Monday, June 8, 2015


I often get people asking me to address certain questions so I will post them here for others to see.

1.) How did you get the idea of working in tourism and what were the first steps?

If you were to ask me 10 years ago about working as a guide, I would have thought you were crazy.  I ended up in this by accident and the encouragement of others. I remember in the early 2000's seeing tourists here but never really understood what was going on until somebody explained it to me. I always thought it strange of outsiders coming to see us and how we live. But I was also curious because with their coming here, apparently the favela had some sort of value for them. 

I often had people in the favela say to me, "Zezinho, you should be a tour guide, you love Rocinha so much and you would represent our favela in a good way". This made me think but I had to do more thinking about what actually these guides do. Where are they from? Where do they get their information? in 2007, I was working up selling my t-shirts in the art stalls and I over heard a tour guide who is not from Rocinha give incorrect information about the community. This immediately upset me and I repeated to the other artists what this guide said and it was the start of something. I was angered that an outsider could come inside our favela and tell lies about us. How can they do this? and why? 

  Selling my t-shirts at the top of Rocinha before I became a tour guide full time!

So, I started seriously thinking about how I could become a guide who can show the favela in an honest way. I already knew a lot about living here but I wanted to get more history about Rocinha and details about the public services and growth of the community. I went on a few tours with other guides from the favela but I felt their tours were rushed and not as much details given. I wanted something different.

I had seen the Jeep tours, the van tours which seemed distant and no connection to the place. I overheard one guide, not from Rocinha, tell a group of tourists, NOT to talk to the locals. WTF??? This was one thing I would definately change. I know a lot of people here and promote interaction between the tourists and the locals. This creates more of a friendly experience and showing the favela in a friendly way. The idea is to make a visit to the favela, rather than a tour. I want my guests to be relaxed and feel welcome in the place that I love.

I spoke to many elders, friends, family about life experiences in Rocinha. I went to the CEDAE building and asked them when the water pumping station was built. I asked about when the main road was asfalted and when the electricity came and much more. In the beginning if I didnt know the answer to something I would write down the question and find out the answer and send the tourist the accurate answer. I hated not knowing something but I didnt want to give false information either. 

I first started off showing friends around the community as a test run. I did this for about 6 months. I found the routes that fit everybody's fitness level and set out on perfecting my spots of where I would stop and talk to the guests. In the favela sidewalks and alley ways are tight spaces, so I would try to find more open spaces to have discussions. The first thing is respect of my fellow residents. I did not want my guests to in anyway inhibit residents ability to do something. So, I always find enough room to keep everybody happy. The second thing in terms of respect is about photographs and what people can take pictures of. Most people dont want to feel like an animal in a zoo. I know if I had people sticking a camera in my face, I would be suspect too. Now with the internet, people are more concerned with their image being plastered on some strange website. 

In 2008, things started forming nicely. I had still been going back and forth to the US for work and when I was in Rocinha, I was still selling t-shirts and would make about 2 tours a week. I was surviving. I learned from many people both in Rocinha and the US about how to market, getting an identity online. In early 2009 was the year I finally had enough money to get a website. I had a basic website made and I spread the word quickly about my plan. 

The idea was to give a different look and feel to how community tourism could be sustainable. I was investing everything in this project. The idea was to use tourism money in a way to help people. How does one help? This was the question. Rocinha already had several English schools so I didnt want to just be another English school. Organization would be difficult and finding willing volunteers to help would be a challenge. I wanted a project closer to my heart. I had always thought about a Dj School after seeing an advertisement for "Scratch Academy" a popular Dj school in several cities in the US. I was a dj and thought, what a great idea. Everybody loves music and this would be an easy way to reach young people. It would also be a way that the students could find work when they had proficient skills. We opened the Dj school called Spin Rocinha on August 1st, 2011. We have been able to grow from a very basic school to now having the top equipment in Rio de Janeiro. See these two Fotos below. The first is when we opened the first few weeks into August 2011, notice the limited equipment on the table.  The second foto is now June of 2015.

2.) How has tourism impacted your community?

Im not sure of the general impact over all. Its difficult to say. I know that the artists at the top of the hill, sell many of their works to tourists. They are still there so they must be earning money, otherwise they would leave. People in Rocinha are used to seeing tourists so its not like there is negative things being outwardly said about tourism here. If there are negative things, very little is being said or its not being said to the right people. But I dont know exactly how tourism has impacted Rocinha. I dont know the details of what other companies do. I can only really talk about what we do. Our business grew into something more than just tours. We also help distribute donations, help volunteers projects and are able to facilitate special projects people may want to do here. For more details, read the blog posts below.

Check out this Blog post as to what we do.
And this Blog post on facilitating special projects.
And this project too! 
Anything that can be of benefit to Rocinha, we want to see it happen!

3.) How in the beginning did you keep motivated?

It was not easy because I was not sure if this idea would work. I just kept myself available. I tried to make as many contacts as I could and kept a positive attitude. And I always continued to learn from everybody around me. I was observing people, successful people and taking advice from people who wanted to see me do well. Success is not difficult. Its a matter of being willing to sacrifice, to go all out for something you want to make happen and not allow any distractions to get in the way. Challenges will come but its how you react to them thats key. I just kept my eye on my goals.
4.) What are the keys to success in your business?

When I started making tours here, I knew people would question my intentions. I knew this going in. Everybody has an opinion and some see this kind of work as exploiting the community. The difference in me doing this kind of work is, I live here and I was asked by community members to do this. I think many here saw me as one who could change perspectives. Also my desire to put back into the community separates me from many, especially the outsiders who claim to help but theres no proof. Everything I have done is documented, through writings and photos, mostly through this blog or facebook. There is an ethical side that needs to be considered when doing this work. I spoke to many community members to get their support before doing this. I think there are three things that separate us from the rest. 1.) All of our guide live in the favela and or were born here. 2.) All of our visits are done on foot, no vans, jeeps etc..we access parts of the favela where other tours do not go. We live here so we try to avoid areas where there are a lot of tourists. 3.) We contribute in many ways to giving back to the community. This is the most important! 

5.) What are the biggest challenges?
The difficulty is with trying to find people who share the same vision and not just thinking about money. Dealing with growth, finding trusted partners who are in for the future. For me, this is not a job. This is my life, Rocinha is my life mission. Working in Rocinha for me is, so much more than being a guide. Its about being able to have the favela accessible to the outside world and showing our way of life. To connect people in a shared goal of each of us trying to do our little part to improve people's lives here! 

My two loves, Rocinha and my cats!

  Jaki on the left and Joao to the right.

           Joy on the left and Fuzzy. Fuzzy passed on April 4th, 2015.
        Fuzzy will always be my first cat who I loved dearly. He will be missed!