Elon International Studies: Brazil



Meet the Crew

Life in a Favela

Adventures in the

Black, White, and in
Between: Diversity
in Brazil


Biodiversity in the Amazon

Samba School

Favela Tour Opens Students' Eyes

Quality of Life
in Brazil

A Country that Runs
on Alcohol

Racial Inequality in

Ancient Indian
Remedy, New
Western Craze

Maracana Stadium

The Amazon


A Dish With Many Tastes

The Music and Dance
of Brazil as seen in
the Samba Schools

without Language

Fixing the
Race Problem

If an Entire Species is
Destroyed Before its
Discovered, Did it
Ever Exist?

The Beauty of Buzios

Salvador's Afro-
Brazilian Culture

Health Care and
Concerns in Brazil


Cristo Redentor

GST 243 Homepage

2004 Archives

Favela Tour Opens Students' Eyes

William Campbell


Perhaps 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 hillsides.


Before 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.


Upon 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.



Rocinha 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.


Many 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.


The 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.

The 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.


Overall 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 live.