in Rocinha and has a website about life here called Its in Portugues but it talks about all the goings on in the community.

For the past two years I have had contact with the ACORDA Capoeira school. I have always liked and respected Mestre Manel. He is about 50 years old and has 3 sons who also are Capoeira players. He has been teaching now in Rocinha for over 28 years. He lives Capoeira and only wants to share his love of it with everybody.

About one month ago Manel came to me and asked me if I could teach his students English. I told him that I know nothing about teaching English. But I could find some people who could help. I know that things take time and I wanted the perfect person to help me with this. And I know that I could not do this alone.

In the past I have referred volunteers to other NGO’s and organizations here and will still continue to do this. But for this project there is more concentration and commitment needed. I do not want to let down Mestre Manel. I want this project to work and continue.

Shelly had told me that she wanted to be more involved and help out in some way in the favela. So I ran this idea of helping with English classes, and she said yes. I knew that I would need support and help her with this. I am so happy she decided on helping the Capoeira class.

Shelly is so organized and has access to many people who can help. I also put up a post on the Couchsurfing website looking for those who have interest to volunteer and help out teaching English. Shelly has put out group emails to keep people informed about our English classes with the Capoeira students. So, now we have classes that began this past Tuesday at 9pm after the Capoeira class.

Shon, who has a Brazil travel agency called Brazil Geeks, wanted to film in Rocinha and also do a promotional video for Ricardo and his work with the Rocinha Surf School. Shon and I met Ricardo at 1pm to film and do the interview but when we got there, Ricardo had 6 students going to the beach for a surf lesson. So we went to the beach with them to film Ricardo in action teaching people to surf. I had no idea that these same people after would be meeting up with Shelly for the first English class with the Capoeira people. After the surf lesson Shon, Ricardo, Chiquinho (Ricardo’s assistant), Shelly, I and the group of 6 all went to eat at Trapia “por kilo” restaurant in Rocinha.

The class was at 9 pm and we ate and had about 3 hours to kill. I had plans to bring Shon to the new Ecological Park here in Portao Vermelho in Rocinha to do more filming. It ended up that I invited everybody to come along if they wanted to. So we brought this huge group of like 12 people. My friend Robert Nestor from Germany even took a bike up the hill to meet us. So, Shelly, her English volunteers, Ricardo, the surf students, Shon and I managed to get everybody on the bikes and up to the park. We went in the park and looked around at what they are building. We saw a ampitheatre, construction for a multi sport building, playground for kids, nice bathrooms, a kiosk which will probaly be used to sell food/drinks and we saw areas where people can have churraschos (BBQ).

Before the sun started setting, I invited everybody to my house to sit on my rooftop. My roof can accommodate maybe 12 people but we managed about 15 in total. People sat, drank, talked with each other, ate snacks and took fotos of the view I have from my roof. Around 8 pm most of the people had to leave to get some food and to get ready to teach at 9 pm. Angelo (Shelly’s friend) and Robert stayed at my house until 9, then we walked down to the Casa de Paz where the class was taking place. I was able to get to know Angelo, who is a professional English teacher. He told me about where he lives and we shared Dj and music stories.

Our first class was very informal. We do not have access to proper desks so everybody sat in a circle. Shelly and her friend Angelo who teaches English professionally, ran the class. We had about 8 volunteers who came along to help.

For those interested in volunteering with this project please contact Shelly Steffler at:

We want to keep this program ongoing and not have it die. Currently, classes are every Tuesday & Thursday from 9-10pm at the Casa de Paz (Peace House) in Rocinha. If people reading this have interest in helping out with the classes in Rocinha, you can contact Shelly or myself.

Thank you all for your help this past week.

Orgulho da Favela- Pride of the Favela

I have said this many times, "Its not the poorly built houses that makes this place, its the PEOPLE!"

To some people, the word “Favela” is bad. I embrace the word becase of its roots. The word “favela” came from the plant that grew on the hills of the first settlement in Rio. This plant mirrors the hardships of the people who had nowhere to go other than the hills to build their shacks back in the late 1800’s (1898 the first favela was Morro da Providencia). With this plant, people would try to cut it down but it would just grow back again stronger. I am from and to this day live in a FAVELA..sem vergonha!!! (without shame)

Many people do not realize that the conditions my parents and others came from were far worse. In the northeast of Brazil there were many problems being lack of jobs, drought and hopelesseness of the people who lived there. Many had to leave and migrate to the big cities to find work and to survive. Favelas were the only option at that time. People set their roots to get a sense of stability in their lives. My father did this because he wanted a better life for us. He told me many stories of suffering, starvation and feeling like nobody cared about the people there. Coming to Rio was a lifesaver for him. He was able to find work and slowly build his home and roots in Rocinha. The main thing was to have a better life, not a glamorous one.
I am thankful to my father, mother and relatives to giving me all I needed to make it where I am today. I have a roof over my head, enough food, clothes, and a job that I love. What more could I really want?

The purpose of this Blog, I made first is to inform people about what life is like here. Every week I would receive several emails from students, journalists, and researchers who wanted information about where I live. I also try to put in stories about my life here to give a personal side to things too. I am not a writer, just somebody wanting to share my personal experiences and information. Favelas are often misunderstood places that are often written about but by MOSTLY those who are not from them. I do not know of anyone else from a favela writing about it.
I would think that most people here probably would not write about it becase most people who live in favelas do not like to tell outsiders they live there. There is still a stigma attached for those who live in favelas. I know many here who would never admit to living here because they feel they might be discriminated against. Its sad but this does happen to we who live here. If any of you know somebody that is from a favela and writing about it, please let me know. I would like to meet them!

Favelas are complex societies that even trained or educated people still will never fully understand life here. Researchers try with their “theories”, but theories are just that. For a “outsider” it is very difficult to be trusted and given the detailed information by residents. Most of us here in Rocinha do not trust the intentions of outsiders. We live here becase there is no other option for us. Even in my experience, Many people email me and expect so much from me, but want to offer nothing in return. I see these same people come in the favela and only want to satisfy their own needs at the expense of the community. We are tired of being the “petrie dish” for every researcher who wants to “study” us but never try to help change things. After a while this gets old and people here are not stupid.

Recently it seems every post I put up which challenges somebody ignorance, I get again OUTSIDERS trying to tell me how it is here, change my values or tell me how bad it is here. Are you telling me this based on you living here or just stuff you read or what people tell you? This depends on what you value and what you are used to. I would never expect a middle or upper middle class person from the Europe or USA to come here and like it. But then again here is NOT Europe or USA.

One person wrote “you cant deny the deplorable conditions of favelas etc…”
Ok, he says deplorable, but based on who’s values, his? I don’t think I live in deplorable conditions.

I have always said. Favelas are not perfect, we have problems, challenges, like anywhere. Nem melhor, nem pior, apenas diferente! But they are just different than other countries. I am very happy here and I think that bothers some readers that I could actually LIKE living here in a favela. I think some think of favelas being “romantic”, which I do not understand this at all. Maybe in the movies they are romantic but reality is much different. I do not live in a movie. I am not just staying here, I LIVE here and MY FAMILY lives here too!!! I do not have any plans to leave. And my roots are here, why leave to go to unknown future?

I don’t need to be saved or helped. The conditions I live in may not up to some peoples standards, but I am not complaining. I have everything I NEED. To some, I live in poverty, but I think my life is very rich becase money is not the center of my universe. Yes, I work, but I am not somebody’s slave. And money does not dominate my every thought like most people I know. People and my community are far more important to me.

I think in countries where people have access to everything, they get spoiled and they complain. I saw this especially in the USA. People are stressed out chasing money so much they are not even raising their kids anymore. Mothers do not stay home with kids anymore. Daycare or a nanny is the substitute mother. Dads do not have time to go out and kick a ball with their son becase when they get home from work they are too tired to interact with their kid. Instead they feed the kid tv, internet or video games. Kids in the USA don’t have that connection to their parents anymore. At 18 years old the parents want you out of the house.

I left the USA because I started to see individual rights taken from people based on this “fear of terrorism” crap! Its easy, the government creates horrible events to create a “enemy”, put fear in people and then slowly takes their rights away under the guise of giving citizens more security. Big brother is now a reality.

When I lived in the USA I felt like my life was “regulated”. I had a “formal” job. I had to punch in a clock. I had to wear a uniform. There were regular meetings we had to attend. I had a bank account. I had a rental agreement for the place I rented. I had to have a credit card to do anything like travel or book airplane tickets. I did not get my first credit card until I was 38 years old. It was like a whole new world for me with so much regulation. So different from the simplicity of living in a favela where my word is trusted when I rent a place and no paperwork is needed.
There are many good things about the USA, but I felt after 10 years was enough and I was drawn back to my home. I made the right decision as I feel free from “regulation” and my life is my own. I work when I want or need to, not because I HAVE to. Life is easier and cheaper for me here in Rocinha. Its not perfect, but I am happy.

I am not perfect, but try to keep negative stuff out of my life. There will always be someone who needs to start trouble because they want to drag others down or their lives are miserable. I believe in karma and try to put out positive things and I know when I do, it comes back to me the same. But the test is those who are jealous or have problems and they see the good around you and want to destroy it. The test is to understand and not respond or block them out. Success to me is NOT about money, its about changing peoples lives and impacting them in such a way that they can then carry on that same energy. This is my belief.

So, my blog again is to educate and tell you how it is HERE IN ROCINHA. If you really want to know and understand this place, you would need to live here for at least 6 months to 1 year, the more time the better. And if you do not understand or speak any portugues, you will find it very difficult to interact and understand the life and culture here. The more portugues you speak, the more the community will welcome you. If you don’t try you will always be seen as the outsider and meaningful relationships will be hard to come by.

Please, if you have questions, feel free to write me at:

The Camera Project

Above are fotos of Leandro opening his gift of a new Camera..and hopefull to his dream of being able to become the photo journalist.

Mission accomplished!!

Some of you read the entry where I wrote about some of the projects that I’m involved in here in Rocinha. At the end of that entry, I wrote about Leandro who had his camera stolen and how I made plans to buy him a new one. Well, Leandro had his birthday party at the Verandao, a dancehall half way up the hill here in Rocinha on Saturday October 16th. Dj Fernadinho spun the music and everyone had a great time. I took some fotos of Leandro receiving his new camera for his 28th birthday. When he saw what it was he was in shock and gave me a big hug!

I want to thank ALL OF YOU who went on tours with me the month of August, September and October as your money helped to buy Leandro a new camera and keep alive his dream of one day becoming a photo journalist.

Again, thank you sooooo much!!!