Friday, November 25, 2016

Meeting an Old friend (finally) Djing and B-Boys!

Life is about struggles, challenges that test you and make you grow. Today was a day of thanks and being grateful for stories of friendship and memories. These shape what we will be. Life is about connections, collaboration. As humans our interactions are vital on mutual collaboration. With technology, people tend now be less connected and "text" each other now instead of giving face time. Are we losing touch? We need to get back to more human interaction face to face and put down our technology. We need to connect again.

Talking about connection, a few months ago, a friend from my past contacted me. He told me that he was coming to Rio. Phi Pham was a guy I met online on a page called the "Hollerboard". This page was for mostly Dj's and producers. I was a member of the page and met Phi through conversing on the message boards. I cant exactly remember the details but we both started talking about starting a Dj School in Rocinha. I know I always wanted a Dj Project of some sort.  Since 2001 I have always wanted a Dj School. With the culture of Dj'ing and its popularity, it only made sense to start something. Also I often had people in Rocinha asking me to teach them but at the time I either didn't have the time or equipment.

Since 2001, I always had this idea of having a school to teach dj'ing but never really knew how I could do it. I didn't have the space and I didn't have the money. When I returned to Rocinha then ideas started taking shape. I started doing more research online and when I was in San Francisco I was more convinced that this was something I should do. One day while walking down Market Street near the intersection of 4th street, I passed a window in front of a huge building and noticed this girl behind some decks with a guy next to her. I stopped and observed then waited some time and eventually went inside to talk to the guy. He told me that he teaches Dj'ing. I took his card and never forgot that imagery in my head. It was like a confirmation. Now, how was I going to do this?

In 2007 I started working in tourism. I know it could be lucrative if I did things right and offered something different. I think in 2009 was when I was exchanging ideas about the Dj school with Phi. Through the "Hollerboard" we had gathered some others who were interested in joining forces to help us start something. One, was Harry Daley from Canada who planned on visiting Rio in 2010. We were able to save money to buy gear and through 2010 until about 2012 with the awesome help of Rick EchevarriaRyan Goode and Rita Michel, we were able to have equipment brought to us. And in August of 2011, we formally opened our Dj school "Spin Rocinha" and it still exists today.

Phi and I kind of lost contact as he was in New York and I was here in Rocinha. Both having our busy schedules but I did notice that he opened up his own school a few years after me. He started "Building Beats" a similar concept of teaching youth in at risk areas or places where one does not easily have access to a Dj school. I am happy to see that he decided to start his project.

Phi contacted me about a month ago to say that he would be visiting Rio. So we organized a meeting. He and his friend Alexandra wanted to see Rocinha and our Dj school. We met yesterday at the entrance of the Metro Station Sao Conrado/Rocinha which is at the bottom of the favela. I wanted to give them an idea of what we are doing here.

We took a van up to the highest point in Rocinha to an area called Laboriaux where you can see the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ Statue and the Beaches of Ipanema and Leblon. I explained a little about the social class separation and unequal distribution of wealth. As we started to walk down the hill, I decided that since Phi likes to Dj Hip Hop music that I would introduce him to a project called Rede Coletiva da Rocinha. Managed by Henrique Saggaz, it's a project for youth and young adults that offers classes of Break Dancing, BallRoom Dancing, Capoeira, Dj'ing with computers, Muay Thai Kick Boxing, Photography and Film Making. I suggest they also include English Classes. Rede Coletiva is also open to other projects that benefit the favela. Phi and Alexandra met some of the students and participants of the B-Boy group and they put on a little demonstration. Phi took photos and is interested in helping to promote a cross culture with New York and Rocinha. Phi happens to live in Brooklyn, the birthplace of Hip Hop and Break Dancing. So we hope to collaborate with some projects soon. Below are some photos of the B-Boys doing their thing!

After the B Boys we continued the visit where I explained how the favela functions.  After sampling some Acai at a little shop we made a visit to the library. Alexandra being a library it was only natural to show her our lbrary. Whiile there Phi and Alexandra had the opportunity to meet with visiting Astronaut Chris Cassidy who was giving a presentation at the library to youth.
They were able to get a photo with him.

 After we stopped off at our Dj School so they could see how far we had come since our first contact!  Here is a photo of them with one of the Olympic torches used in the relay. After grabbing some drinks and some street food and 6 hours later they were tired and had to leave. We will collaborate on some projects and I will be sure to write on the blog what we will be doing in Rocinha with our Brooklyn contacts!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tijl Vandamme: "My volunteer Experience in Rocinha"

Tijl who is from Belgium who graduated from University in Engineering. He first contacted me about volunteering and staying in Rocinha back in the beginning of October. This was when we were just starting to get our guesthouse up and running. And Tijl ended up being our first guest.
I enjoy interviewing people from other countries about their impressions of Rocinha. So here goes:

1.) Tijl, why did you first come to Brazil?
I decided on Brazil because I had learned some Portuguese and I really enjoy nature. I enjoy travelling and Brazil is such a big place to explore. The best thing was that I didn't need a visa to come here. 

2.) When you arrived in Brazil, where did you go and what did you do?
I first came to Rio and did all the touristy things but really didn't like the city too much. Towards the end of my stay in Rio, I went on a visit to a favela, Rocinha and something inside me told me that I would return here.
But first I already had made plans to volunteer on a farm in Minas Gerais.
I worked in exchange for room and board. I was helping out with milking cows and gardening type work. I enjoyed my stay there and the people were really nice.

3.) After your volunteer work on the farm, what did you do?
I decided to return to Rio to because I was amazed with the favela and the creativity of the people being able with so little to do so much. After the tour, I knew I wanted to explore more about Rocinha. 

4.) How did you end up returning to Rocinha?
I sent of numerous emails to many volunteering type agencies. I found a blog written by this local guy Zezinho about how he had contacts with projects that I could help. And the best thing being that I wouldn't need to pay. After sending the email to Zezinho, he responded right away and after that we were in regular communications and he set everything up for me. He organized the project I would be working and found me housing in the Volunteer Guest House. (Contact Zezinho about staying in the guesthouse). I was met at the bottom of the favela and brought directly to the guest house to get settled and within 2 days I was working as a volunteer. 

5.) What exactly are you doing in Rocinha?
Currently I am teaching English at Garagem das Letras, teaching Drumming at Escola de Musica da Rocinha and I am training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Rocinha Jiu Jitsu. I also am helping out with the guest house as it's a new place. I am also making so many friends. I think I am falling in love with this place!

6.) What were your first impressions of Rocinha?
At first I noticed the favela is dirty, chaotic, but people were very friendly. 

7.) And now that you have been here for some time?
The people are still friendly :) . I feel very safe here. I am accepted as I am and I don't feel people judge me. The favela, there is a positive vibe and so much creativity in how people live. This place has a community, family feel to it. 

8.) What do you like about Rocinha?
As I said before, the people are really friendly. I like the different views in the community. There are so many opportunities here both for work and just everything people do. Its not a boring place and there's always something going on. People here have so little but make do with what they have and they are not stressed out.

9.) What don't you like about Rocinha?
Parts of the favela can be dirty. There could be better or more pick up of the garbage by the city. There are places with open sewers. Too much heavy guns here both the police and the dealers. Rocinha presents a problem if you are still learning Portuguese because there are different accents. Sometimes I have a difficult time understanding what people are saying. But I know the longer I am here that I will eventually improve and recognize the accents.

10.) What information would you give others thinking about staying or volunteering in Rocinha?
Just do it! Don't believe all the media stereotypes. The biggest problem is conflicts between police and dealers but not the locals. I can walk all hours here without fear. Rocinha is a nice community that will welcome you. I advise people to stay or volunteer at least one month to get a better understanding of favela life. One thing thats kind of surprising is that since I have been here, I have not seen any violence or drug addicts. Outside the favela in places like downtown or Copacabana you regularly can see this. 

11.) Tell us a little about where you are staying?
I am staying in the RFH. Its a pretty big place. Its newly remodelled and is very clean. When you enter the building there's a small entryway into a living room area. Then you go up stairs to the first floor where theres a room with 4 beds, a good size kitchen kitchen and a bathroom. The second floor where I stay has one room with two beds and another private room with a queen size bed. Some of the rooms have mini fridges and air conditioning. 
My room has a bean bag chair so I can sit and read. Theres a mini fridge so I can put my fruit or drinks inside. The floor is newly tiled and its comfortable. The bed and linens are all new. The third floor is a good size rooftop with tables and chairs, stereo system to play music. There's a bathroom with a shower and a BBQ. But the view from the Rooftop is awesome! 

Theres WiFi on 3 floors in the house and it works well.
Right now there's me, a guy from the US, and a Guy from the Netherlands with his girlfriend staying here. So there's 4 of us, plenty of room and everybody is involved in Jiu Jitsu or Volunteering with some project.

I have gotten to know one of my neighbors and I often hang out with him. We watch tv and he helps me with my portuguese. The house is centrally located and close to everything. The jiu jitsu school is about a 5-7 minutes walk from the house. I can get to the beach in about 15 minutes. There's everything in the favela, even places to eat that are open 24hours.  

12.) What are the prices like in Rocinha?
As many people know, Rio can be expensive. Rocinha is nice because everything is cheaper in price. So, it is very affordable to live here. I do not come from wealthy family. In Belgium my family is working middle class. So, coming and staying in the favela is where I prefer as outside, I would not be able to afford to live. The guesthouse is very reasonable and affordable for people on a budget.   

13.) Do you have plans to return to Rocinha?
I do. I really like it here and I have made so many friends. I will travel some as I have a friend to visit in Uruguay but after I will return home to Belgium then work and save money to return. I would like to stay for long term next time I come. But when I am here I want to live, work and contribute something to the community.

14.) When you return to Rocinha, what are your plans or goals?
I want to work teaching in some capacity. Maybe work on an oil rig as the pay is excellent but I could save a lot in a short time and live in Rocinha. I want to help with the community center that Zezinho plans to start soon. I want to be able to invest time and money into projects in the favela. 

15.) Anything else you would like to say?
I think I have said enough. I am enjoying this experience and will be back to continue it! I'm just getting started.

Thank you Tijl

To find out more information about staying in Rocinha, training in a sport like jiu jitsu or Volunteer opportunities,  please contact Zezinho at: 

Tijl in Spin Rocinha Dj School holding one of the Olympic torches used in the relay.

To contact Tijl directly to learn more about his experience you can message him through his Facebook Page at: