Monday, May 23, 2011

Introducing Shelly Steffler

Shelly (left) with friend Vera Vetter at the top of Rocinha

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

My name is Shelly, and I'm from a small town in Canada near Toronto.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brasil to do an internship in Human Resources with one of the biggest companies in the country.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I arrived in August 2010 and spent the first month and a half in a hotel in Copacabana. Afterwards, I moved to Barra (a very wealthy, American-style suburb not far from Rocinha) to be closer to work.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I knew about favelas from watc City of God, but one of my coworkers from Canada was really interested in them and invited me to do a tour of Rocinha with Zezinho. I was really nervous, and wanted to leave my backpack at work - my friend told me 'Shelly, if this backpack was full of gold, I'd feel fine walking with it in Rocinha.'

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

Zezinho introduced me to people in the community while we were on the tour, and because they knew I was so interested in volunteering, they offered to show me around again. I started teaching English and making friends, and soon, I was spending most of my free time in Rocinha.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I was living in Rio for a few months before I moved to Rocinha, so I knew that favelas didn't deserve the generic 'they're dangerous! Don't go!' warnings that many Brazilians tend to give. I knew they had a rich cultural life and lots of activity, and that most people were not involved with the drug trafficking.

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

I thought there would be a lot more fear, but people talk openly about the problems related to drug trafficers and take police invasions in stride. I initially didn't wander far from the main road, so I thought that people in Rocinha were fairly well-off. I've since been to the poorest areas of the favela, and I now know that quality of life varies a lot.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I like that there's always someone to talk to, and that it really is a community - people know their neighbours. I like that people are honest and real.

- What don’t you like?

No one likes the garbage! But in addition to that, I don't like that kids, in particular, are exposed to drugs and violence, and that there are so few opportunities for people from favelas.

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

Although there are many people from Rocinha getting busaries and going to school, running engaging projects, and trying to better themselves, I feel like there's a bit of a culture of apathy in Rio in general - for example, the politians are all corrupt, so it doesn't matter who you vote for. There might not be a lot of opportunities, but there are some, and people don't always take advantage of them.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

One of the best of my life!

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

Learn some Portuguese before you go!! Be prepared for annoyances - your cell phone might or might not work, your water might run out, and you'll probably need to lug gas for your stove to your house. Oh, and buy bottled water - lots of Brazilians drink from the tap, but our stomachs aren't used to their water.

- Would you come back to live here again?


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

Don't pass up an opportunity!