Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have been sick for a few days and now I found out that the owner of the house I am renting, sold it. So now I need to move by the 20th of December. Not so nice of a time as it is close to holidays when people go away. With all the construction and projects going on now in Rocinha, it is very dificult to find a place. But I have put the word out.

Also with all the police invasions in the city in varios favelas, we here know that the police will eventually come here. There are rumors everywhere here in Rocinha and I do not know what to believe.

I have hard a dificult time writing things, so if any of you have information you want to know about here, please send your questions or ideas to me at:

Thank you..


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Shelly and the Capoeira Project

2 November, Tuesday 2010

In the foto: Shelly Steffler is seated wearing black with glasses)

My day was planned to meet my friend Shon Starr and take him around Rocinha to take fotos and film of my community. I had no idea how interesting the day would become.

I first met Shelly Steffler through a friend who booked a favela tour with me about 1 month ago. I met the group at the General Osorio Metro station in Ipanema.

After the groups visit to Rocinha, Shelly kept in touch with me and made many contacts with people in Rocinha and wanted to help in some way with something here in the favela. She met with Leandro Lima who works with the PAC project in communications here in Rocinha and has a website about life here called Its in Portugues but it talks about all the goings on in the community.

For the past two years I have had contact with the ACORDA Capoeira school. I have always liked and respected Mestre Manel. He is about 50 years old and has 3 sons who also are Capoeira players. He has been teaching now in Rocinha for over 28 years. He lives Capoeira and only wants to share his love of it with everybody.

About one month ago Manel came to me and asked me if I could teach his students English. I told him that I know nothing about teaching English. But I could find some people who could help. I know that things take time and I wanted the perfect person to help me with this. And I know that I could not do this alone.

In the past I have referred volunteers to other NGO’s and organizations here and will still continue to do this. But for this project there is more concentration and commitment needed. I do not want to let down Mestre Manel. I want this project to work and continue.

Shelly had told me that she wanted to be more involved and help out in some way in the favela. So I ran this idea of helping with English classes, and she said yes. I knew that I would need support and help her with this. I am so happy she decided on helping the Capoeira class.

Shelly is so organized and has access to many people who can help. I also put up a post on the Couchsurfing website looking for those who have interest to volunteer and help out teaching English. Shelly has put out group emails to keep people informed about our English classes with the Capoeira students. So, now we have classes that began this past Tuesday at 9pm after the Capoeira class.

Shon, who has a Brazil travel agency called Brazil Geeks, wanted to film in Rocinha and also do a promotional video for Ricardo and his work with the Rocinha Surf School. Shon and I met Ricardo at 1pm to film and do the interview but when we got there, Ricardo had 6 students going to the beach for a surf lesson. So we went to the beach with them to film Ricardo in action teaching people to surf. I had no idea that these same people after would be meeting up with Shelly for the first English class with the Capoeira people. After the surf lesson Shon, Ricardo, Chiquinho (Ricardo’s assistant), Shelly, I and the group of 6 all went to eat at Trapia “por kilo” restaurant in Rocinha.

The class was at 9 pm and we ate and had about 3 hours to kill. I had plans to bring Shon to the new Ecological Park here in Portao Vermelho in Rocinha to do more filming. It ended up that I invited everybody to come along if they wanted to. So we brought this huge group of like 12 people. My friend Robert Nestor from Germany even took a bike up the hill to meet us. So, Shelly, her English volunteers, Ricardo, the surf students, Shon and I managed to get everybody on the bikes and up to the park. We went in the park and looked around at what they are building. We saw a ampitheatre, construction for a multi sport building, playground for kids, nice bathrooms, a kiosk which will probaly be used to sell food/drinks and we saw areas where people can have churraschos (BBQ).

Before the sun started setting, I invited everybody to my house to sit on my rooftop. My roof can accommodate maybe 12 people but we managed about 15 in total. People sat, drank, talked with each other, ate snacks and took fotos of the view I have from my roof. Around 8 pm most of the people had to leave to get some food and to get ready to teach at 9 pm. Angelo (Shelly’s friend) and Robert stayed at my house until 9, then we walked down to the Casa de Paz where the class was taking place. I was able to get to know Angelo, who is a professional English teacher. He told me about where he lives and we shared Dj and music stories.

Our first class was very informal. We do not have access to proper desks so everybody sat in a circle. Shelly and her friend Angelo who teaches English professionally, ran the class. We had about 8 volunteers who came along to help.

For those interested in volunteering with this project please contact Shelly Steffler at:

We want to keep this program ongoing and not have it die. Currently, classes are every Tuesday & Thursday from 9-10pm at the Casa de Paz (Peace House) in Rocinha. If people reading this have interest in helping out with the classes in Rocinha, you can contact Shelly or myself.

Thank you all for your help this past week.

Orgulho da Favela- Pride of the Favela

I have said this many times, "Its not the poorly built houses that makes this place, its the PEOPLE!"

To some people, the word “Favela” is bad. I embrace the word becase of its roots. The word “favela” came from the plant that grew on the hills of the first settlement in Rio. This plant mirrors the hardships of the people who had nowhere to go other than the hills to build their shacks back in the late 1800’s (1898 the first favela was Morro da Providencia). With this plant, people would try to cut it down but it would just grow back again stronger. I am from and to this day live in a FAVELA..sem vergonha!!! (without shame)

Many people do not realize that the conditions my parents and others came from were far worse. In the northeast of Brazil there were many problems being lack of jobs, drought and hopelesseness of the people who lived there. Many had to leave and migrate to the big cities to find work and to survive. Favelas were the only option at that time. People set their roots to get a sense of stability in their lives. My father did this because he wanted a better life for us. He told me many stories of suffering, starvation and feeling like nobody cared about the people there. Coming to Rio was a lifesaver for him. He was able to find work and slowly build his home and roots in Rocinha. The main thing was to have a better life, not a glamorous one.
I am thankful to my father, mother and relatives to giving me all I needed to make it where I am today. I have a roof over my head, enough food, clothes, and a job that I love. What more could I really want?

The purpose of this Blog, I made first is to inform people about what life is like here. Every week I would receive several emails from students, journalists, and researchers who wanted information about where I live. I also try to put in stories about my life here to give a personal side to things too. I am not a writer, just somebody wanting to share my personal experiences and information. Favelas are often misunderstood places that are often written about but by MOSTLY those who are not from them. I do not know of anyone else from a favela writing about it.
I would think that most people here probably would not write about it becase most people who live in favelas do not like to tell outsiders they live there. There is still a stigma attached for those who live in favelas. I know many here who would never admit to living here because they feel they might be discriminated against. Its sad but this does happen to we who live here. If any of you know somebody that is from a favela and writing about it, please let me know. I would like to meet them!

Favelas are complex societies that even trained or educated people still will never fully understand life here. Researchers try with their “theories”, but theories are just that. For a “outsider” it is very difficult to be trusted and given the detailed information by residents. Most of us here in Rocinha do not trust the intentions of outsiders. We live here becase there is no other option for us. Even in my experience, Many people email me and expect so much from me, but want to offer nothing in return. I see these same people come in the favela and only want to satisfy their own needs at the expense of the community. We are tired of being the “petrie dish” for every researcher who wants to “study” us but never try to help change things. After a while this gets old and people here are not stupid.

Recently it seems every post I put up which challenges somebody ignorance, I get again OUTSIDERS trying to tell me how it is here, change my values or tell me how bad it is here. Are you telling me this based on you living here or just stuff you read or what people tell you? This depends on what you value and what you are used to. I would never expect a middle or upper middle class person from the Europe or USA to come here and like it. But then again here is NOT Europe or USA.

One person wrote “you cant deny the deplorable conditions of favelas etc…”
Ok, he says deplorable, but based on who’s values, his? I don’t think I live in deplorable conditions.

I have always said. Favelas are not perfect, we have problems, challenges, like anywhere. Nem melhor, nem pior, apenas diferente! But they are just different than other countries. I am very happy here and I think that bothers some readers that I could actually LIKE living here in a favela. I think some think of favelas being “romantic”, which I do not understand this at all. Maybe in the movies they are romantic but reality is much different. I do not live in a movie. I am not just staying here, I LIVE here and MY FAMILY lives here too!!! I do not have any plans to leave. And my roots are here, why leave to go to unknown future?

I don’t need to be saved or helped. The conditions I live in may not up to some peoples standards, but I am not complaining. I have everything I NEED. To some, I live in poverty, but I think my life is very rich becase money is not the center of my universe. Yes, I work, but I am not somebody’s slave. And money does not dominate my every thought like most people I know. People and my community are far more important to me.

I think in countries where people have access to everything, they get spoiled and they complain. I saw this especially in the USA. People are stressed out chasing money so much they are not even raising their kids anymore. Mothers do not stay home with kids anymore. Daycare or a nanny is the substitute mother. Dads do not have time to go out and kick a ball with their son becase when they get home from work they are too tired to interact with their kid. Instead they feed the kid tv, internet or video games. Kids in the USA don’t have that connection to their parents anymore. At 18 years old the parents want you out of the house.

I left the USA because I started to see individual rights taken from people based on this “fear of terrorism” crap! Its easy, the government creates horrible events to create a “enemy”, put fear in people and then slowly takes their rights away under the guise of giving citizens more security. Big brother is now a reality.

When I lived in the USA I felt like my life was “regulated”. I had a “formal” job. I had to punch in a clock. I had to wear a uniform. There were regular meetings we had to attend. I had a bank account. I had a rental agreement for the place I rented. I had to have a credit card to do anything like travel or book airplane tickets. I did not get my first credit card until I was 38 years old. It was like a whole new world for me with so much regulation. So different from the simplicity of living in a favela where my word is trusted when I rent a place and no paperwork is needed.
There are many good things about the USA, but I felt after 10 years was enough and I was drawn back to my home. I made the right decision as I feel free from “regulation” and my life is my own. I work when I want or need to, not because I HAVE to. Life is easier and cheaper for me here in Rocinha. Its not perfect, but I am happy.

I am not perfect, but try to keep negative stuff out of my life. There will always be someone who needs to start trouble because they want to drag others down or their lives are miserable. I believe in karma and try to put out positive things and I know when I do, it comes back to me the same. But the test is those who are jealous or have problems and they see the good around you and want to destroy it. The test is to understand and not respond or block them out. Success to me is NOT about money, its about changing peoples lives and impacting them in such a way that they can then carry on that same energy. This is my belief.

So, my blog again is to educate and tell you how it is HERE IN ROCINHA. If you really want to know and understand this place, you would need to live here for at least 6 months to 1 year, the more time the better. And if you do not understand or speak any portugues, you will find it very difficult to interact and understand the life and culture here. The more portugues you speak, the more the community will welcome you. If you don’t try you will always be seen as the outsider and meaningful relationships will be hard to come by.

Please, if you have questions, feel free to write me at:

The Camera Project

Above are fotos of Leandro opening his gift of a new Camera..and hopefull to his dream of being able to become the photo journalist.

Mission accomplished!!

Some of you read the entry where I wrote about some of the projects that I’m involved in here in Rocinha. At the end of that entry, I wrote about Leandro who had his camera stolen and how I made plans to buy him a new one. Well, Leandro had his birthday party at the Verandao, a dancehall half way up the hill here in Rocinha on Saturday October 16th. Dj Fernadinho spun the music and everyone had a great time. I took some fotos of Leandro receiving his new camera for his 28th birthday. When he saw what it was he was in shock and gave me a big hug!

I want to thank ALL OF YOU who went on tours with me the month of August, September and October as your money helped to buy Leandro a new camera and keep alive his dream of one day becoming a photo journalist.

Again, thank you sooooo much!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More Prejudice and Misinformation about Favelas

My good friend Jim Shattuck writes a blog about his life in Brazil and one person wrote below their opinions about a post Jim wrote about favela tours. I respect the idea that there are those who do not like favela tours. That is not the problem here.

I think it is important that readers know what is going on about favelas. I decided to respond to what this guy wrote. As a favela resident I am tired of being socially excluded, stigmatized and marginalized by people who do not know me or about the place I live. I am speaking up for all the people of the favelas as their voice need to be heard.

Ray’s post is in italics and mine is in bold font.

Jim’s website is below:

Ray Adkins writes:
 I totally respect your opinion and I admire your initiative, you will be doing more for Brazil in the short time you are there than most do their entire lives.

You make it sound like we in favelas have no hope. How wrong you are. Things are improving for favela residents.
It maybe slow in coming but we see it here in Rocinha with the PAC Project.

My personal opinion about favelas is that I am against the tours and I am also against ignoring them as if they didn't existed.

What he continues to write below has nothing to do about favela tours or the project we are trying to make here for the community. So you are also “against ignoring them as if they didn’t exist”. So how does a person learn or understand about favelas if they come to brazil and do not have access? What do you propose for favelas not to be ignored? Many people contrary to what people think, come on tours to understand the favelas and then return to volunteer or implement a project.

Ray, why is it that all you write is all negative things? Are you just trying to discourage people from helping? Whats your point? So, Ray do you have a solution? You can say tear all the favelas down but that is approximately 35% percent of Rio’s population. Or about 2.5 million people. Ray do you really think that the Brazilian government, as corrupt as it is has a true interest to help ALL the poor people in Rio? Especially by building housing for us people, I think not! (I am talking about Rio because I live here, Sao Paulo is another thing).

I find it interesting how people have opinions but based on what information? Where does the information come from media? people? Personal experience? It is difficult for me to read what this guy has written below because although there are some truths to what he says, there is also a lot of exagerrations or outright lies? Where do people get this stuff?

I would much rather hear somebodys opinion about something that is based on their personal experience rather than what they read or hear. By what this guy writes its obviously not from personal experience.

I think favelas are the most humiliating form of living besides being a homeless person, favelas are dangerous places because they are mostly built on the sides of mountains without any proper infra-structure and when there is a strong rain storm people living in favelas are under risk of being buried alive along with their children or they are built on the banks of polluted rivers and are subject to constant flooding.

Ok so YOU think they are humiliating forms of living. As somebody who lives in a favela, I actually like living here and do not feel humiliated by living here. That is something within YOU to say this. I am very proud to live here in Rocinha. We who live in favelas only want equal opportunity for jobs and to be treated with respect, nothing more. There are definitely challenges and problems but I find there is more a community spirit and people here actually CARE about each other compared to other places I lived in the world. I will never say favelas are paradise or perfect but then again paradise and perfection do not exist. But this is my life and I am happy in my current situation. I live in a house with four walls, a roof, electricity, water, a toilet that operates, and it is confortable.

So if I all in a sudden became rich and was to move out of the favela. What would I have? More stuff? A nicer place? Maybe…but would I be as happy as I am now? Probly not, becase I was not raised with upper class people. I have nothing in common with them. I have no interest in designer clothes, shoes, fancy cars..I am more interested in being part of a community that cares about me where I feel I have a valued place. Favela or not Rocinha is my home. I will not abandon her for money.
Being homeless is just that. Living on the streets is just that. Favelas are nothing like that. Favelas are tight knit communities where people work together and support each other.

It is true that in Rio most of the favelas are built on hillsides but not all are dangerous nor do we lack infrastructure. We have our own. The only thing that separates us from the formal city is money. We have had to create our own infrastructure where the government fail to help.

The reason favelas exist is becase of the lack of housing for the poor working class. Unlike other places we do not have the WELFARE system, the DOLE, food stamps, section 8 or whatever… that people can use, abuse and be lazy. People in favelas live there becase there is no other option.


Favelas far away in the north or west zones have more problems and challenges compared to where I live.
In Rocinha 95% of the homes are made of brick and cement and are built solidly into the earth. We have two areas Macega and Roupa Suja high up the hill with about 40 shacks that are in the process of going to be removed.

Last April about 200 people died from the heavy rains and most were in two favelas, Morro dos Prazers in Santa Teresa and Morro do Bumba in Niteroi. Prazers hill has always had problems with mudslides unfortunately and Bumba was the favela that was built on top of a garbage dump. With these two areas I agree with what the writer says. I do not know much about Sao Paulo favelas as I do not live there and feel it incorrect to write about something that I haven’t experienced personally.

I think favelas are dangerous because people living in them make illegal electrical connections to steal electricity and live under constant risk of electric shocks and devastating fires, which have happened lately in Sao Paulo favelas and have been widely reported on the media.

In some favelas this is true but in Rocinha where I live we have a company called LIGHT that is a joint venture of Brazilian and Canadian. We have a power grid at the bottom of the hill and most people DO PAY for their electricity. There will always be those who cheat whether it be steal electricity, cable or internet. When I lived in the USA I knew many people cheating the system. Its is not right, but people do it. All I can tell you is that I DO PAY a monthly electric bill. As for fires we have are usually due to stupid people burning garbage. Again I can not speak about Sao Paulo.

I think favelas are dangerous because they live off the grid,on stolen and invaded property, pay no taxes, have little or no social services such as Fire Departments, Police and Ambulance services due to difficult access due to it's lack of planning for streets or any access what so ever.

In Rocinha we have our own firemen (Rambo da Rocinha being one) and since the building of the new hospital UPA, we do now have ambulances that go through our community. We have one main street and three smaller streets at the bottom of the favela. But Ray is correct that many favelas have dirst roads and not paved streets.

You need to understand the history of how favelas came to be and the laws about open not private land. Its obvious Ray that you are not from Brazil. Laws are different in other countries, you know? Some favelas do live off the grid and the land at the turn of the century was given to the people as the government did not follow through on their promise. The promise was that for those soldiers who fought in the Canudos War (1893-1897) on the side of the government, in the northeast of Brazil. The soldiers would receive in exchange jobs and housing. The soldiers were able to find jobs, but the government lied to the people and did not provide or help them with housing. Instead the government told the ex-soldiers that they could build their houses on the hills. The first official favela was Morro da Providencia (1898) which still exists today. So, this was how the favelas began being named after the thorny plant that grew on the hillsides.

There is also a law pertaining to open non private land that if a person can put up a house overnight and it is considered stable, they cannot be removed. This is foreign to people in other countries because of boundaries and laws, but this is how it works here. This is one reason the favelas grew. Lack of affordable housing for poor working class. If they want favelas to go away, the city needs to have a higher minimum wage, people have to pay their help more, so the poor have options other than favelas. But, please who are we kidding, favelados serve a purpose for low paid labor and the upper classes certainly do not want to pay us more..

I would love to see Rio run one week without “favelados” (favela residents like ME)..the city would shut down and collapse. Without us the city could not operate. Who would clean the streets, clean and services hotels and restarantes? Who would drive the buses the metro or taxis?

As for taxes again you do not know Brazilian law. If you earn under 1200 reais a month, you do not need pay taxes. In Rocinha the average salary is from 600-900 reais a month. Something many do not consider is that when we buy things, there is a fixed tax built into the price so we do pay taxes in that respect. But we receive nothing in return.

They living off the grid of society and the lack of easy access also allows drug traffic and other criminal organizations to hide and thrive inside favelas and with the complete lack of social order and little reach from organized society, favela residents have no choice but to fear and protect criminals under the so called "Lei do Silencio" "Silence Law", in other words, you should not be a "rat" like the mafia would say it, you should never be a witness to any crime, you should always be quiet.

Yes, we do have the drug dealers but they do not mess with “trabalhadores” or workers. They do not control my life or anyone elses. And I certainly do not live in fear of them. They do their thing and I do mine.

The reason I do not snitch is becase I never have liked or trusted the police. Nobody in Rio likes the police or trusts them. They are undertrained, trigger happy corrupt ASSHOLES. Even the rich do not like them becase they always try to extort bribes. Maybe is Sao Paulo it is diferent but this is the way it is in Rio. When I leave the favela the police abuse me, put me on the wall search me and treat me like a dog. I am a honest hardworking person just trying to live a peaceful life. We who have lived in Rio and understood the military dictatorship still have trust issues with the system. It is very corrupt here. Lula has helped the poor more than most presidents but the corruption is still engrained especially in the police forces. So, who do you chose? The traffickers who leave me alone, who live in the community and do contribute to things here or do I trust the police, who don’t live here and abuse me everytime I step outside the favela?

Its very complicated. The drug lords work in conjunction with the government and police. The traffickers of course are NOT angels and do horrible things but the police do worse. We all know the traffickers evil side but with the police they are supposed to be the good guy, but they are not!!! When I lived in the USA I would not hesitate to ask a policeman for directions or talk to them but here, why? So they can harass me or try to get money from me?

Contrary to what you think Ray, there is actually more social order here. People do not steal, rob, rape, kill, molest kids…we do not have these problems. Our kids can run freely in our streets without a problem (unless of course the police come in). The traffickers act like police within the community and punish those who break these rules. Becase I am honest, I have no problems with the rules. And certainly do NOT live in fear!!! I feel free here as I can walk the streets at any hour and not be hassled by anyone. I would NEVER walk in Copacabana late at night. Funny to think that the places you think of being most dangerous can be safer than the formal city. The ONLY time the favela is dangerous is when the police try to enter. Do you know the traffickers PAY THE POLICE to stay out of the favela? That is how deep the corruption goes.

Favelas in Rio have fake streets and fake store fronts and home fronts to deceive and sometimes even trap police and unwanted intruders, many residents know about it but are not allowed to talk under fear.

In Rocinha and Vidigal two favelas that I have lived this is not true! Please Ray tell me, where does this place exist?

Society should put their efforts in getting rid of all favelas, destroying all the dangerous homes hanging from a cliff and build decent apartment communities for these people in safe areas where they will have access to legal and safe electrical service, where they will live on a street with regular police presence and Fire and Ambulance service available to them as well as other community services available to the rest of Rio, who pays taxes and enjoy them, where they won't be under constant risk of being buried alive by a mountain side or a raging river.

Good luck, getting rid of all favelas, nice idea? Do you really think the government wants to do this? Boy, would it be great if everybody could be equal and live happily ever after..sorry but you are living in dreamland!! Mother nature is cruel no matter where you live..some favelas yes have problems as you have mentioned but living in the flatlands people have problems too.

So they want to live in the center of it all, even by risking their lives and there is plenty of people who think favelas are a romantic part of the scene and there is nothing wrong with living that way.

Romantic..please can you explain to me how a favela is romantic? Who thinks like this..favelas are just places where people live..what do you mean "Living that way?" I live like you, only I may not have many material think I live in a bad way? You need to come here and see for yourself..

..that along with the complacency of many and the ones who just ignore it...nothing or little will ever happen to improve the poor living situation of this humiliated part of society in Rio.

So, Ray, what is your plan? You talk a lot with your “opinions” but what is your plan of action? You are the one that says "Humiliated", but I am no shamed to live in a favela..

Not to mention that many "middle and upper class" cariocas need the favelas to buy their daily drug of choice near their it sounds like nothing will ever be done to change that if you wait on the Cariocas who benefit from the presence of the favelas.

Drugs are a WORLD problem, not just a problem in the favelas. Those upper class not only buy their drugs but also get the use of cheap labor from the favelas. Why would they want to lose this? I do not like drugs but all I can do is be a good representative of my community and help show the kids that there are other options than entering the drug trade.

Maybe they should just paint all the favela houses in white, it would look just like those coastal Greek towns on the side of mountains.
I know this is not a popular opinion but I thought there should be nothing wrong if it is expressed with respect and honesty.

Paint on the houses would be nice, I agree!!! Respect would be if you could actually speak from experience rather than media or hearing stuff from people (and are those people from favelas or just neighbors?). If you actually lived in a favela, you would have been more specific or mentioned names of places. Remember real people live in favelas and the last time I asked about 85% in Rocinha are happy, like me and do not want to move. Services are nice but what really brings me happiness is a community where I am loved, cared for, needed and wanted, not the invisible world of some penthouse apartment in Leblon. My spirit would die if I had to live there. Everybody values different things and at age 48 I am happy right where I am. I love Rocinha and Rocinha loves me too!!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Interesting facts of favela life Part 1

The top fotos are of the transportation here with both buses and Mototaxis available to take you anywhere.
The bottom fotos are of the neighborhoods (L) the Via Apia and (R) is the Largo do Boiadeiro located close to the bottom of the favela. Both neighborhoods are have all sorts of stores to satisfy anybodys shopping desires.

Many have emailed me and asked about things here in the favela. So, I decided to give a little explanation about these things.

Land- is something very scarce. Most of the land is taken. What trees and grass is left is green but on the steep hillsides. Its is dangerous to build there and people are told the risks of building on a steep incline. The start of the favela was at the bottom and it grew up the hills through time. Rocinha was originally settled by three families of Portugues, Italian and French origins. Laboriaux is the highest point in the favela which was settled by the French. Largo do Boiadeiro or Caminho do Boiadeiro was settled by the Portugues and the Via Apia was settled by the Italians. We used to have farms and people grew their vegetables here which is why it is called “Rocinha”. Rocinha means “little farm”. People would come to buy their vegetables here back in the 1930’s until about the 50’s. After the second huge migration of people, the area started to turn more urban as there was more building of houses. Rocinha now has a population of about 300,000 people.

Most people don’t really care about land so much. We value our houses more. We now have rights to our houses and do not have fears to be removed. So now you see many people continuously making home improvements. You could visit here tomorrow and return six months later and you will see changes here.

The majority of people who live here originally come from the North East of Brazil. My family was from Fortaleza but never made it back to their roots in Ceara. I hear of more people wanting to return there, after they save enough money. So, to some, the favela is a temporary place where they can live and work. But eventually they hope to be able to return to their roots someday. My roots are here and I am not leaving. The government started building a wall around the favela to prevent expansion. Favelas grew becase of people wanting and needing to build their homes. The wall is supposedly to protect the environment. Some think of it as another way the system is trying to inforce the social exclusion.

Houses- In most favelas the outside of the house and the way it looks is not so important as what is in the inside. Many houses look bad from the outside but once inside you would be surprised to see nice tiled floors and modern furniture with television set and DVD players. Recently I have seen many people installing satellite dishes. I do not have a tv so, this is not available for me. We have a cable tv company here called tvROC (tv Rocinha).

In Rocinha there are approximately 54,000 houses set in 64,000 meters of space. The majority of houses here in Rocinha are made with brick and cement. We still do have shacks here, mostly in the areas of Macega and Roupa Suja. The government wants to remove them because the houses are not sturdy built into the rock. Everytime it rains there, some shacks are destroyed. Or we have mudslides. Everybody desires to have their own house and we take pride in where we live. I would like to own a house someday. Inside our houses are very simple. We do not have drywall. Everything is brick. Most houses have windows. The windows are metal framed with glass on the inside. It is common to see houses without windows too. Most people have electricity and running water. In Brazil, tiles are popular because of them being cheap and easy to clean. The cheapest places to live is closer to the top of the hill. The more expensive houses and apartments are at the bottom of the hill. Foreigners have bought houses here. The average price for a 2 bedroom house is about $30-35,000 reais. At the bottom of the hill is double. We have two real estate offices here in Rocinha where you can go to buy a place. There is also one rental office. People often sell their homes privately, without the help of the RE office. Since there is no space around the houses, people build multiple floors.

Neighborhoods- (Cachopa, Roupa Suja, Capado) we have 25 different neighborhoods and sub neighborhoods here. These names help for us to know where we live. I live in area 7. But before I lived in Paula Brito. But I was born up on Rua 1. It is common for many people to move to other areas in the favela. The poorests areas are Macega, Roupa Suja, Cesario and the Valao. Some of the houses in theses areas do not have electricity or running water.

The names of the neighborhoods are significant to people who they are named after or because of a certain history of the place. The area of Roupa Suja was named after a area where women would come down the hill to wash their clothes and they would meet together doing their work and talking about the goings on in the favela. In other words, they would gossip while washing the clothes, hence the name Roupa Suja (dirty clothes or dirty laundry). Cachopa means pretty girl. I am not sure who the pretty girl was but she was from that area of the favela. Capado which is located high up the hill got its name from the woman who castrated her cheating husband one night after catching him in bed with another woman. The Valao is the area that has the open sewer system running through it. The word “vala” means ditch and “Valao” means big ditch.
Every area of the favela has a different vibe or feel to it. The Via Apia and Largo do Boiadeiro are heavily commercial and its always noisy there. In Paula Brito or Portao Vermelho its very quiet and not much going on there.

Street life-this refers to action going on in the street. Rocinha is a busy place and with only 1 main road, there’s a lot to see. There are many shops, bars and hang out places. Our houses are not big so its nice to go outside and talk with neighbors. In the “becos” or alleyways, people sit on stairs or just stand. Talk varies from gossip to family matters. When I get bored from being inside too long, I just walk down the street and its guaranteed that I will meet people I know. Its hard to be lonely here. People in the streets are friendly and do greet each other. At the bottom of the hill, there are street vendors and all sorts of people hanging out. The street food there is great too! You will see and hear cars with loud stereo systems. There is a “sound car” that drives through the neighborhood making announcements of whats going on in the favela. Capoeira demonstrations are a common sight. And during Carnaval we will have parades through out streets. From Thursday night to Sunday, parties are everywhere and people have churrascos on their rooftops.

Roads- roads are a luxury in any favela. Most favelas have dirt roads. We in Rocinha have one main street and 3 smaller streets. The streets are made of cement. I did see some repairs in the road last week that looked like black tar. Our main street is called Estrada da Gavea which runs from the bottom area of Sao Conrado cutting up the hill to the others side and neighborhood of Gavea. This street receives cars, buses, mototaxis, vans and now with all the construction, big trucks. Bicycles are not common but some do ride. There is a guy at the top of the hill in Rua 1 or first street (which is a alley way not a street), that has a horse. I see him out riding about once a month. My friend skateboards down the hill. He does it becase he does not have the use of his legs. The skateboard has been his transportation since he was 8. To get up the hill, he catches a mototaxi.

Garbage- this is my only complaint about favela life. There are areas sectioned off as garbage dumping places. But I still see people throwing trash on the ground. There needs to be more garbage cans so we can improve our trash problem. And the city needs to come in Rocinha more often and collect the garbage. I wish they would eliminate plastic bags and go to brown paper bags or the “bring your own” when people go shopping.

Transportation- I feel fortunate to live in a place that has transportation 24 hours. We have three bus routes that go to Leblon, Leme and Botofogo. The mototaxis serve primarily the favela but they can take you outside the favela to other areas for a higher price. Costs inside the favela are $2 reais but to go outside the cost is $2.35 for the bus and 2.20 for the vans. I mostly use the vans as they are the most convenient for me. At the bottom of the hill just outside of Rocinha is now a taxi stand for people who need to go longer distances. My friend uses the taxi to go to the airport.

Internet- we have over 80 Lanhouses or internet cafes. People can also have cable internet put in their houses. Recently the government put free WiFi here in Rocinha but its only available for those who have computers. About 20% of the population has computers in their homes. Even less have laptops. I am lucky to have a laptop and I can acess the WiFi on my roof but its not always a strong signal. Right now I am posting this at Leblon Shopping becase the internet connection is stronger and I can post fotos.

Furniture- it is reasonably priced but you will not find grade A quality either. Shops like Ikea don’t exist. The sofa I have is not the most confortable but it seats 3 people. I miss the couch or soft that you sink into. Or if you had to sleep on it, you would not wake up with a sore back. The mattresses on my bed are firm, well made and good for my back. Because we live in a tropical environment, bugs are common. After having mattresses destroyed by bed bugs and every other critter, I decided that after buying new mattresses that I would keep the plastic on them. Its strange sleeping on top of plastic covering but at least I know they will last a long time. I put a sheet over the plastic but still it takes time to adjust to the sound of plastic everytime you move. Computer chairs are very expensive here. 150 reais for a chair is crazy. But I found a used computer desk for 30 reais which is cheap.

Cell phones- almost everyone I know, has one. The way people here can afford cell phones is by buying minutes. I do not know anyone on a monthly rate. My cell phone, I am like everybody else and buy minutes. Talking on the fone is expensive. Text messaging is cheaper even though I hate it. I have seen a few blackberries and the rare iPhone. People have crazy ringtones like cats meowing or loud alarms going off. I heard one guy has his sound like firecrackers going off. He gets strange looks on the bus.

Television- the two most watched programs are Telenovelas and football. Practically everyone has a tv in the favela EXCEPT ME!!! I have seen simpel black and white tv's and huge flat screens. Most people are hooked up to cable tv or satellite dish service Skytv or Via. I do not like tv so much.

Music- you will hear all styles of music here. The most common music styles I hear everyday are Funk, Hip Hop and Pagode. Walking through the becos you hear more of a variety than on the street. Most popular is Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and Beyonce for pop music from the US. I have even heard some heavy metal. And I have seen a few “Goths” walking the streets of the favela. They are no different from what you would see in the US, pale faces, long black hair and all black clothing.

I like a little humor too..

I was sent these in a email and I thought some of you might like them..

The Zen of Sarcasm

1.Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.
2.The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.
3. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.
4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.
6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is probably not for you.
10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably a wise investment.
12. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
13. Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.
14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.
15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.
16. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
17. Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
18. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.
19. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.
20.Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.
21. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

22. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homeless World Cup: Team Canada

My New Friends from Canada

The past week has been interesting. Copacabana hosted the Homeless World Cup from September 19th-26th. There were representatives from 54 different countries both men and women, playing a form of 4 on 4 football on artificial surface on a elevated platform. All this, on the beach within walking distance of the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel. Players from these countries were sponsored by various organizations or did their own forms of fundraising to make the trip to Rio. Nike was a main tournament sponsor, giving the players football shoes, shirts and shorts.

My friend Jim, who lives in Niteroi sent me a message about this tournament and I decided to volunteer to help out. For five days, I volunteered working the security gates at the venue checking badges to make sure the right people entered their perspective areas. My favorite part was to meet the athletes, see them play and hear their stories of how they are dealing with adversity. I have never been homeless, but I did live in a shelter for a while due to economic problems.

The purpose of this tournament is to bring awareness to homeless populations worldwide. The idea was started by Mel Young in a bar talking with friends. What better way to bring people together than the international appeal of football (or soccer). The criteria for the players is that within the last year they had to be homeless. They are only allowed to play in one Homeless World Cup tournament. Their slogan is “A ball can change the world”

The first team I met was from Finland and a player by the name of Patrick Kulmala. This mans story was sad. He was a former drug addict and because of his excessive use, lost his left arm. He still got out there and played with heart. When he returns to Finland he will have a job waiting for him and the support of his family to continue his recovery.

I had the opportunity to live in Canada for a while so when I saw the Canadian team, I wanted to talk to them. Other than my life here in Rio, if I had the chance, I would move to Canada. I love everything about Canada, the people, the beauty of the mountains in Vancouver, the multi-culturalism, the hockey, you name it…

It was difficult not to be drawn to Team Canada as their enthusiasm was amazing. The first player who I made contact with was Peter Chow as I saw an article written about him on the Homeless World Cup website ( Team Canada had this spirit that everybody notice. They did not have the talent like Brazil or Chile but were so happy to be here in Rio taking part. Before each game they would do this synchronized dance in a circle to get the crowd going.

I made contact with Wendy and Kailin, two of the organizers with the team. They were interested in visiting the favela. Saturday after playing two games, I took the group to the favela. The idea was to play some hockey and soccer and interact with the people in the community. We found some kids at the Quadra Rua 1. It’s a big building that holds samba practices, baile funk parties and football games for the people in the favela. We rounded up some kids and got an informal game going. The kids eventually mixed in with the Canadians so favela kids were playing with them, not against them. For kids of the favela, most of them have never met people from Canada. We need to have more things like this here where our favela can meet and interact with other cultures.

There is much similarity in the social exclusion of favela residents and with the First Nations people of Canada. The majority of Team Canada were First Nations people. We share the same treatment in the countries we live. We are generally seen as a people with little or no value and not treated with respect. There are exceptions, but both Canada and Brazil have a ways to go with eliminating prejudice against “our peoples”. I think this is what drew me to enjoying Team Canada more than any other team. I understood and have experienced the same prejudices they have.

After playing some football we went to a friends rooftop that overlooks a 365 degree view of the favela. Many of the guys were amazed. I was so proud to have them there.
They had many questions and even some said they could easily live here in Rocinha.

The majority of these players come from addiction of abusive backgrounds but you would never know it from their professional behavior and respect of the favela. Not one person mentioned drugs or the social ills that plague our community. They were here to see absorb and take it all in. I am sure it made an impact on some of them.

The guys were hungry so we ate at one of my favorite little places at the top of the hill. Bar do Familia is the place I go when I am hungry and want to eat for under $7R a full meal. We fed the army of 12 Canadians for $50R. I got to talk with goalkeeper Kevin King about life here in the favela on a more personal level. I know that in the beginning he felt uncomfortable being in the favela, as for North Americans, the environment can be shocking. I explained to Kevin that he should not feel bad as most people are happy here. Just the fact of the Canadians being here, we feel like we have value. When you come to visit Rocinha, you embrace us as one of your own. Its not about the poorly built housing or lack of infrastructure that makes Rocinha, it’s the people. Yes, the favela has its problems but we have much good things going on here too. We have had to make do with what we have.

After the stomachs were full, I took them through the labrynth of alleyways that make up 95% of the community. Many took pictures and were intrigued with the chaotic building structures. The favela…no complaints, it is what it is!

I wanted them to see my house as I think it is important to be real with people when I show them Rocinha. I live here and have no shame of my small modest home. It works for me. The players and coaches went out on my roof and took many fotos including a small fireworks display that was going on. I tried to convince them the fireworks were for them, but could not b.s. this group.

When they all came inside to my living room, I showed them various clothing and things I had from my time spent in Canada. I still feel that I left a bit of my heart in Vancouver (which is where the team is from) and Toronto. I also had 6 hockey sticks and the plan was to find some kids to get a little 3 on 3, but all the players were tired from playing two soccer games and walking in the favela. So, we had to pass on the hockey, but I know someday, I will get a street hockey thing going here for the kids and I would love to have the Canadians in some way involved!

I think the team enjoyed my interest and love for their country. Before we left my house, several of the team presented me with a gift. The special act of receiving the “Eagle Feather” from the Canadians is something I will NEVER forget!!!! Now, I need for them to give me instructions on how I should display it as I want to show it the ultimate respect it deserves. I have it put away in a safe place until further instructions.

We continued our walk down the hill and at the bottom, my Capoeira friend Mestre Manel of Acorda Capoeira, was having a demonstration. To me, there are similarities in the First Nations Pow Wow gatherings and Capoeira. It’s a gathering of a cultural form of expression of specific peoples. There are rituals that are respected in both. To me, a Pow Wow and a Capoeira “roda” (or circle) are sacred and there are rules. Daniel Errey, one of the Team Canada coaches decided to participate in the “roda” and did very well for himself. I later found out that he had some experience and trained for sometime.

We moved on to the “Pasarella” or footbridge that crosses over to the Rocinha Sports Complex. The players took more fotos from the bottom of the favela looking up the hill of 54,000 houses. The Sports Complex was closed. The last stop was to see the Academicos da Rocinha Samba School. I explained about the history of samba and how it’s the focus point in many favelas in Rio.

At this point after about 6 hours, I could see the guys were tired of walking and wanted to get food and return to the hostels. I went with them in the van back to the Mellow Yellow Hostel in Copacabana, to eat dinner and then some decided to jump the subway train to party a little in Botofogo. I sat and talked until 2 am with the players and coaches and then had to get home as the next day I had the team from Belgium planning to visit the favela.

Team Canada, I know this will not be the last time I see you guys..I want to thank Wendy and Kailin for making this happen..and for coming and enjoying my community and showing yourselves as professional representatives of your country and cultures. I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU GUYS!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Short History of Rocinha

Ok, I had this request to post a short history of Rocinha IN PORTUGUES...for my Portugues here it is

O breve histórico da Rocinha –

Parte 1

O breve histórico da Rocinha

A comunidade da Rocinha celebra aproximadamente 80 anos de mudanças, lutas e conquistas. Teve origem no final da década de 20 era uma enorme fazenda de café, inicialmente foi povoada por imigrantes portugueses e espanhóis. A forma de subsistência se dava com o cultivo de hortaliças que ofereciam às pessoas que percorriam a estrada da Gávea, como alimentos oriundos de suas rocinhas. Daí o nome da maior favela da América latina.
As terras foram divididas em grandes glebas para consumo agrícola, a maior parte delas pertenciam a CIA portuguesa Cássio Guidon, a bairro Barcelos a CIA Cristo Redentor e o Laboriaux pertencia a uma CIA Francesa. Nesta época alguns guardas sanitários foram instalados para controlar uma infestação de mosquitos que estavam causando febre amarela na barra da tijuca.

Em 1938 a estrada da Gávea foi asfaltada, local onde ocorria o circuito da baratinha. Contudo, acelerou-se o processo de ocupação por pessoas que acreditavam ser as terras públicas. A partir dos anos 50 houve um aumento de migração de nordestinos ao rio, principalmente direcionados para a Rocinha e em 1960 e 1970 houve o segundo surto de expansão, pois o projeto para construção dos túneis Rebouças e dois Irmãos para melhorar a integração da cidade, ofertou para a população opções de emprego. Nas décadas de 50 e 60 se iniciou então as grandes modificações na arquitetura, nos hábitos de vida e nas relações socias desta população predominantemente nordestina.

O descaso do governo com a comunidade, a falta de infra-estrutura, isto é, construção de barracos de papelão, degradação da floresta, crescimento desordenado, distribuição de água através de bicas entre outros problemas, provocou grande indignação, reivindicações e abaixo assinados. Sobretudo a população se organizou e muitas lutas se iniciaram e fizeram parte das conquistas desta comunidade. As lutas de nossos antepassados nos anseia coragem e esperança para dar continuidade por melhores condições de vida.

Parte 2

E foi a partir da década de 70 que a comunidade obteve os primeiros progressos, resultado das reivindicações ao poder público, como a implantação de creches (a veterana foi ASPA), escolas, jornal local, passarela, canalização de valas, agência de correios, região administrativa...Já o posto de saúde foi criado em 1982 com muitos esforços dos moradores, através da iniciativa do padre local que ofertou à comunidade um presente de natal. Então os moradores se mobilizaram para acontecer a canalização do Valão, por conseguinte, criou-se o posto de saúde. Nesse processo algumas famílias que habitavam no Valão foram deslocadas para o Laboriaux, no qual havia 75 casas construídas pela prefeitura, sendo que 2 estas foram fundidas e criada a creche Yacira Frasão.

E a luz? As pessoas contam algumas histórias que parecem lendas. Porém é interessante lembrar, que a primeira luz não foi elétrica. Diz o povo que um cavaleiro atravessava a rocinha acendendo lampiões das pequenas casas. Depois foi implantada cabines de energia que fazia distribuição para as famílias mais próximas. No proceder passou a ter comissões de luzes (bairro Barcelos e Rocinha). A igreja católica em parceria com a pastoral de favelas, pressioram a light para implantar energia elétrica nas comunidades. E a Rocinha foi uma das primeiras beneficiadas.

Em meio a realizações que foram adquiridas com o tempo, a rocinha ainda carecia de equipamentos sócias e culturais suficiente para atender toda a comunidade. Mas os raros que atuam desenvolvem trabalhos significativos. Nesse sentido políticas públicas deveriam resolver as questões crucias que afetam esta população.

Parte 3

A Rocinha têm características peculiares, por exemplo, atualmente encontramos no bairro Barcelos uma grande variedade de comercio e serviço e um grande número de imóveis residências de qualidade. Já em outras áreas, como a vila Macega, encontramos casas de madeira em situação de risco sem infra estrutura, onde diversas famílias vivem em extrema pobreza. Sua população é estimada em 120.000 moradores pelos registros da CIA de energia elétrica, em 62.000 pelo último censo oficial e em mais de 250.000 segundo os moradores.

A comunidade teve um grande avanço, pois recebeu um projeto do governo federal, cujo nome, Rocinha mais legal, que visa, legitimar os imóveis com a legalização do terreno. Através da ONG Bento Rubião. Sobretudo, receberá um novo projeto para reurbanização que trará grande beneficio para os moradores melhorando o espaço de convivência.

E essa a Rocinha.

: )

Zezinho da Rocinha!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sit Down, this is going to be a long one!

fotos: Mike do Skate with the board I gave to him and a foto of the Puzzle project being done by Ryan J Goode, professor of Geography is San Diego.

God helps those who help themselves…this is a long one..

My mother used to say this to me. I am not sure how much god has to play in all this so I interpret it as “you can’t just talk the talk, you need to walk the walk.”

After reflecting on the years I spent abroad, coming back to Rocinha, I am very thankful. Rocinha has given me so much. I made a decision to start helping the community back in 2004 when I started raising money for Two Brothers Foundation, a non profit here in Rocinha. I have since moved onto other projects, but that was the start. I am now involved with many different projects of different sizes. I feel like the octopus with 12 arms, each representing something I am involved in.

My website is helping to make things happen here: My website has brought so many good things happening here in Rocinha. I have had the opportunity to meet some great people from all over the world. But like anything, success (not necesessarily monetary) brings people who question my intentions and who are jealous. These are mostly people from foreign countries. There are enough people here in Rocinha who know the work I am doing and it is not just about “favela tours”. It suprises me to see foreigners questioning my work. These are people who are staying in favelas or volunteering in favelas. I think they think that somehow I am exploiting my own community. One person was doing research on favela tourism. The other was working for Catalytic Communities which is a NGO working in several favelas. I guess that because they are staying in a favela, there thought of the favela tour as exploitive. I can understand if I was from the outside, but I am from here and LIVE here. Any money I earn is used here in the favela. My money does not leave here. I buy everything from here. I am a active participant in the favela economy. I will write more below about what things and projects I am working on here.

Please respect my work: I receive many emails from students who are studying various things about favelas. Most are great people but I have recently met some who expect the world of me. They send me all these questions to answer for their research and they want a “complete” tour….all for FREE! I live in the favela because I don’t have a lot of money. They expect all of this for nothing? Then you are either cheap or you don’t really value my work. Exploitation of the favelado. I am tired of this. I am not stupid and I am not here to be taken advantage of. My work is good and it has value. So, please respect my right to earn my living.

Thank You Y: I returned to Rocinha becase I felt I could more to help the community. The idea of the website is to promote Rocinha. Anybody who takes the time to look through and read the 40+ pages or so can see that its not just a tour website. My website involves many people from the community. This was how I wanted my site to stand out from the others. Yvonne of Toronto, Canada, I need to thank a great deal for coordinating the design and content for the website. She first came to Rocinha in 2002, she loved to dance and the samba culture here and decided to return each year after. Two years ago she wanted an intensive, complete tour of the favela. This took 3 days, about 8 hours each day. She wanted to know everything about the place. So, I gave her the tour. After seeing my work, she wanted to help. I did not have money and I knew nothing about websites. She offered to help for no cost, so I told her she will always have a place to stay in Rocinha. I thought this the best as I had a extra room that she could stay.

My life in the US: My mother, who is American, thought I may have more opportunities in the US and this is why I was there to see if this was true. Many people ask about my living in the US. When I was living in the US my quality of life was actually worse because of my living conditions. Because of lack of money and only a part time job, I had to resort to some “illegal” living situations. One place I was living was in the basement of a nightclub. I rented the small space for $150 a month. I told the people that I was going to use the space as storage. By American standards, nobody would ever imagine somebody living in this space. They knew I was a dj, so I think they thought I was using the space for dj equipment and to practice. The club was open until 3 am so I never had a problem coming or going. The floors were made of cement and it was only a room, no kitchen services or bathroom. My “bed” was a door supported on bricks and several layers of blankets. I could not afford a mattress at the time. I had to go to the restaurant next door to use the bathroom and I also got a cheap membership at a gym to be able to shower. To wash clothes I had to walk four block from my place. Another place I stayed was a monastery run by monks. Again it was just a room. It was simply furnished but I had to contribute 15 hours a week of work to stay there. I also squatted in abandoned buildings sleeping in fear that somebody might “jack” me or my stuff (not that I had a lot of stuff). The difference is here in Rocinha, I have stability with family, a good circle of friends and people in the community who support my work. The whole idea about living in the US was to see life there. There was no money tree or American dream for me, only struggles and trying to survive. I think living there and having those experiences made me stronger but also made me realize how good I had it in Rocinha. But I do not regret any of it. Its part of life experiences.

Honesty about my work: Most who contact me, want a more personal visit to the favela. I do not mislead people with the tours. I do let my guests know that they could come here on their own if they wanted but would probably get lost or not know where the points of interest are. Rocinha is a huge place. Some do come back for funk parties or just to hang out and eat. Feel free to come into Rocinha on your own but stay on the main street and leave your camera at home. The media is the culprit for spreading fears about favelas. So, for the average foreigner who does not have contacts, who wants to visit the favela, how else are they to do that? What truths are they given about favelas? So, this is why they take a tour. It is important to know that depending on the favela, it is not advisable to just go walking in on your own. There are some favelas that are dangerous and do not receive tourists. Rocinha is different in that we receive over 200 visitors a day. Daniel and Amanda from Stockholm Sweden not only took a tour but came back several times just to visit, eat and go shopping. I have a rule, the first time, guests pay because it is my work. The following times I was with them, there was no fee. You return as a friend, who respects me and the community.

Poverty tours? People ask me about “poverty tourism” or “poverty tours”. I am not showing that. Yes, favelas are poor, but poor compared to what? India, Africa? I had one visitor from Egypt tell me that Rocinha reminded them of back home in a middle class area. Rocinha is a poor working class area, the focus being on “working class”. I am here to provide a social and cultural experience, that focuses on the good things. Everybody already knows about the bad and I don’t feel it is important to reinforce negative and sometimes exaggerated media stories.

I don’t even like the word “tour”, because it really does not describe what I do or offer. When creating the website and the name, I was confuse as to what names to use but Yvonne told me that I need the word “tour” in my website address otherwise nobody would find me. Hopefully in reading the website, the informed person can then make decisions based on what they read. And if they want to know more, they can always contact me.

People’s Perceptions: Just because I am a tour guide here does not mean that I am making lots of money. It is now low season, so work is little. The month of April I only made $430R. One month I can make this or I can make $1200R a month. I never know. When I returned to Rocinha, many people had assumptions that I had or made a lot of money in the US. To give you a idea, the average house here in Rocinha costs about $30,000R (about $17,000US). My dream is to someday have a house that I own. I still have not reached that dream. Most people by my age here in the favela own their places, while I still rent. So this should give you a idea of my financial situation. I am not starving but there are many people who live here in the favela that have and make much more money than I do.

The challenges of outdoor tourism are, if it rains, I can not make tours here because its miserable and the place looks more ugly and gray. But people have this idea in their head that if you are a tour guide, you must be making a lot of money, because you are working with tourists. If you are a older established tour company then you will be making much more. I am still new guy out there. People need to understand this. My website is only one year old. I started this FAVELA ADVENTURES to expose favela culture to the outside world and to dispel the myths about the people who live here. If I am able to create a job for myself and others, then even better. I have always believed that people who live in the favela, should be the tour guides.

Employing Guides from Rocinha: this has always been the first priority for me. I think it is the right thing to do. Again it involves WE who live here. At this time, I have three guides available who are all from Rocinha. Washington, who was raised in Roupa Suja, is my best and most reliable guide. He speaks English perfectly and with confidence. Melodia, born and raised on Rua 4 (4th street). His English is getting better everyday. It helps that his girfriend only speaks English to him. Melodia is also one of the instructors from ACORDA Capoeira which is one of the cultural programs on my website. Tomas right now is in school but after he completes, I will be working with him. He is 21 years old, from Vila Cruzeiro, a part of Rocinha, but lived in the USA for some years. And he also speaks English perfectly. I will only hire guides from here in the favela. (see fotos of Melodia and Washington)

Helping programs in the community: I started helping people here in Rocinha when I found out about this school who taught English. This was in 2004. This was before my tour guide days. I was djing and making art to live. But I saw this project needed help, so I would donate a portion of what I earned djing and with the t-shirts to this program. It was called Two Brothers Foundation. I dj’ed a party at a fundraiser for Two Brothers in December of 2008 at the Loca Luna Lounge in Atlanta. Through working with Two Brothers, I met Viviana (Vivi) Rodrigues, the president of Two Brothers at that time, and she introduced me to a friend of hers, Alexandre who lives in Sao Paulo. Alexandre has a football program for favela youth in Diadema. He needed equipment for the kids. I was able to talk to a guy in San Francisco about donating used or old football things. Sunset Soccer, is a store owned by Toby Rapport. Toby loves Brasil and football. He has been to Brasil many times with teams who are competing. He currently teaches football programs all over San Francisco. So, Toby donated footballs and uniforms to the kids. I packaged and sent them on to Alexandre’s project. These two projects were the beginning of my helping people. You can contact Viviana at and Alexandre in Sao Paulo at: Alexandre has a link his program go to Facebook and type in "IBCFOFICIAL ONG" "Crianca Feliz" is the name of the project.

Tio Lino: In 2009, I parted ways with Two Brothers. I found a project here that called out to me, it was Tio Lino’s Mundo de Arte in the Valao (a area of Rocinha). I have always loved to draw and design t-shirts. So, meeting Tio was one of the best things that happened to me. I asked around to many friends here about Tio and not one person had anything negative to say about him. Tio is about 60 years old and is born and raised here in Rocinha in the house that he currently uses for his art school. He has been teaching kids for 30 years. He used to be a lifeguard down at Posto 13 on Sao Conrado beach. Now that he is retired, he dedicates his time to the kids. I was not sure how I could help and decided just to hang out and help Tio teach the kids art. When I started doing the tours, I asked Tio if there is anything he needed. Even though I live in the favela, I still wanted to give money to a project that is deserving. Tio later suggested that I could help with art materials. Kids needed paints, brushes, glue, markers, scissors etc. So, I started buying materials and giving a portion of what I made to his school. Many tourists also make donations of art materials as well. Tio is one person in the community that I look up to and admire. In December, Tio stepped on something sharp that cut his foot. Soon after, his foot became infected and several of his toes turned black. He had gangrene. In January he went into the hospital to have half his foot removed. Tio’s art school was closed for almost 4 months. He did not return to the school until the end of April. I was not able to bring visitors by the school because it was closed. I really wanted to show them the project I support but how could I? Tio is back, but he is still in a cast and walking using crutches. We are all happy Tio is back.

Mike do Skate: Mike is another guy I admire here. He is about 40 and sells beer at all the parties here. Mike has no use of his legs so his transportation is his skateboard. I saw a program on television with this guy Raimiro who has only one leg. Raimiro’s show is about him taking part in activities that most disabled would not do. I have seen Raimiro skydive, bungee jump and ski. In his regular life, Raimiro uses a artificial leg. But this show was to be different. Raimiro wanted to learn how to get around on a skateboard, so they filmed the show here in Rocinha. Mike taught him how to ride. At the end of the show Mike gave his skateboard to Raimiro. When I saw this I thought it would be nice if I could design something nice for Mike. He had always been asking me about t-shirts and designs. But for this, I wanted it to be different. So, I got a board with wheels and trucks. I stripped off the design that was already on the board and painted Mike sitting on his skateboard holding a beer. Added the words “Mike do Skate” (Skateboard Mike). When I returned to Rocinha, I saw Mike one day selling beer, so I went home and got the board for him. When I gave it to him, he was shocked. He thought he was not deserving of this, but I told him he was. A few days later I saw him and asked him why he was not riding the board I gave him. His response was “Its like a trophy, I can not ride that.” I guess if he really needs it, he will ride it. (see foto above in title of blog entry)

Rebecca and the rooftop project: I met Rebecca several times when I was in San Francisco at parties. She is university student who later contacted me about interest in Rocinha. She came to visit Rio July 2009 with her friend Luciano who is a portugues instructor in San Francisco. Rebecca contacted me through email about wanting a tour of the favela with Luciano, who is from Brazil. I am surprised because I rarely get Brazilians who have interest to tour favelas. Well, I met Rebecca and Luciano and after their visit, Rebecca told me that she would like to return to make a project here. I told that I would help her get the contacts to make her project happen. She went back to the US to study and was able to get a grant to make her project here. Her idea is to teach people in the favela how to make rooftop gardens. When she arrives I will make sure she can complete her project. Rebecca’s website: Contact Rebecca here : (see foto Rebecca & Luciano)

Money as a tool: Some people get strange when the topic of money is brought up, especially in poor areas, because there is not much of it. I believe money is a tool that can affect change and be used to help others. Unfortunately we all need it to survive and it measures our “work” value in society. I want to get money but not just for myself. Because with money, I can then make things happen. When I returned to Rio, I wanted to link with programs that could benefit people. The first contact I made was with Casa 579 in Santa Teresa, a guesthouse. I told Teresa who manages the guesthouse that I wanted to help a program that they support. Within 15 minutes walk there is a small favela called Julio Otoni, which Casa 579 supports. When Casa refers me people, I give a portion to the Julio Otoni project, which is a small community center in the favela. These places help me and in turn I can help them. Their website is:

Painting houses: I heard about Haas and Hahn through the media. Two Dutch guys painting in favela communities. The first was Vila Cruzeiro where they painted a boy flying a kite that covered several houses and the koi fish design near a large stairway going up the community. And now painting houses in Santa Marta. I am a artist and loves anything to do with art here in the favela.

I went out to watch some of the painting they were doing. Coral was their sponsor who contributed paint and uniforms to the residents who helped in the project. About 28 men were able to paint about 35 houses mostly in the main square at the bottom of the favela.
I returned one day to see the last days of painting and they invited me to a party celebrating the project that would be held about 2 weeks later. I decided that I was so moved by the beauty and colors of the houses, that I wanted to do something. I had some t-shirts done up in honor of Santa Marta “Uma Comunidade Linda”. When I went back for the party I gave out the shirts for free to the painters who took part in the project. I don’t know why I did this, but it felt good to see people happy and proud of their community. For more information on favela painting and how you can help:

Blessings from the North: In 2008 and 2009, I had opportunities to talk to many universities and students about favelas and the culture of life here. Through the internet, I found this website . I noticed that they helped favela communities here in Rio. I cannot remember the first contact or who made it. All I know is that Lauri Francis, the creator of this NGO came to hear me speak at NYU (New York University) in downtown Manhattan. She traveled over an hour just to meet me. I was honored for her to think of me as having this value. She is a woman who is working full time, going to school to get her doctorate in education, and she is running this NGO.

Her project helps teachers with materials and support in the classroom. This is especially needed here in the favelas. She began her work in another favela and had interest to visit Rocinha. She wanted a tour but also wanted to spend some time here and see some of the projects I am working with. I first introduced her to Tio Lino because I know he can use the help. Liliane Smith from Holland and Lauri, both helped to build and create a small library in Tio’s studio. Lauri also bought many books and materials to help the kids there. Lauri has other plans to help Tio and I to raise money to repair the roof of the studio that was destroyed by the heavy rain in April.

The next week, Lauri returned to Rocinha to look into another project that I thought needed help. Viviana who used to work at Two Brothers, teaches pre-school full time at Escola Moranguinhos. Lauri met Vivi and they both made a connection. Lauri returned to Escola Moranguinhos and brought many books with her. It makes me happy that I am able to connect people who can offer help to those who are deserving. Viviana and Tio Lino do not have computers. But for more information about Tio Lino’s Mundo de Arte, Escola Moranguinhos or blessings4brazil, you can contact Lauri at

Puzzle Connections: It’s amazing how connections with people work. In june of 2009, Ryan Goode, a teacher at San Diego State University contacted me through Facebook about visiting his university to give a talk to the students about favelas. He wanted me to come in October. I went, gave the talk and stayed in touch. He was nice to show me around the city and we ate at this Italian restarant that I will never forget. The best spaghetti and meatballs I ever had. He contacted me soon after saying he was coming to Rio to study portugues and do some university work. He needed a place to stay and he wanted to stay in Rocinha. So, he stayed with me for two months. We were on my roof overlooking the community one day and I made the comment that it would be interesting to have a “quebra cabeca” or a puzzle made with a fotograph of Rocinha. With the density of the houses I thought it would be a great challenge for people who like puzzles. Ryan agreed. My idea would be to make such a puzzle to sell, but to raise money to help with Tio Lino’s damaged roof. Part of the profits would go directly to Tio. The other part of the money would go to the costs of developing the puzzle. I think this kind of puzzle would be a great learning tool for students. So, I contacted a friend of mine Tee Cardaci who is a web designer to hook up with Ryan to build a small website about our fundraising efforts. The site is in the development stages and I hope it will be up soon. All I want out of all of this is just one of the puzzles. I will let you know how this goes as the project moves forward. If you want to contact Ryan about this his email is:

Surf favela: One of the guys I work with is a surf instructor. He is Ricardo “Bocao” Ramos. He has been teaching surfing to the kids in Rocinha for 22 years. He used to be homeless and lived on the beach. He was a surf bum. But as he got older things changed for the better. As he was surfing he met guys on the beach that would give him broken surfboards. He would fix these boards and then give them to kids and teach them how to surf. His project became a realty and a full NGO after getting interest from Jack Johnson and several professional surfers. Jack Johnson and the Surf Rider Foundation came to Rocinha in 2007. This gave “Bocao” more exposure to his program of teaching favela youth how to surf. He has over 65 students enrolled in his programs. His non profit is called “Surf Escola Rocinha” and is located in the front of the new sports complex just outside of Rocinha. I often receive visitors to my website that want to learn surfing. So, I will set them up with “Bocao”. The last guest Bocao taught was Michael Kranz from Germany. This past April a brother and sister from Vancouver both took lessons from him and they did not even know how to swim. The guests paid Bocao directly for the surf lessons and I do not take a commissions fee. I saw Bocao teach before I decided to work with him. I wanted somebody who I trust and who is good at what they do. Bocao has been great according to the guests who wrote me after to say how much they enjoyed learning to surf with Bocao. This August 31, I will be Dj’ing a party for the surf school to help promote their work. If you are in Rio at the time, come on by. If you want more information about Bocao’s program or you would like to learn to surf, contact me and I wil set up a meeting with him.

There are some other projects still in the talking stages, one is about bringing solar energy to rocinha , starting a kids road or indoor hockey program, and there are others but I will write about them as they get closer to action being taken.

One last thing, I want to mention is this…

Perdeu… perdeu!!!!! These are the words often said by a robber to his victim in Rio. They say this as they are taking your money or name it..they says this..
My idea started after reading this blog about my friend Leandro, who had his backpack stolen. I know Leandro personally and he is class A people. He is a university student, a photographer and currently has a job working with the PAC (slum upgrading) project here in Rocinha. He also lives in Rocinha very close to my house.
As I was reading his blog, I was saddened by the thought of him losing his passion of photography. I know if I was robbed of my passion, I would be depressed too. The story goes is that he was in Barra de Tijuca (which is a rich neighborhood) and he was on the sidewalk when a motorcycle came out of nowhere. The robber stuck a gun in his face and told him to give the backpack. So, my friend gave him the backpack. It’s ironic that in the favela this kind of thing would never happen.
Leandro had already asked me to Dj his party as his birthday is on the 16 of October. I have enough time to put my plan into action. Leandro has no idea but I will be buying him a new camera. I think he will be very happy. I made some money in the last two months and I put savings away for this. I want nothing from this, only the satisfaction that I was able to help somebody who needed it. The person who is helping me with this is Rick Echavarria of New York. He has returned to New York and I have given him the money to buy the camera. Cameras are more than double the price here in Brazil. Rick will be returning to Rocinha in September before my friends birthday. I invited Rick to Leandro’s party as I want him to see Leandro’s face when he opens the box to see a new camera. And then he can go back to his passion of Photography. Leandro’s website is: its in Portugues, but I guess if you need translate it, google should be able to help. To contact Rick about this project, his email is:

As you can see, I am very involved in the community and not just a tour guide. I have always said, the Favela is about WE not ME!!!

If you have questions about any of the projects I have listed here, feel free to contact them.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

BOPE/UPP and the taking over of Favelas

As many of you know, because of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics arriving here., the city is trying to clean up the image of Rio being a dangerous place. Statistics say that about 5-6 people a day are killed in Rio, this with a population of about 6.5 million. Most, if not all, are usually people from the favelas involved in drugs or innocent bystanders in these communities.

The UPP are supposed to be the “new” police force, a branch of the Policia Militar, who are to installed in the favelas. The idea is to get rid of the guns and violence. They know that they cannot eliminate drugs totally but they want the guns gone. There are many problems that come with this. Most communities of corse want guns and violence gone, but the problem stems in trust of the police. Favela residents, me included have no liking for the police becase of what they represent. To us they are corrupt and abusive people.

We have experienced so many years of abuse from the police even back when Brazil had the military dictatorship. Its very difficult after years of mistrust to all of a sudden expect the people to embrace the “new” police forces coming to “pacify” our communities. The police have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of the people and it will not happen overnight.

The way the police overtake a favela is they first send in the Elite Forces (BOPE) with their big skull, an armoured vehicles that drives through the favelas intimidating the residents, children included, by threatening to shoot them if they are on the street. They usually come in shooting. I think of them like trigger happy mercenaries that just want to destroy any living thing. The police usually announce they are coming beforehand to give the drug traffickers the opportunity to leave without incident. With most of the recent take overs, it has been fairly simple for the BOPE to come in and then after the UPP’s (Police Pacifying Units) are installed in the community. I often wonder if this is a temporary thing and if after the Olympics, will they leave and open up opportunity for the traffickers to return?

Once the UPP’s are there, their job is to show a presence in the community. In Santa Marta in Botofogo which has been under UPP control for over a year, there have been problems. When I went there to visit a friend, I spoke to him about the installation of the police and he felt, not much had changed in regards to them being there. Yes, the guns were gone, but drugs still were there. The safety net and security of the community that the traffickers provided was gone. People now in the favela were experiencing petty crime in the favela like house break ins and bicycles being stolen. These things did not happen when the traffickers were in control. These things are happening becase there is no punishment becase the police to not POLICE the favela. When I was there, they sat at the bottom of the hill in their car or were sleeping. I saw NO police walking through the favela trying to create a sense of dialog with the residents. My friend told me that not only petty crime but police abusing residents for no reason is still common.

I think most people, including the rich have a dislike for the police because they don’t do anything other than try to hustle bribes from mostly honest people. When I lived in the USA, I never saw this kind of thing. The police tried to police, but here they rarely do anything unless there is a cash payoff for them. This is becase they get paid so little. The police military starting salary is $1200 reais a month. I wonder where these guys live on this salary? Favelas perhaps? No wonder they extort bribes from innocents.

I live here in the favela and I fear the police more than the drug traffickers. There is something wrong with that when a law abiding citizen takes more comfort in feeling safe with a traffickers versus a police officer. There is something very wrong here. But this is our reality in the favelas of Rio.

Right now the favela is tranquil and quiet. We still have the PAC projet going on here which is why I think nothing big will happen yet. But after the government sponsored slum upgrading projet (PAC) is finished, I expect the UPP’s to make their move here. They want to clean up any tourist areas especially in the South Zone here in Rio.

It will be very interesting to see how things “go down” here in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio with the implantation of these UPP units and if it happens. Who knows maybe the traffickers will make some sort of deal with the police. Hard to say as we can only wait and see.

For me, I am happy the way it is now as “the devil you know is better than the devil you DON’T know”