Favelas of Latin America are some sort of a legend. It is one of those scary things that nobody saw but everybody talks about it and fears it. It is a kind of urban legend. Favelas – or Viji – are in Buenos Aires as well. We asked our friends from Buenos Aires to take as to one of them for a drive and heard from them, that we may drive in, but no certainty that we will drive out. That people in those slams are thieves, drug dealers, steal electricity from honest people and they are lazy and never work, even if there are plenty of jobs and opportunities. Our Brazilian guide repeated those statements word for word as a common opinion among Brazilians. Our day tour guide from a different tour agency told us that she never saw a Favela from inside and that she is not planning to.
I have to admit that the trip to Favelas was one of the best excursions I ever had, in terms of understanding culture of the country, its sociological, political and economical circumstances.
Favelas began appearing on a big scale in late 50ties when big numbers of people started shifting to big cities searching for jobs. They all came from impoverished areas. They had nothing, or not enough to establish themselves in the city, but they had to live somewhere. They started living on the public land, building houses there. The government pretended that it did not see anything, because seeing a problem means looking for a solution. Nobody wanted to bother about those migrants, so people were left to their own devices. There was no electricity or water in those areas, no garbage collection. There were not addresses even, so people could not vote (which is compulsory in Brazil) and without voting (or actually without a certificate that they participated in a voting) they could not apply for any government support (for example for families with many children), could not apply for a study in public university (which is free to all citizens of Brazil who vote), even could not receive letters or open a bank account. On all accounts they were deprived most of the rights guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution.
98% of the people living in Favelas work in the city like everybody else and do the cheapest jobs because most of them have no education. Some of them turn to crime and begging (approximately 2%) and drug cartels quite often play an important role in governing the Favelas – not in every Favela, but in many. There is one good thing about drug lords in Favelas: no crime happens in Favelas, because drug dealers do not want police to come into the Favela. And police does not go there – they prefer to milk the rich drug buyers leaving Favelas with a dope. The government did not go there either. Till very recently all those people lived without water, electricity and any services. Some Favelas are small. We saw Casa Canoa with population of 2500. Some Favelas are huge. Favela Rosinha – the biggest in Brazil, or maybe even in Latin America – has a population of approximately 200,000 (nobody knows for sure). Can you imagine 200,000 people living without water, electricity and sewage, and garbage collection? This filth was ignored for decades. Now the problem is huge: Rosinha has one narrow street which is full of all those people and traffic in all directions and garbage trucks try to go 3 times a day trying to pick up garbage but they don’t succeed, as we witnessed.
The most ironic part of this comedy of tragic mistakes made by the government is that richest suburbs and Favelas share the same streets: one side is rich, another side is a slum. Rosinha grew right under the noses of politicians, living in one of the most prestigious areas of Rio, where every floor of the apartment block occupies the whole floor and cost around 2 millions. The government had rights for the forests on the slopes of the hills, and those slopes house Favelas nowadays. The views from the roofs of Favelas are the best in Rio. In every other city of the world those hills would be the most prestigious real estate, in Rio it belongs to the most deprived ones.
Of course, people cannot live without some basic things. Cooking and hitting water for various needs are some of them, and it requires electricity. People started stealing electricity from other users, who had addresses and could receive bills for electricity. It created a lot of tension between those who lived in Favelas and those who did not.
Casa Canoa tries to break away from the poverty. We saw their school (or to be more accurate: educational assistance centre, where teachers are trying to fix mistakes of the poor public system, to give a chance to those children from the slums to enter universities, and they succeed. There are 70 university students in that small Favela. It is a promising initiative and we were glad to help a little bit. We are bringing back wit us to Australia a painting of Favela made by the children of this centre. It will be a sad reminder about injustice and misfortune some people go through, and we never experienced it. We are blessed by some reason and have to grateful, we were not born to a life in Favelas.