Favela Tour Opens Students'
the most educational and engaging activity I participated in during
my three week stay in Brazil was the favela tour. The favelas are
named after the location of the original community, the hill Morro
da Favela. These settlements are prominently found in two sections
of Rio, either along the steep hillsides or along the outer fringes
of urban expansion. The houses are made first from a mixture of
sand and clay, and eventually are built up with wood, brick and
sheet metal. The first group settled near the bottom of the hills
and as time went by the hill filled upward. The first documented
favela was in the early 1920's and it was made up of about 839 of
these houses. Today, there are over 500 existing favela communities
within Rio, and they comprise about a third of the city's total
population. 500,000-1,000,000 people are estimated to live on the
visiting the favelas, my knowledge of them was limited. I knew they
were known as “the slums”, and that our teachers informed us to
stay away from them while by ourselves. We heard stories of firefights,
stray bullets, drug dealers, and kids our own age armed with guns.
I was somewhat nervous heading into the favelas, but our teachers
and guides assured us we would be safe.
entering the favela I could see what the teachers were talking about.
The conditions were not good. There was no greenery of any kind,
no trees and no grass. Small children were running throughout the
streets, most barefoot, with nowhere to play. The favela was alive
though. Thousands of
people were bustling through the streets, going about their daily
lives. Merchants were selling their goods, women were grocery shopping
and men were adding on to and improving their homes. We heard stories
of how “terrible” living in a favela was, however someone forgot
to tell these people. I received pleasant smiles around mostly every
corner. The children laughed and played in the streets without a
care in the world. I imagine my own childhood fun and games with
friends would have appeared very much the same, despite being from
a middle class suburb in the United States.
is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. Situated against
the hillside of Rio's landscape, the favela boasts more than 700
shops, five schools, two free health clinics, over 20 butcheries,
around a dozen video rental stores, an FM radio station, a samba
school, a soccer team, a small "hotel", two post offices,
and two police stations. It even has a modeling agency with its
own Web site, where beautiful models can be seen against the backdrop
of a favela.
consider the favelas the source of Rio's urban problems, citing
them for crime, violence, promiscuity, family breakdown and the
creation of a culture of poverty. This over-urbanization is seen
by some as a positive aspect, creating a perfect atmosphere for
new industrial development. Because of the cheap, surplus labor
that exists in the favelas, industries can find an easy market for
locating and making money.
biggest difference between the favelas and the wealthier neighborhoods
is that police protection is almost nonexistent in the favelas.
Most favelas operate under the eye of the drug dealers and crime
gangs that use the young men of the favelas as drug sellers and
couriers. The film “City of
God” depicts the lawless, violent and tragic consequences that occur
when children in the favelas try to get involved with the drug trade
to get a better life.
city of Rio knows about the problems in the favelas and wants to
make life better for their residents. In October of 2003, Rio city
leaders unveiled plans for a favela improvement program that would
spend US $1 billion on improving living conditions in the favelas.
“Favela-Bairro is without any doubt the most important project for
Rio. It's a program that ‘cariocas' (people born in Rio de Janeiro)
recognize as their own. And I'm not the one who says so. It's the
city itself,” Mayor Cesar Maia said. The project's name symbolizes
the idea of turning favelas into formal neighborhoods by providing
them with basic infrastructure and public and social services. It
also aims to build roads, drainage systems, sports facilities and
leisure areas, and bring garbage collection, street cleaning and
public lighting to the city's poorest areas. Potential social programs
they are also trying to integrate include day care centers, programs
for at-risk adolescents, activities to foster women and youth leadership,
and counseling on sexual abuse, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
I would rate the favela tour as a top activity of my three week
trip to Brazil, an absolute must-see for anyone traveling to Rio
de Janeiro. The visit will open your eyes to a new culture unlike
anything you've ever seen before and you will feel differently about
your own upbringing and way of life after seeing how these people