Thursday, September 16, 2010

Helping out in the Rocinha favela

I recently went to visit Zezinho in the Rocinha community in Rio.  Zezinho runs a so-called Favela Tour operation through which he introduces visitors to his neighborhood, as well as maintains a website and blog about his activities (check ‘em out).  After a little on-line discussion I asked for some face time to discuss an idea I have brewing.  Zezinho was gracious enough to invite me to his home and to show me around his neighborhood.  The weather was rainy, but the energy exuded from Zezinho’s pride in his community literally seemed to lift the clouds.

Rocinha is the largest poor community (favela) in Rio with more than 300,000 residents and 6,000 businesses.  Families live in small houses built one atop the other and so close together access is limited to narrow pathways and staircases.  There is just one road that loops up into, across and then back down out of the neighborhood.  It is a busy street lined with shops, restaurants, beauty salons and all manner of home construction stores.  Recently free wireless internet service has been installed throughout the community.

Rocinha is, for all intents and purposes, a Rio city government-free zone.  It was the residents who developed the sewer system the services the neighborhood.  The electricity that runs to about 80% of the houses is brought in by a private company.  The neighborhood association plays the role of government.  They have organized a cooperative van transportation service (there are now a couple busses that loop through the neighborhood as well).  The association collects a nominal “tax” from neighborhood businesses (really nominal: R$5 – R$30 per month) that is pooled to pay for collective needs and emergency situations for residents.  Rio police do not patrol the neighborhood.

While Rocinha is known to outsiders as a place where drug trafficking is prominent and is generally understood to be a dangerous place, Zezinho reports a strikingly different experience.  Rocinha has been his home for most of his 39 years.  While showing me around his neighborhood children called out to him with a thumbs up sign and numerous neighbors stopped to talk.  His experience is one of pride in a self sufficient, if poor, community that takes care of itself.  The drug trade is present, as are the men and boys with guns that come with the territory, but they were no where to be seen while I made my visit.  Zezinho describes the impact of the drug lords to be as much a (ironic) positive influence toward community peace and harmony as an occasional danger.

Strictly enforced, the rules put down by the drug trafficants of Rocinha are: no theft, no rape, no violence, and no drawing unwanted attention to our community.  Break those rules and you face the drug lords.  Rio’s police are nowhere to be found.

Anyway – I met with Zezinho because I want to create an opportunity for people to make a real contribution to the daily needs of the residents of Rocinha.  I went to investigate what social programs are active in the community and with whom we can partner to leverage their impact.  Zezinho and I had some pretty awesome conversations about the possibilities.  After my next visit with Zezinho and with the director of one community arts program in particular I will post about how we can all get involved through the easy option of making a financial contribution to help sustain some vibrant, organic community activities that are keeping the kids of Rocinha out of trouble (and reminding them that people care).

Stay tuned.

[Once again I offer a very heartfelt thanks to Zezinho for his hospitality, contageous hope and enthusiasm.  Check out his business and blog.  Together I expect we can make an impact.]


Danielle said...

You got to meet Zezinho?! Lucky!!

I can't wait to hear what you guys come up with.

Rachel said...

You rock!

Linds said...

Aww wow!! So happy you went to see the favela. That was the info I found so interesting too - its almost te opposite lifestyle if what most people (esp brazilians) think.
Thanks for that great update!!

lifeinrocinha said...

I want to thank you Jim for taking the time to visit my home of Rocinha. I think you know how much I love and care for this place.Its not the poorly build houses, its the people who make this place!

thank you.

~Zezinho da Rocinha

jacquioff said...

hi. i really like your blog! i am heading south soon and have an 11 hour layover in Rio. i would really appreciate any recommendation you could give. all i know is that i'd like to see santa teresa... do you think a tour is a good idea or a waste of time/money?


The Reader said...

Looking forward with great interest to how we can help.

Fiona said...

It's so great that you're going to get a chance to help out, and to help us to help out too.