Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Benefits of Tourism

         Some Amazing people Jade, Brian and Ethan King founder of Charity Ball

Through the last almost 8 years of working here in Rocinha, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. People who care and want to help. Tourism has been very good to me but it has its slow seasons and busy seasons. I always need to put away money for the slow season to cover expenses. Many here think I am rich or make so much money, but the reality is very different. There are months I can earn 1,500 or busy months 4,000 a month. Saving becomes a priority. Our Dj school Spin Rocinha is our main project and priority as students need dj equipment, flash drives, headphones, CD's and for field trips we pay their expenses. But other projects need help and when there are opportunities, we try to help. Of course as our tours become more popular, we can then help more people.

When I have those months that I am able to earn more money, I go to the stores in the favela and buy school or art supplies for the projects that we support. 
I have started to buy footballs when I have extra money. A decent football here in the favela can cost 20 reais. So, any donations of footballs are always welcome. Two months ago we were able to distribute about 30 footballs to different areas of Rocinha. The kids loved getting their own footballs to play with. A ball can change a childs' life. 

Wade Berger and his friend Taylor came on one of our tours during the World Cup. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago connecting me with Brian King. Brian's son Ethan started a non profit called Charity Ball which distributes footballs all over the world to needy or poor communities. When Wade sent me a email saying that Brian, Ethan and his other son Jade were coming to Rio to distribute footballs, I was very happy about this. I know many children who would love their own football. 

The start of the non profit is amazing. Brian has worked in some of the poorest areas in the world. In 2009 Brian went to Mozambique to help facilitate clean water to a poor area. Ethan who was 9 at the time went with his dad and brought a football with him. While Brian was working, Ethan developed friendships with the kids in the village and they played a lot of football. These kids never had the opportunity to play with a real ball before. When he left the village he gave the kids his ball. When he returned back to the USA he decided to start Charity Ball to try to get kids footballs in places where they dont have them. The idea is simple: raise money to buy balls to distribute in poverty striken areas. Donations of balls are also accepted. Just recently the company Johnson & Johnson donated over 500 balls to Charity Ball. Ethan has been able to give out about 5,000 balls since starting this charity in 2010 as a 10 year old.

Here is a photo of Ethan at 10 years old with the boys in Mozambique. 
Photo from Charity Ball website

Ethan now15 years old,  and his brother 12 year old Jade are both football players where they live in Holland, Michigan. They both play competitive football. Ethan currently with Lakeshore Premier SC and has been asked to play on Michigan's 15 and under team.

Many people may ask if there aren't other ways people could help poor areas? Sure there are many things people can do. We each have our own way of contributing enjoyment to areas that desperately need it. I decided with the DJ School because its one of the few things I do well and I had many people in the favela wanting to learn to DJ. Ethan, with his love of Football (Soccer in the USA) has decided his way. So, When asked, why a football? I think its universal that a ball brings many benefits to the receiver.  

from the website: 

Good question. Why invest in a soccer ball when there are so many other ways to help children? Consider the following:
  • Children in developing countries are forced to deal difficult things like HIV/AIDS, contaminated water and civil war. One way for them to cope is by playing the game of soccer.
  • Soccer is an excellent way to learn how to work together and succeed. It promotes friendship and fair play.
  • Soccer promotes good health through physical fitness.
  • Soccer reduces crime because kids have something constructive to do.
  • Many children in developing nations will never get the opportunity to touch or kick a real soccer ball.
  • Soccer can help a child develop a strong identity and sense of self worth.
I agree, watching the kids in the favela playing, keeps them busy and out of trouble. So, we set up a day, meeting place and time. Ethan being the face of Charity Ball has been in demand for interviews all over the work he is doing. He is now 15 and looks forwards to growing his non profit to help more people..

I met Brian, Ethan and Jade at the JW Marriot in Copacabana at 10 am today and we took the bus to the top of the favela. I had recruited some help from Obi and Sascha. Obi is part owner of Rocinha Guest House here in Rocinha. Obi born and raised in Rocinha, often works with us as a tour guide. He wanted to come along to help with the distribution of the footballs. Sascha is a student from the USA who is on a fellowship program with an interest in favela life. He is living in Rocinha and loves to work out and play basketball. 

I had a set strategy in how to distribute the footballs. Brian had a rolling suitcase with 27 footballs and two air pumps. All the balls were deflated so he could fit more in the suitcase. We started at the top of the hill and slowly walked down. Because the weather was rainy, there were not many kids out on the street but I knew eventually as we got closer to the bottom, more kids would appear. In the past in giving out donations, I try to organize it to avoid a mob scene. You give out something, one kid sees it and next thing you know you can be mobbed by 100 kids. So, as we would walk, I would see kids and call them over to us asking if they played football. If they said yes, we gave them a ball. Obi, Sascha, Jade or Ethan would fill the ball with air and give it to the kid. The smiles on the faces of these children were priceless! Brian asked if he could take photos as this is part of transparency. Like my non profit, if I receive a donation, I like to document through photos who received it (In my situation, i usually write a blog post about it). People who donate want to see that their contribution is going where its supposed to go! 

I knew of one area where there would be more kids. There is an area where we were able to set up the suitcase and fill some of the balls with air. At first there was one kid, within 10 minutes 3 other arrived so we gave all three balls and photos were taken, hugs and handshakes too. We moved on to the "Pracinha de Roupa Suja", which translates to "the little square of dirty clothes". There is a football pitch where they play "Futsal", which is similar to Indoor Soccer in the USA. We found 4 kids there that we gave balls to and then a game of 3 on 3 was played. I could see that this is the joy of every kid like Ethan, Jade and the kids from Rocinha. I dont know what the end score was but it was close. The kids were so happy. It was like giving kids gold..smiles all around. Pictures were taken and friendships were made. We left to give out the rest of the footballs up on the pasarella. The guys had to be back on the bus by 2:15 to get to Copacabana for another meeting. What a day! They have said they want to come back and I know Rocinha will welcome them back with open arms. 

I want to first off than Brian, Ethan and Jade King from Charity Ball. Obi and Sascha who helped facilitate this wonderful project. Without the sponsorship of Johnson & Johnson, Rocinha never would have received such a wonderful gift. And finally to The Bar 90, Heart  Soccer Academy and Continental Tire for their contributions. ROCINHA THANKS YOU!!!!!!!!!

See some of the photos from our day!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Cats!

So, I received this email the other day from a follower of my blog. She writes: "I enjoy reading about the favela. Can you tell us the story behind your or your love for cats"?
Ok, so I will do the best I can to explain the love for cats. I am not the only one here in the favela that loves cats. I have met many here who love them, both women and men!

I had to think a little about this. Because I am not sure what to say. I think most people who know me, know and understand my love for cats.

I started when I was about 7. My brother had found a small orange kitten. When he brought him home, I could see my mother was not very happy. She didn't want more complications in our busy lives. But eventually she gave in and we kept the cat. Although my brother found "Orange", he was more "my" cat. Orange would follow me everywhere when I was home. He slept at my feet and would paw my face in the morning to wake me up for school. Orange was a comforter. When I was sad or sick, he would be by my side. From the point on I became fascinated with cats. I studied about them on my own. And I grew a love for them. 

My life growing up was very difficult and there was much sadness. Orange helped me to focus on other things. I did ok in school but excelled at Sport. As an adult, my life changed a lot for the better because some positive people outside my family. I have lived in many situations, from renting a room in a house to having my own place. Most of the time when I lived with other people, there were cats in the house. The cats always liked me, so of course I liked them. I decided to adopt a cat when I was 27 years old. I was living with other people but they were open to having a cat. I adopted a 4 year old male cat. He was an awesome cool cat. He died 7 years later of cancer. But I think I gave him a good life. My life went on not really wanting to think about a cat.

Finding "Fuzzy"

January 2010 as I walk through this narrow alleyway in Rocinha, I hear a high pitched meow coming from above. I stopped, turned, looked around but I couldn't find the origin of the sound. I started to walk again and heard it again. I turned around and underneath the opening in this low rooftop, I could see a little tuxedo furball staring at me. I went to the kitten who looked about 2 months old and put out my hand to let him smell me. He approached and proceeded to rub his cheeks all over me. Anytime I would pass that alleyway, I would see him. So, I spoke with a lady in the area and she told me that he was homeless but that she and few neighbors would feed him and he lived in an opening in the roof so he was protected from the weather. I asked the lady if I could have him because he seemed to really like me. She told me if I wanted him to just take him. I told her I would see if my situation was ok to have a cat and then I would let her know. I came back a week later to catch him and bring him to my house. The first 5 days he would not meow or leave my side. Even sleeping on the side of the pillow tucked into my neck. He was a big cuddler and loved anyone who came to visit. I named him "Fuzzy"

Here's what Fuzzy looked like as a kitten about 4 months old, he loves being held and cuddled!

Here is Fuzzy now at almost 4 years old. 

Fuzzy spends most of his time, sleeping, eating, or relaxing. His favorite time is to hang out in the Dj School while the students are spinning and you can catch him on top of the dj equipment like the foto below! He really is a sweet cat. Every now and then he will play.


Joy is the second cat that acquired by accident. It was not expected! I had just finshed working and I was at the bottom of the favela. I saw this boy about 8 years old holding this cat and his mother telling him that he could not have it. She told the boy that he was not old enough to care for the kitten. I am guessing that the kitten was about 4 months old. She was a calico, multi colored fur ball. The mother called out to me if I wanted the cat and I told her I would take it and find her a home. I had done this with previous cats before so I was not expecting to keep her.  I took her home and Fuzzy found a new friend. 

Joy is very quiet, rarely meows, where as Fuzzy is very talkative. Joy likes to sleep by my hip or at my feet. Every now and then she will sleep by my head. This is also determined by where the other cats are on the bed. She is reserved and likes petting but doesn't like to be picked up. She likes to play and chase mosquitos and flies and she likes to take care and clean Fuzzy and cuddle with him. She was named by a tourist who came to visit our Dj school.

Joy as a 5 month old kitten.

Joy has a BIG fascination with the Dj Equipment. She likes to think she is "Scratching". 

Joy and Fuzzy love to be together. Its like Fuzzy is her protector.


Joao came to me about 8 months ago. I think he was one month when I found him wandering in the street and I was afraid a car would run him over. The pet store across the street was closed so I had no choice to bring him home. He fit in so well and the other cats liked him, so he's now part of the family. He is the most silly and entertaining cat. He started out snow white but as he has grown he is now what looks like a siamese mix. Joao loves to play and he was named by Dembore, our Dj school teacher. He told me he looked like a "Joao", so the name stuck. He loves the Dj school and the students. He loves catnip and wrestling with Joy. He loves to chase bubbles that we make out of soap. He is a very active cat but when he is tired he likes to lie across my shoulders or my stomach if Fuzzy isn't there. He thinks he is a big hunter and likes to chase and kill bugs that enter the apartment.

Joao at 5 weeks old. Such a tiny skinny boy.

This is Joao at 3 months showing his Dj skills. You can see his siamese markings developing.

Joao at 7 months old.. loves to pose!

I love my little cat family and my friends and family often come over now to see what's going on with them. I have a cousin who visits once a week just to come and play with the cats. And Dembore loves to post photos of them on his instgram account. I think Dembore has copied me because when I first met him, he did not have any cats and then he told me about a cat he saved but it died and he was sad about this. Soon after he found a tiny orange and white cat and took him in. His name is Caramelo. About 6 months ago he added to his cat family and now has a kitten of about 7 months old, his name is Chico. 
Here are his two "children" below. Dembore's Cats.

     Chico's favorite resting spot, the bathroom sink.                                  

                   Caramelo posing for a photo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dembore gets his yellow belt! Congrats!

Congrats to Dembore who works with us making tours of the community and volunteering with our Dj School. He went through difficult training on Sunday afternoon to achieve his yellow belt in Kickboxing.
Just outside of Rocinha, we have a Sports Complex that has opportunities for residents of the community to train in several different sports activities. About a year ago Anderson  Silva helped by sponsoring a Kick Boxing/Muay Thai school here. Mauricio (Max) Casaes is the head instructor. The students were put through a heavy workout that consisted of about 1 hour of continuous exercises from push ups, sit ups, and various punching and kicking combinations. After, the students lightly sparred with each other for another 30 minutes. After about 5 minutes they would switch partners. Just watching them train, I was tired.
Here are some Photos, Enjoy! And Congrats Dembore!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bringing Joy to children's lives!

Last week was really stressful for me and sad with the police shootings. I decided I would go through some of the donations we received over the World Cup and make some kids happy. Most of what we have received is through the promotions of Pack For A Purpose. They encourage travellers to bring donations to developing countries and various projects. Normally I separate the donations into three groups, school supplies, art materials, games & toys. There are 4 projects we support by distributing these items.

Working in tourism has many benefits. Through my many contacts, I am in a position to help many people. I wish I could help the whole favela but I know thats not possible. If we all can help a little then everyone benefits.

Yesterday, I decided I would make "kits" for 15 children between the ages of 7-12 years old. The kits include, a notebook, a pen, a box of 12 colored pencils, a eraser and pencil sharpener. So, I packed up the 15 kits and went out into the streets of the favela with my friend Ana Paula Telles. She requested that we find children in her area. She works for a NGO called Fabrica Verde, here in the favela and know who the most needy children are. We started by walking through some of the alleyways close to her house. We stopped at several houses as she called out names of the children. They would then come to the door and we would give the child their kit. The smiles on these little faces were priceless. And the same from their parents, just awesome.

I will never forget the fundraising project we did with Jim Shattuck and Tio Lino about 6 years ago. Through tourism and Jim's fundraising expertise, we were able to buy 40 string back packs and fill them with school  supplies and then we gave them out to the kids at Tio's project. Again what an awesome feeling to see kids smile and happy that they have supplies for school. I want to do this again. But I would like to do it on a bigger scale. 

I wanted the kits to be given to children who I know were in school and who would appreciate this. The idea was also to spread a little happiness after the previous week of violence and sadness. I know I felt so much better too. Here are some photos of these awesome kids!!!! Enjoy! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A sad week in Rocinha

Life in Rocinha with police presence. This photo was taken in the lower part of Rocinha, a area called Via Apia not far from the entrance to the community.
I get asked all sorts or questions in regards to living in the favela. Life is very complicated here and not as easy to explain. I like living here for the many good things but theres a bad side too. Favelas are marginalized communities and how the outside world views them is very different from the reality inside here. We have good and bad, just like any place.
People often talk about the violence and its causes. There are many, poverty, inequality in society, lack of opportunities, quality education and poor health care. Rocinha is one of the biggest favelas located in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. Last Sunday our favela experienced one whole week of violence marked by intense shootings between police and drug dealers inside the community.
On Monday November 11th around 5:30am,  there was a shootout for about 2.5 hours that left 3 people killed. I knew one of the people killed by a stray bullet and he was not involved in drug trafficking or crime. He was a 27 years old father of two young children who was a worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I often wonder, when will this situation change for us here in these communities? I cannot accept the fact that society has refused our people the right to advance ourselves. This is true in that very few residents born in a favela ever end up moving out. I can not accept the fact that the slum dweller only has rights to be born to serve society in constructing the city and taking care of other peoples (rich & middle class) children and only to serve like one step up from slavery. Many may disagree but how can a person live on 750-1000 reais a month. Even living in a favela its not easy. We will not have peace here as long as we live in this misery and lack of opportunities to have a better life.
The "Pacification" of the favelas is not working. In Rocinha, every time there is a shooting, I write it down in my agenda book. Since January 2014 we have had about 38 shootings here. This doesn't include the shootings that happened that I did not hear myself. When the drug dealers were "in control", we would have maybe one or two shootings a year. Now its more like 2-3 shootings a week. Don't misunderstand as I am not trying to say that drug dealers are good, because they are not. All I can say is the truth and that is Rocinha is far more dangerous now than before the police came in here. Its awful because people are stuck in their houses and cannot go to work and children can not go to school. What kind of life is this? 
Now that the police are stationed inside the favela at certain areas, there's more possibility of being problems. The police walk through the community and now when they encounter drug dealers there are shootouts. This pacification idea needs to be changed. The problem is since favelas were formed, the previous military dictatorship, there has always been a mistrust of police and the government. This has to do with widespread corruption. And the poor are blamed for many social problems. Nobody chooses to be poor. The majority of favela residents are honest hardworking people who just make less money. Imagine being stigmatized just because you earn less money? But where does this originate? It comes from businesses that don't want to pay workers a decent wage. The rich and middle class talk about fear and dislike of favelas and its residents but only at the convenience of them does the favela serve it slave like long as they have their access to their drugs, maids and doormen etc..then the favela is ok, otherwise we are ignored and despised. We are not the problem. The government and society has failed the people in the favelas! I live here and see so much potential and talent going to waste, all because of prejudice.
How can we change this? We need to speak out more about what our community needs are. We need to transform this idea of the favela being "a fabrica do marginal" or a factory of criminals. We need to get the residents together with good actions that can improve the quality of life with better public services.
Living in Rocinha has many challenges for our people. Elderly and disabled people can have much difficulty in walking here with improvised stairways and alleys that are not flat.
Children growing up in small houses that lack proper ventilation that they can get sick from mold created by the humidity. These same children going to public schools that lack proper materials or preparation for graduation. Lack of proper curicculum to develop our children in the hopes that they can go to university. How can a child go to school for 4 hours a day and get a proper education? Because of poverty, most kids will drop out of school around 15 to go to work to help support their families. Both parents working in jobs where they work 10-12 hours a day and spending less time with their families. I have the idea that many societies have this structure that the majority of the population is kept ignorant so that the elites can rule. If you keep the masses stupid, they are more easy to control. And best to keep them distracted by getting them to buy stuff they don't need and encouraging them to watch television, the best brainwashing tool ever invented. if poor people had the same opportunities of the middle classes they can then improve their own lives, but as long as businesses pay little wages, the poor have no choice. How can one improve their life if they don't have access to education so they can get better paying jobs?
Back to the government in the name of our community of about 300,000 people,we NEED to transform this idea where our favelas are at war. The schools and all educational and cultural projects need to be a priority. We need quality education that can prepare our youth the same opportunity to go on to university. Our children deserve this as we are part of the future of the country too. In Rocinha we have many social cultural projects that receive no help from any government organizations. Just last year the city government removed a school next to the Sport Complex that gave courses for those residents wanting to go on to university. This school was soon shut down and replaced by a police station. To me, that means the city sees police as more valuable then our people having access to bettering our lives through education. We need less guns (police) and more education.
Monday morning around 5:30 am police forces from the PM, CORE and BOPE and two helicopters ran an operation here to find drug dealers. Theres was intense shooting that woke me up. You could here grenades, machine gun fire and pistols being shot. It sounded like a war. The drug trade only continues in our favelas because the involvement of some corrupt police. These police know when are where the drugs are being sold. I live here and know where the guys sell their drugs and I'm sure the UPP's that are stationed inside here know too. The police put on this big show of force that interrupts our lives. How can we earn money and pay our way if we can not go to work because of a shootout in our favela? Often times these police kill many innocents as well. This is all a game the system plays to show the world that they are doing something  about the drug dealers. The question to ask is why do these young men sell drugs? Because for them, who have no other opportunity, they don't have a choice. Anywhere you go, as long as you have buyers of drugs there will be sellers. And this is worldwide and not only in favelas! Just take a walk on Ipanema beach as the sun goes down and you can see the rich smoking their marijuana without police abuse. But do the same in the favela and you could be killed by police!

This photo is the police and a resident carrying the body of my friend Mikael Patrick, 27 who was killed by a police bullet in the "Valao", which is a area at the bottom of Rocinha. He will be missed!

These are casings from bullets fired by the police. This was just one area of the favela but the shootings took place in about 5 different areas of the community.
I wonder, where do all the bullets go?

When will this stop? We are not against policing. What we want is a respectful police force that doesn't abuse us and treat us like we are all criminals, thats all!

Here is a video taken from a resident of Rocinha. Its a long video but you can get the idea of what its like here when there is an operation.

In Rocinha, all we want is peace and safety for all  residents!