Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cross Cultural Exchange with Favela Experience


I first met Elliot when he came to visit and wanted to see what the favela was all about. He asked me about our tourism business and opportunities. I expressed to him that any business that employs or helps the favela is welcome. I wanted to help people who do not want to exploit the favela. As long as the favela benefits, Im ok with people wanting to have businesses here. I have a very solid reputation here in the community and dont want to be seen as somebody helping outsiders take advantage in a negative way.


I receive monthly about 2-3 emails of people, usually foreigners looking to find places to stay. Most of them are taking part in some volunteer activity here in Rocinha. I run the tourism and the Dj School Spin Rocinha and my time is limited as these two things keep me very busy. When I met Elliot and heard about his ideas of homestays and helping to find people places to stay inside of Rocinha, I thought we could work together well. I told him that I will send all the people I receive in my emails, to him and he can devote his time to this project. So, Favela Experience was started.


Where are you from? I'm from the US--I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and I most recently graduated college in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Can you tell us a little about your background, schooling, etc.? I had a privileged and fortunate upbringing, and I first became truly interested in travel and foreign cultures in high school. I was one of those kids who actually paid attention in Spanish class, and I ended up going on some month-long summer exchange programs in Spain and Argentina to improve my Spanish. I was accepted to the University of Virginia for my undergraduate studies, but I decided I wasn't ready for college, so I deferred admission for a year to take a "gap year." In that time, I volunteered with a non-profit in Chile where I taught English and computers to "at-risk" youth at a community center in Santiago. That experience was formative for me, but I became frustrated by the inefficiency and localized nature of a traditional, grassroots non-profit reliant on donations and grants. So, I arrived to college knowing I wanted to have a large social impact in my life but that I also wanted to make a good living for myself and future family. I quickly got involved with a student organization that provides free business consulting to international non-profits and for-profits with social missions. Through that experience I became interested in the concept of social entrepreneurship, using business approaches to solving social and environmental problems. At the same time, I was learning Portuguese in school and studied abroad for six months in Sao Paulo. During that time, I took trips around the whole country and fell in love with Brazil, particularly Rio, and I knew I had to come back. Still, after returning to the US and entering the undergraduate business program at my university in my third year, I imagined I'd join my peers to work at a top consulting firm or investment bank when I graduated, but hopefully in Brazil.


How did you find Rocinha? I became disillusioned with the corporate recruiting process at my school, but I knew that the summer (June-August) internship before students' final year of college is so important in the US. I had received offers from a consulting firm and a venture capital firm that invests in for-profit social enterprises around the world and was going to place me at one of its portfolio companies near Sao Paulo. Though it wasn't Rio, I followed my heart and went to Sao Jose dos Campos where I learned a lot working at a technology startup developing an online learning platform for Brazilian public schools. Of course, I still managed to take the five-hour bus ride practically every weekend from Sao Jose dos Campos to Rio where I'd spend time with my friend from college who was in the city. One day he told me he'd been emailing Zezinho, whom he found out about through CouchSurfing. He said Zezinho lived in and gave tours of Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America, and that he was going to meet him in the favela. I ended up going with my friend to hang out with Zezinho at his apartment in Rocinha. We talked a lot about Favela Adventures and Spin Rocinha, and I was very impressed and interested in Zezinho's story. I kept in touch with Zezinho, and I knew there was lots of potential in favela tourism, especially with the coming World Cup and Olympics in Rio.


Why Rocinha? That first moment I looked up at Rocinha, I was fascinated by this colorful city within a city. There's a certain unparalleled energy in Rocinha that I've never felt before. You sense it in the buzz of the people in the alleys, the samba, funk, and forro blaring from the windows, the smell of churrasco grilling at every corner, and the wind of the mototaxis zipping by you on the street. You truly have to come to Rocinha to experience it! On the other hand, the government’s neglect of and society’s discrimination against favelas makes life challenging for Rocinha residents. While this is true of favelas in general, Rocinha’s size, fame, and position between Rio’s most exclusive neighborhoods means there’s lots of opportunity here. In particular, this is true for initiatives that leverage Rocinha’s unique culture to improve the lives of residents.


Can you explain why you decided on starting a business here? In talking to Zezinho, it was clear that visitors wanted to go beyond tours of favelas and actually stay in favelas to more deeply experience them, but it was very hard to find housing. Having personally spent a year in different homestays (private bedrooms in family homes) around Latin America, I knew homestays are the best way for foreigners to immerse themselves in a new culture and build relationships with local people. Simultaneously, most favela tourism, other than organizations like Favela Adventures, contributes little to the economic development of favelas, and at worst, perpetuates stereotypes and outright exploits communities. So, with Zezinho’s support, I decided to try to provide authentic homestays and apartment rentals for visitors, which generate livelihoods for favela host families.


Explain a little about your objective with "Favela Experience?" Favela Experience is a social enterprise that is transforming travel to make it more authentic and meaningful for travelers and more beneficial for developing communities. We want our guests from around the world to experience the wealth of favela culture—to share home cooked meals with hosts, watch football matches together, and even go to a baile funk together. From this, we think we can double the incomes of favela host families, so they can invest in their health, housing, and education. Ultimately, we hope to facilitate cross-cultural understanding while providing opportunities for marginalized people.


What do you see in the future for "Favela Experience?" We’re building up our base of listings and launching a crowdfunding campaign at the end of the year to coincide with the drawing for the World Cup as well as the Holiday season. Our crowdfunding campaign will pre-sell discounted stays for the World Cup and allow anyone who can’t come to still contribute to our cause. Please help us spread the word about our campaign! To get campaign updates and discounts, please:


Facebook: Favela Experience


Twitter @FavelaExp

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Dj Jody King


Donations from SYGNO MUSIC and ORTOFON!


Donations from Sunset Montessori School, Isabelle & Herve Savoure


Having this project here has been an awesome experience and we have meeting meeting interesting people along the way. Many Dj’s have passed through our school.


Rocinha Welcomes Dj Jody King!


Dj Jody King from the UK passed through our school a few days ago and has interest to volunteer showing the students some skills. Dj Jody has been spinning for 11 years mostly house music. Its always a pleasure to welcome new people to our SPIN ROCINHA family.


Sygno Music, Ricardo and Dee from Ortofon have gifts for our Dj school!


Living in Rio de Janeiro is a great city but it lacks many things that the western world has. I have been able to locate three different stores that supply products to Dj’s in Rio. The first is a store that fixes any kind of Dj equipment from turntables, cd players, mixers and speaker systems. The second store sells turntables, cd players and mixers. Trying to find vinyl records here is a mystery hunt. Nothing like in San Francisco with giant stores like Ameoba! Vinyl is difficult to find and expensive. This is the main reason we don’t use vinyl and prefer using the cd players.


The third store Sygno is selling mostly accessories like headphones, cables, bags to transport equipment, behringer mixers and some controllers. I have bought several pairs of heaphones and cdj plastic covers from them. The owner Ricardo contacted me a couple of months ago asking about wanting to bring his friend Dee, who is a distributor for Ortofon, on a tour of Rocinha. Ortofon makes the best needles for turntables. But they also have other accessories like cartridges and headphones. They stopped by the Dj school and had lots of questions. The distributor wanted to help us in some way. I told her that we could use any products that they could offer.


Yesterday Ricardo, the owner of Sygno called me to say that they had received some products from Ortofon. So, today I went by and picked up 4 headphones, 4 slipmats (we do plan on the future to have turntables) and 3 Ortofon t-shirts for our school. All of these our school can use. ORTOFON and SYGNO, We want to thank you Ricardo and Dee for making this happen. Those new to Rio de Janeiro can visit SYGNO MUSIC at rua Barata Ribeiro, 370, loja 219 in Copacabana, tel: 21-3251-1567 and visit their website at:


From Sunset Montessori School to Favela da Rocinha!


Another important contributor comes from the United States, about a year ago Isabelle Savoure and Herve Savoure expressed interest in wanting to help our Dj school. Isabelle told me that her community wanted to do a fundraiser for us. At her daughters Sunset Montessori School in Reston Virginia, they held a International Day on June 2nd, 2012 for their Geography program where the children were taught about countries in the Americas. The filled a day full of educational opportunities where the students could “visit” these countries through sections set up in their school. Some historical sights were from Peru, Columbia, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico and of course Brazil (Amazon). They were able to raise money for Spin Rocinha by selling handicraft beads, Mardi Gras Masks and feathers and a foto both where people could get photos of themselves taken in front of Niagra Falls. There was also a guest Brazilian singer Gigi McLaughlin from Pernambuco who sang various styles of music. I wish I was there as it sounded like a great time for everybody. Thank you to Isabelle, Herve and the Montessori PTA for organizing this event!


Isabelle contacted me after and said her party raised about 800 US Dollars and asked me where she could send the money. I told her we did not want the money because our non profit is about being transparent, we want people to see that we are for real and that contributions go where they are supposed to go. I told her it would be best if they could buy us some Dj supplies and at the time I told her that we needed headphones. We are sharing two pairs amongst 15 students. So, I was so happy when the box arrived 4 days ago to see 6 headphones for SPIN ROCINHA. I like our contributors to see photos of our happy students who will benefit from these donation. From myself, Dembore and all the students of SPIN ROCINHA, we say a big THANK YOU to Sunset Montessori School!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome DJ Dembore


I met Dembore through interesting circumstances. He saw a flyer about our DJ School Spin Rocinha on the wall of the Surfing school. He called me in half belief that we had a dj school that was FREE. Dj schools in Rio are very expensive so he was very suprised to find about our project. He told me that he dj'ed in the USA, Newark New Jersey for 6 years and wanted to know if he could come by to see the school. Of course I told him, sure! I want you to get to know him a little better.


Dembore, Where are you from? I was born in Minas Gerais another state here in Brazil. When I was 16, I had the opportunity to go and live in the United States but returned after 6 years because my mother got very sick. I wanted to help my mother. After she got well, I decided I wanted to leave the rural living in Minas and go to Rio for more opportunities.


Where do you live and how long you have been living here? I live here in Rocinha after living in Rio Centro (downtown). I was working in a hotel and I met a guy who told me about a house for rent in Rocinha. I grew up very poor in a favela in Minas Gerais, so I know how the life and the rules in favelas.


Why did you decide to live in Rocinha? My friend told me about a cheap house for rent and I know Rocinha has everything. Its like a city inside a city. My girlfriend at first didnt like the idea as the media says bad things about favelas, but after a while now she likes it here.


What do you like about Rocinha? We have everything here, transportation is good, we have banks, stores and most of all the people are really friendly and helpful. When I first moved here, my neighbors offered me help with anything, food, clothes, whatever I needed. Its nice to know that people care about each other here.


What do you do here in Rocinha? I work as a tour guide with Zezinho for Favela Adventures and help with Spin Rocinha, the Dj school. We do favela visits but also try to provide a great experience showing our favela to the world. There is so much that foreigners can do here. You can play football with the locals, paintball, surfing, jiu jitsu or go to a funk party. The idea is to show the world that we in favelas can provide a awesome experience for our guests and involve other residents for the opportunity of cultural exchange. We need to show the world that the favela is so much more than the negative stuff you see on television. I like meeting people from all over the world and educating about our life here in the biggest favela in Brazil!


And the Dj School, what do you think of this project? I think this is a great idea. To learn to dj at a school is very expensive and no way youth or adults from the favela have this amount of money for this. Now that the city of Rio de Janeiro has recognized dj'ing as a profession, this will be great for our students to have opportunities to play in clubs all over the city. Or just to enjoy dj'ing as a hobby.


What do you do at Spin Rocinha? We teach the students the basics of dj'ing with hands on applications. We do teach a little about music theory and we have started recording the students mixes and getting them on our facebook page (Spin Rocinha) or soundcloud. We will start soon with music production so the students can create their own music but first we really want to develop their dj'ing skills, especially those that want to work professionally as a dj.


Is Spin Rocinha a registered non profit and do you receive funding or help from organizations or anyone? Right now, Spin Rocinha is not registered as a non profit but we ARE a grass roots non profit because Spin Rocinha does not generate any money. All our dj classes are free and I am a volunteer just like Zezinho in making this project happen. It is supported 100% through money we earn through making tours in the favela. At some point we may register but right now we like the idea that people in the favela know that Spin Rocinha exists because of the money we earn by making our tours here. The idea that Zezinho created was to use the money from the tours and put it back into the start of Spin Rocinha. We have received donations from several people. We received a mixer, microphones, a sound board. We did receive $50 from Blessings for Brazil, a NGO in Cantagalo favela, but we bought pen drives for the students to store their music and mixes created in the school.


Any special visitors to the dj school? Yes, we have had several people who have checked out Spin Rocinha. In Rio, I have some connections with clubs and somefamous dj's in the city. Dj Duda Santtos who is a radio dj for Transamerica, Flavia Xexeo and Nath Carreiro have stopped by to see our project and have given workshops. Through our tours many dj's have visited as well. We encourage people to see Spin Rocinha. And always welcome volunteers.


What do you see in your future? So many things. I want to continue working making the tours because this helps the Dj school to develop. We want to expand Spin Rocinha to a bigger place because right now the school is in Zezinho's bedroom. We want to buy a place here in the favela so Spin Rocinha can have its own home. The idea is to have a full recording studio with classroom and space for 10-15 students each class. I want to help Zezinho develop this project into the most awesome Dj school in Rio and have people from all over the world see what we in favelas can do if given the chance!


How do we contact you about the tours and the dj school? I can be contacted about Spin Rocinha at or 21-7900-6845 Zezinho handles the tours and you can contact him at or 21-8221-5572



In working with tourism, I gain access to many people who want to help. I am in a great position to help people here in the favela. There are many great projects that need help but never get it. A couple of months ago I received a email from a woman named Joanne from a education project in the United States. She told me that she wanted to donate school supplies. I have access to three different NGO's here that can use any type of school supplies, pens, pencils, notebooks, markers and anything children can use to improve their learning experience.


I like to show people in my blog the wonderful people that come into my life and enable me to help others here in Rocinha. Joanne sent a box full of pencil holders with pencils, eraser and pencil sharpeners to give to the kids. The holders are docorated with stick on designs. I took two days and walked in different areas of the favela with a bag full of these kits and distributed them to school age kids.


I want to thank everyone who has ever donated to projects here in the favela, it does make a difference. The fotos above are of some of the encounters with children who received these kits.