Friday, April 22, 2011

Foreigners living in Rocinha

Foto: Gary at the top of Rocinha in a area called Roupa Suja.

Spotlight: Gary from Seattle, Washington, USA

I have always thought that one of the best documentries would be someone who could film about foreigners lives here in the favela. The average Brazilian is so fearful of anything when you mention the word favela. But foreigners come with a open mind and want to learn.

The media here in Brasil, especially Rio, has destroyed the image of favela. Making the place out to be a horrible place where theives, vagabonds, drug dealers and anything else bad you can think of lives. If this is real then why would a foreigner chose to live in this type of place? Maybe because they know that the news media exagerates and only bad news sells.

So, I will be posting interviews with many foreigners who have or currently live here. All the answers they give are their own and I will not censure anything.


Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Gary Carrier and I am from Seattle, WA USA

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brazil as an extended journey across Latin America (a land that has fascinated me since childhood) after college to work, volunteer and better my language skills. While researching volunteer opportunities in favelas I came across an organization that operates in Rocinha and was in need of volunteers.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I lived in a 'volunteer house' dedicated to this particular organization's volunteers. The house belongs to the Marinho family and they rent an apartment located on the first level of their home to volunteers. The apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

- How did you find out about favelas?

Slum communities exist all over the globe, but Brazil's (especially Rio de Janeiro's) seem to be the most noted on an international level. Perhaps this stems from Rio's already famous international image, and the hundreds of favelas cannot be ignored and are inevitably incorporated in this image. I think the film 'City of God' gave Rio's favelas a lot of international attention, and it wasn't positive. However, it provokes interest, which leads to research, which leads to the truth.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I decided to move into Rocinha for a few reasons. First, being to volunteer my time and help to teach foreign languages to people who have little or no access to the overpriced language schools of the city. This classist language accessibility only further pushes low income peoples deeper into poverty and away from opportunities for economic/social prosperity. Secondly, the 'dangers' of such places are what detour but ironically interest people in them. After having been warmly welcomed and embraced for my work in slum communities of Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia, I wanted to prove that the stigma of Rio's favelas is perpetuated by restrictively negative reportage by news agencies. Nationally and internationally, these reports shape public opinion of Rio's favelas. I wanted to see for myself what this place was like and to prove to others that it really isn't a dangerous place.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I knew nothing. What I was told is that they're dangerous, full of gangsters with guns, dirty, and infested with drugs.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

Yes of course. However, I didn't come here with prejudices of Rocinha. I was aware of what I was told and warned of, but I didn't have prior judgements because my impressions didn't really spawn until I had settled in to this environment. I am young, but I have learned that most of what you hear on the news is B.S. If I lived my life according to the news I would not have had some of the best experiences of my life.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I like feeling part of a community. I have always valued that. Rocinha feels like a small town, where people know each other, but at the same time you are in a city of roughly 10 million people. You have the connection of a 'small town' while simultaneously having access to the luxuries of a city. It's really a great combination. Having the beach in walking distance isn't a bad thing either!

- What don’t you like?

The list of what I do like heavily outweighs that of what I don't. But, like any community, it has its problem. Traffic; there were no civil engineers present to anticipate the growth of Rocinha, thus its narrow roads and curves don't aid the heavy traffic hours. Buses often get stuck, which backs everyone up and can sometime take hours of maneuvering.

I don't like the drugs. Especially when people consume them in public. I think it is especially damaging to the community and to children who pass by as witnesses. I wish the gang would put an end to the public consumption of the drugs they sell.

I suppose many expect me to answer this question with regards to the gang or the trafficking. However, the traffickers have never bothered me and in my time here, appear to be comparatively respectful to the community and its residents. I don't agree with the practice but I am aware it could be much worse. The only issue I have is the disrespect some show towards their women. I have seen them abused on a few occasions and it's disheartening.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

I would improve the infrastructure of the favela. The buildings are poorly constructed, the roads are inadequate for the amount of traffic and open sewers are something that no community should have to witness. In many of the alleyways, stairs are uneven, and I can only imagine how difficult they are to ascend for elderly or disabled residents. If the community's physical appearance was reflective of it's inhabitants, Rocinha would be beyond beautiful.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?


- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Go for it! Not only are you constantly learning in this environment, but people are learning from you. As communities that have been neglected for so long by their government and the rest of society, favela residents, consciously or subconsciously recognize the importance of outsiders exploring their communities. After spending a short time here, people begin recognizing that this is a place of beauty, of community, of immigrants from various regions of the country bring their own customs, music, food, etc. and community of good people.

- Would you come back to live here again?

I'm having a hard time leaving. I'm sure that answers the question.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

What I have discussed here is regarding to Rocinha. My opinions, reflections, and advices are given respective to this community. Rocinha is a very safe favela, but there are favelas here in Rio that even Rocinha residents warn about. Just always be aware, and most importantly, keep an open mind. Doing this I have found what truly makes me happy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tourism Development in favela dos Prazeres

foto: Morro dos Prazeres

My contacts with Prazeres have been existant for a little while with out me knowing..I can not remember the complete details but I can give you a general idea of how things came to be.

I have been working with a small guest house in Santa Teresa called CASA 579. I have always believed in trying to give something back especially when it comes to favelas. Favelas are areas that are under served by the city and goverments. Some favelas like Rocinha get more help becase of their size or notoriety. Prazeres and Julio Otoni (JO) are not like that.

I spoke with the general manager of CASA 579 and we decided on working out how I could contribute specifically with the Julio Otoni Favela since this favela is very close to CASA 579. Many people who stay at CASA 579 also volunteer in Julio Otoni. I was contacted sometime ago by a coordinator Thais Corral, with the Julio Otoni Project which is a comunity center for the youth there.

About a month ago, Charles Sisqueira, who is a dance instructor at Prazeres and afiliated with JO contacted me about wanting to know more about tourism. I was suprised that they wanted me to teach them and help get a program started. Apparently some of the youth, Charles and the residents Association of Prazeres wanted to begin this becase of the interest in the surrounding area of Santa Teresa.

Charles has a dance program in Prazeres called Dança pra Galera no Casarão dos Prazeres since 2002 so he has built good relationships in the community. Through his group have passed 213 youth from ages 8 to 21 years. He is istrumental in keeping programs focused in the community, including The website is under contruction now but will be back soon. was created in 2004 in Prazeres as a learning group for technology. The first few years were focused on bringing internet to the favela. and teaching basic computer classes to the residents. At the end of the first year the group created a book "E Nois" about the daily life in the favelas of Santa Teresa. This took the collaberation of 53 students from neighboring favelas of Prazeres, Falet/Fogueteiro and Coroa. In 2005 this book was selected for the Victor Civita Education award. In the same year Galera was able to advance to visual programming and they created a animation film "Qual e?" a adventure in Morro dos Prazeres. This film took about a year to make with the help of 21 students. Galera has also been involved with the reformation of a library and after school homework clubs that also teach about manners and kindness. Often life in the favelas can be about agression and abuse, so learning good citizenship will help youth in these areas better understand outside the favelas. There is so much this group and Charles have done to give visibility to Prazeres.

So, yesterday I finally got to meet Charles and talk of their idea. With coordination of about 7 people, they want to bring tourism to Prazeres. I have always been a very strong believer in people from the favelas operating their own tours. They wanted my expertise and ideas on what kind of experience they could give to foreigners. I dont like the term "tour".
When I bring in guests to my favela, they will receive a social experience or a favela experience. I think they need to do the same. Education should be the focus of these "tours".

I know the whole tourism in favelas many may not agree with (and I understand both sides of argument) but at least people on the inside who are living in these favelas get to organize and run the tours. This is so much better than the jeep, van tours that come through Rocinha and give little or anything to the comunity. None of the owners of these companies live here in the favela, and in all my passings have only met 2 guides who work for these big companies that live in the favela.

By ignoring favelas or poverty will not make it go away. These comunities need a voice and as long as some of this money they earn is put back into the comunity, then this CAN be a good thing. The tours should be educational, not "come and see some poor people". The favela image has been destroyed in the media. People here are tired of outsiders seeing their comunities as only a place of thieves, bandits, drunks, addicts, poverty, and any other negative thing you can think of..people in favelas deserve so much more.

I met Charles in Copacabana and off we went to Prazeres. He explained to me beforehand that this tourism idea will also include the much smaller Julio Otoni favela as well. We walked into the community and I met some of the group from One of the guys Jacson came with us as we walked through the favela. We met many people and told them of our idea. Everybody seems supportive.

We decended to the bottom of Prazeres and sat and exchanged ideas. We were joined at a table by Saulo Nicolai, Davi Vitor and Diogenes Santos Lima. All of these young people are part of the group. Some speak some English. I am not sure what level of English they spoke becase we only conversed in Portugues. But I did advise them that if doing tours in English, you need be proficent enough to answer any and all questions your guests ask.

foto: The gang of Prazeres 100% FAVELA!! left to right, Saulo, Davi, Zezinho, Charles and Diogenes

I explained a basic outline of how I work in Rocinha to give visitors a "favela experience". Respect and support of the residents is needed to make this happen. I emphasized to them the importance of being organized, being prepared. Visitors want to know about physical infrastructure, politics, sports, culture, music, education, health, land rights, employment, and many of other things. It is the responsibility of the guide to know just about everything about the comunity they live in. If they dont know, then they have to find out by talking to elders, political people in the comunity etc. Marketing their service using pamphlets, flyers, business cards and talking to all the hostels and guest houses in Santa Teresa will help them. Any event in Santa Teresa they need to be there promoting their work. Their project will work if they can put some of the money earned into the film making classes or any other new developments that is involved with now.

This was my first "consulting" job. I hope it is not the last. Maybe the city of Rio can hire me to be a "Favela Tourism" specialist. But for now, working to help other favelas earn a self sustaining income is very rewarding and I hope I can help other favela too!

If you are interested in knowing more about the Tourism Project in Morro dos Prazeres in Santa Teresa, please contact
Charles Sisqueira at: or Saulo Nicolai at: Saulo also has a Blog about things going on in Prazeres, go here:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Makes a Community!

foto: Gary with the favela Rocinha in the background

I am reposting this from a friends Blog becase I really like the way he describes the place I live, that is Rocinha. Gary Carrier, from Washington State in the USA has been living here in Rocinha almost 1 year now and here are his thoughts on what makes a community! Thank you for putting in words something that I could not!


Every once in a while, one of our senses catches familiarity with something that has been long abandoned or forgotten in the pages of our memory. In the same way a certain experience (or span of experiences) can be entombed in a song, we subconsciously embed our experiences in the sights, sounds, and smells of the respective environment in which they are being formed. I experienced this response yesterday and it took me back to my first weeks here in Rocinha. "Caralho..." I said to myself, marveling at the fact that I have been living here for seven months now, "I can't believe how much I've learned, grown, and become engrained into the network of this community". There are few things that I like more than sharing a sense of community, and after seven months here, a speechless stroll down the street has become welcomely replaced by conversation breaks with friends. A community connection is vital for society as a whole, and equally as important for us individually. It creates a sense of connectedness, self-worth, and kinship between its inhabitants. My walk down the hill and to the beach I swear, increases by fifteen minutes every month. But I love it. I love it more than having a car that could jet me there in minutes. It's this walk that reminds me everyday how important community is, and how important it is that we continue to stay connected with one another. I'm not just speaking of 'staying in touch', but of something grander. Locally owned businesses, community involvement, knowing your neighbors, locally grown food, support and participation in city politics, etc. These attributes are what truly create the fabric to which we refer to as community. It is through this connection that we are powerful, that we have voice, that we can be truly represented.. When did we stop borrowing sugar or a cup of milk from our neighbors? More importantly, why?

I come to the bottom of the hill, the end of Rocinha (or the beginning rather) and its adjacency to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, São Conrado, never ceases to bewilder me. My pace is slow and unhurried, something I've adopted from Latin America. I venture closer to the beach and the giant, luxurious condos equipped with private parks, gated entries with security guards, and even a 'community' golf course, implore my attention. Their residents give a polite wave to the security guard from their tightly sealed vehicles, and enter yet another gate, giving them access to the building before making their way to the elevator and to the 'safety' of their condos. Protection. It's what you paid for right? Protection from this crime ridden, drug infested favela that has uninvitedly situated itself next to your paradise? Protection. From what, from the same danger-zone that this pale, light eyed gringo just leisurely strolled through? Fear has caused these people to live in isolation, to replace community with electric gates and security guards that won't protect you in the way that a community will. Is Rocinha a scary place for outsiders who know nothing of it other than what the media tells them? Yes. Is isolating yourself and diminishing your political voice to a hymn going to make it any less scary? No.

If we never sacrifice our vulnerability, how do we ever expect to grow? I am the person I am today because I have subjected myself to risk, to failure, to dangerous environments, to the 'unknown', and I've conquered them all. I've come closer to realizing what I cherish, what's important to me, what I want out of my life, where I'm going and why. I took a different path, and it's made all the difference. Society's idea for me; to slave away the rest of my life so I can buy a poorly made, vinyl-sided house in a featureless subdivision, fighting it out with everyone else to prove how much I have and how good of a consumer I am has long been out of my consideration. Living in this favela leaves me wondering...why are we so afraid of ourselves? Why do we work so hard to further ourselves from each other? Why is it I rarely see anyone outside in the wealthiest neighborhoods, but slum communities like Rocinha are bustling with life, day and night? I think it is time for people to open their doors again, to go to your neighbors and meet them, and create communities again, because as long as we are separated, we are powerless. The world really isn't that scary.


To read more of Gary's Blog, please go here:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tenho orgulho de ser brasileiro e americano

here is a foto of me with both american and brazilian passports...I have pride to be both and never deny this fact.

I need to say this to the trouble makers out there. I have NEVER tried to hide the fact of my origin, birthplace or my parents. I was born in Brasil. Rio, to be exact at Miguel Couto Hospital in Gavea. My mother is from New York City and my father is from Rocinha (born in Fortaleza, Ceara). So, yes I am proud to both brazilian AND american. And anyone who says diferent does not know me or is just trying to stir troubles. I have been fortunate to live in both the USA and Canada. But returned to Rocinha becase my father got sick and this place is my roots. Unfortunately, there is lots of jealousy here in Brazil. And some people will say anything to try to put down others they dont understand or discredit them. I have suffered this prejudice before.

I have already found out the sources of some of the people and it is becase we work in the same profession and they have jealousy. They would rather make a rumour about me than try to get to know me better and KNOW the truth. I have deleted these backstabbers from my networks. I want to work and support people whos intentions are to help others not being selfish. I want to surround myself with good Karma, not negative jealous people!

Please before you judge me, get to know the facts and dont believe everything some person tells you. Do your research as the truth can be found!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kids in the favelas

Below is a set of questions from a student wanting to know more about kids and youth in the favelas..I will try an attempt to answer this students questions..


My name is..... I recently graduated from Brigham Young University and am working on a research paper about children and youth in the favelas. I have found a lot of "scholarly" essays on the topic but was hoping you could give me a more realistic, down to earth point of view on what life is like. I have read a few of your entries on which have been helpful but was hoping to ask a few other questions. If you have a few minutes to answer them I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,

1. What activities/fun things are there in the favelas for children and youth?

I can only talk about Rocinha favela where I live. Other favelas have diferent programs of diferent levels of help from NGO's, comunity or goverment support.

In Rocinha we now have the Rocinha Sports Complex at the bottom of the favela that has many sports activities. From what I have seen, there is boxing, capoeira, judo, jiu jitsu, volleyball, indoor football, basketball, swimming, a surf school, and outdoor football. There might be other programs but these are the ones I know about. There are other programs as well. We have a music school both inside the favela and another just outside Rocinha. We have a few art schools, one at the top of the hill on Rua 1 (first street) and Tio Lino's Mundo de Arte at the bottom of the hill. I know there is a ballet school and of course we have our samba school. The Varandao has dance classes like ballroom, salsa and samba. THis is all my mind can think of right now. The majority, if not all of these programs are only open to kids who are enrolled in school and making passing grades.

2. How many of the children attend school? Are there schools in the favelas or do they attend school in the city?

I am not sure of the percentages as I am no expert in this. Children are suppost to be in school until 15 years but many do quit for many reasons. We have four public schools in the favela. Many students are also bused outside the favela to attend school.

3. Do many of the children/youth work? What kind of jobs do they take? Do their jobs keep them from attending school?

Some kids do work and go to school. I have seen kids go to school then return home and are seen working in a store with their parents at night. There is a 9 years old boy working in the supermarket across from my house. It is now almost 7:30 at night and he is still working.

4. What are the main obstacles the youth face in changing their situation?

Opportunity. Many youth don't see a improvement in their life from going to school. They think short term, not long term. Many teens want money, clothing and by going to school they dont see value in this. Also their parents may have little education and force them to work to help support the family for basic needs.

5. Are there many programs, charities, organizations, etc. present in the favelas to help children and youth? What kind of programs are they? Are they effective?

There are some but certainly not enough. Many of the organizations sad to say are corrupt with individuals who only help themselves and give very little back to the comunity. There are some day cares for smaller children. Tio Lino runs a after school club. We had a great program up and running a few years back but due to embezlement of funds has since closed down and the sadness is the kids and youth loose out to adult greed..the programs can be effective if the kids stay in them. I work with a art school and we have saved about 45 kids from the drug trade..

6. How are children affected by the presence of the drug gangs?

The kids who enter the drug trade are doing it for money and status. Most of them come from absent or addict parents. It is a problem. We definately do need more afterschool programs, recreation space and activities here for our kids. I think the kids see the drug guys as power figures becase they have money and do what they want. Every kids wants nice shoes and clothes. They see the drug trade as a easy way to get those things. The sad thing is when I see some of these kids in the streets with toy guns and immitating the drug guys.

7. What has the government done to help children in the favelas?

The goverment is not much help. It is as if they prefer watching the favela destroy itself. We have many people who are talented here who just need the right oportunity. The goverment is and did start the PAC project to help improve things in the favelas. We receved a new sports, complex, a hospital, community center, and rua 4 was opened up and 200 new units of housing was built. This is great improvements, but new housing doesnt equal the destruction of prejudice that we in favelas fave from the outside. There is still the stigma of living in a favela and I have many friends who would never tell anybody from the outside where they live. We need to de-stigmatize the favela as only being a place of negative things.

8. If there was one thing you could do for these children to help them, what do you think would make the most difference (better schools, better housing, jobs, health care, etc.)?

I think education and activities are the main things needed for our youth. But like kids everywhere, school has to be fun. Teachers need to be able to capture a childs attention and get them interested in learning. I know this is much to ask but our youth is our future and we must nourish them through education and cultural activities. The teens need other options besides drugs and sex. They need leadership programs or for the older ones work/study programs in the fields they have interest in. The parents of these kids also have to take better care of their children and offer structure to their lives so the kids wont seek out negative alternatives.