Favela life.


I had been told on Monday that Tuesday afternoon would play host to a party for the children of the community. I arrived at the favela on Tuesday morning prepared only for what I had expected to be an easy and relaxing morning preparing the community centre for the afternoon’s celebrations. But, I was met on my way into the favela by one of the local project coordinators who asked for my help to move materials that were needed to construct the house on the plot that I had assisted in clearing at the beginning of last week. How could I say no? An opportunity to prove that the white Englishman wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and to work hard in the hot Brazilian conditions? I think it was equally an opportunity to prove all of the above to myself, and it was certainly one of the most physically demanding days I’ve endured.
We made our way through the narrow and dark corridors of the favela until we came to an open square, from which a somewhat intimidating stack of well over a thousand large clay bricks stood in front of us. Dressing in my party attire was hardly the best idea, and I knew as soon as I stepped out of the door in the morning that I had probably shot myself in the foot by doing so. Carrying 1200 bricks bare chested and bare handed was not quite my idea of a party, but I came to understand so much more about life in the a favelas and how much this house meant to the family that would be moving into it after it’s completion. Two of the family’s daughters, aged 15 and 17 years old, helped us throughout the morning carrying almost as many bricks and getting just as covered in orange brick dust as I was. I kept making comparisons between English children at a similar age and the children of the favela. Some may point out some technical illegalities in the he use of child labour, which rightfully and humanely exist most prominently in Economically Developed countries such as the United Kingdom. Those same people would also point out that such laws should also exist in Brazil, and they do, as it is illegal to obtain employment under the age of 16. Though, with such a troubled history and vast amounts of poverty it is unsurprising that there are still over 3.7 million working minors in the country. Anyway, the point I want to make and what I had learnt that morning is that these two young women wanted to help. I for one, at 15 or 16 years old was well known by my family to dodge and avoid any form of hard work, certainly in terms of physical labour. I seem to remember believing that mowing the lawn was a task too dangerous and far too physically challenging to give up an hour of my time for. Maybe I’m wrong in describing the children as ‘wanting’ to work with us in carrying the bricks. Maybe they felt it was the least that they felt they could do after receiving help from the volunteer organisation in the payment and construction of their house. Maybe it was just expected of them, which would contribute a degree of reasoning toward the continued existence of working minors in Brazil. Whichever underlying motivation it is, they helped us with a smile, aided in overcoming the language barrier with laughter and made a hard and painful morning into something enjoyable that I will never forget.
From afar, the favelas may appear beautiful in the foreground of a sunset or in the background of a photograph of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), but the appearance and smells of the favelas cannot be sugar coated. The close knit communities however, are something that I have never experienced before. Children playing in the streets together, music can be heard from all areas of the favela, and most amazingly almost everyone you walk past is either smiling or laughing, a feeling particularly prominent amongst the young children. Less is most certainly more in the favela, whilst the simple joys are definitely enjoyed to their upmost capabilities.
The significant use of modern appliances and technology here has also surprised me, though I am unsure as to whether the image that I had imprinted in my mind of favela life may have been to naive to depend upon. Most shacks and houses are connected to electricity, through a terrifically hectic network of overhead electricity cables and telephone lines that supply the power to televisions and lighting amongst other things. I’m quite certain I heard several families listening to Radio 1 earlier in the week, and I’m certain that British and American popular music is just as enjoyed here as anywhere else.



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