The favela experience


Instituto Geracao and Elaine Smith


Elaine Smith

When summer is over, it is time to share vacation memories. Some that had the chance to go to Brazil might come back with the not-so-original pictures of samba dancing, a recipe for a homemade caipirinha drink and maybe black beans to cook a feijoada. But since the military police started the peace movement called UPP about two years ago, tourists feel the urge to ‘experience’ the favela. Is this experience suitable for a social investor?

Tourism that encourages foreigners (and locals too) to walk up the Rio de Janeiro hillside to see life inside a favela is growing at a fast pace. There is support from the Federal Ministry of Tourism combined with the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat of tourism: they provide special training for individuals to serve as guides and incentives for commerce and infrastructure investing, resulting in jobs for the favela residents. But not all residents welcome outsiders, suggesting that the considered intrusion may bring more harm than good.

But another kind of visitor is still very much welcomed in the favela communities: the social investors coming to visit with non-profits and NGOs that have been established in the communities for years now, working every day in programmes to eradicate poverty or to enhance the life situation in the slum. These guided interventions force the outsider to connect with the environment, the favela residents and the lifestyle way before the visit begins, and the experience results are far more than pictures or flat memories.

In May 2011, the chief commander of the Rio Military Police was invited  by Marcio Neubauer (a 40 year-old entrepreneur and social investor) to discuss the reality of the favelas in his hometown in a course at Casa do Saber in Sao Paulo. However, he UPP officer was not prepared for the skepticism of five teenagers from the Capao Redondo neighbourhood, one of the most violent in Sao Paulo (the violence brought about by drug dealing). They doubted the efficacy of the peace police intervention in Rio, just because their experience with the Sao Paulo police is still based on prejudice and roughness justified by the region they live. To clear the air, Neubauer invited 17 teenagers from Capao Redondo to go to Rio, along with five educators from Instituto Rukha, a non-profit that supports a project called Virada, which helps families in their keeping kids going to school, parents working and structuring the family. Our NGO, Instituto Geracao, was also invited to bring their audience − in this case, six members of the Brazilian privileged wealthy youth that want to engage in social change.

I was there, and would like to say that the Rio trip was very intense for me. In the past, I had several opportunities to learn about social investments. Usually, a community visit aims to create a single bridge between the wealthy reality and the reality of the people from the community. But during this trip, I felt like I was crossing multiple dimension bridges, all at the same time.  First, I left my home city of Sao Paulo to go to Rio, where the slums are in hillsides and you can really see the size of them, just by looking up.  I’ve spent three days with 17 teenagers listening how to stories of how they live in Sao Paulo. I’ve heard about their concerns and difficulties, being from a different generation and social class than mine.  I visited organizations with diverse social focus, such as AfroReggae, which works with culture and art, focusing on music in six favelas. We went to Vigario Geral, a slum still controlled by the drug dealers and not the military police. Our group met Instituto Reação, which teaches judo to hundreds of young athletes from Rocinha slum and aims to help the kids to become champions in the sport, or just champions in staying out of the drug dealing.

I listened to the professionals that work for these organizations, heard their concerns and learnt of the challenge to get financial support and the struggle to develop their work in communities that are still controlled by drug dealing. I had the chance to stand side by side with policemen heroes, who tell their stories about the effort of the UPP military police project, and local residents of the slums that detailed their lives prior to the police occupancy, when drug dealing was the most likely scenario for their kids’ future. We saw the police occupancy in the slums of Cantagalo, Pavao-Pavaozinho and Morro Santa Marta (famous for having hosted Michael Jackson shooting the video for ‘They don’t care about us’ in 1996).

To be with colleagues of Instituto Geração, exchanging opinions and learnings from these three days opened my perspective as a social investor. The intensity level is hard to describe if you were not there. I take away with me the perception of each moment where I saw colleagues like Marcio Neubauer growing in their potential to engage, act and invest to reduce the disparity between those who have means and influence power to help those that live by chance. To perceive your friend’s growth makes you grow with him. The trip was very enlightening. I have much more than memories and pictures – I feel I’ve connected and learned how to help. We cannot assume what the resident of a poor community needs before hearing from him what he needs.  Learning where to invest increases the chances of positive result of social investment.

Elaine Smith is development manager at Instituto Geração.

Tagged in: Brazil Favela Social investment Tourism

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