Monday, July 10, 2006

Favelados- Invisible people

This is by far the most difficult aspect of Brasil to write about. Its a little long, sorry, but I had to get it out. If you read this and are interested about more of the dynamics of favela life, City of God (linked below) is a good film to watch.

I heard a lot about Favelas (Brasilian shantytowns) before coming to Brasil. Infact it was the favelas that frightened me most when deciding to go to Brasil. 1/3 of Rio's people live in the favelas on $175/mo. to feed on average, a family of eight. Favelas are not public housing projects. Generations ago the poor with no place to go went in packs taking brick and clay to public parks and built makeshift homes. Upon the mountains as you sit on the wealthy Ipanema beach you see the brick buildings built upon one another rising on the hills in the distance.

Each favela is a mini unofficial government with its own leaders that the government does not control. We visited two favelas in Rio and our professor had to sign treaties with the favela leaders to allow us in. The trip was optional because favelas can be violent and dangerous. Entering without a peace compact, you can be assured your odds of leaving alive are close to nil.

Despite the violence, favelas have complex laws and consequences. For example in one favela if two women are caught fighting their heads are shaved. If a husband beats his wife he is beat. However if the crimes occur outside the favela, the criminal has a safe haven for reprieve within the confines of the favela. If a criminal comits a crime in the city and then escapes to the favela the police can't just go in to arrest. They must report to the leader who they want and only if the leader allows, they can enter. If in the unusual circumstance the police forcibly enter, the favelados have a firework sytem set up that you can hear late at night as each resident lights a firecracker as the police drive by and the fireworks travel up the hills as the criminal can run knowing the path of the police cars.

The dwellers of the favelas are not considered citizens of the country that they have lived in for hundreds of years. They are the equivalent of undocumented migrant workers in the US, but they are Brasilian. The millions who live there are not counted. Their lands do not exist on official maps. There are no utilities such as water, electricity and sewer for them. (though curiously they have them) How do you expect someone to care about the robbery or theft they commit when they know that they are people who don't count. What lengths might you turn to in your desperation to be seen?

I taught in low income schools in the US. They had much less than their counterparts a few street over in a better zipcode. Yes they had an unequal playing feild with not enough resources and not enough opportunity. But the key is "not enough". They had something. I had no idea what "not enough" was until Brasil. The children of the favelas do not have a chance. At least my students have school. At least they have scholarship opportunties and loans for the truly motivated. Sure its not fair but my goodness at least there is some hope however faint.

The children of the favelados have no hope. It does not really trouble most. As one Brasilian student said in class "we need someone to clean our houses. I don't want to." In Brasil, to go to college you have to take an expensive entrance exam. You have to study- a lot meaning it requires time away from working to sustain your family. Lets say you pass- no loans. no scholarsips. Maybe a partial one but how does that help someone with nothing? I asked some of the leaders of the NGO's (Non government organizations) we visited and asked them about the work they were doing and how many of the hundreds of kids they go through how many go to college. Ten years, 100's of children and they could only recall two.

At the NGO's we visited I met children of the favelas. They were found sleeping on the streets and brought to the organizations where they have beds, food, and basic education. They are taught skills and are given love. It's amazing how just a little care to a child is like water to a wilting flower. The children of the favelas are the most incredible children I have ever met in my life. They are beautiful. Joyful. Gifted. And that is what hurt the most.

I cried after seeing the children. The little boy with the flower apron washing dishes and laughing as I took his picture. The girls in pink tutus crowding around me and asking questions. The little boys sitting at the computers in the NGO, particularly the little sweetheart with huge plastic glasses magnified to make his eyes seem wide eyed and curious. If life had been different, if circumstances.. its a crime in itself to not allow children with so much intelligence and desire and drive to not have the chance to rise above their cirumstances.

For now, they are invisible people.


Jane said...

I don't even know what to say. How fortunate we are and how much we take for granted...Please keep writing. I will be reading and learning.

mystic-soul said...

One of the most worthwhile post you ever wrote... I read twice !!

Baraka said...

Salaam 'alaykum Aisha,

The great disparities between rich and poor in developing nations such as Brazil is heart-wrenching. When we think of poverty in the US it is absolutely not the same thing at all.

The landless people's movement in Brazil is trying to gain rights & land access and there were great hopes with Lula, many of which have not materialized.

I can only pray that the favelados fare better...


Baraka said...

PS - Beautiful photos - the one of the four kids is just amazing.

Baji said...

I had no idea- thanks for taking the time to share. The invisibiity factor is so interesting, I must go google and find out more.

Aisha said...

Jane- yes its so true. i didnt fully realize how much i had until I saw people with so little. $175 to feed a family of 8, and I perhaps spent that amount in a short week in Rio. It really gives you perspective.

Mystic, wow that's high praise. Thanks :)

Baraka I remember you knew stuff about the movement. I remember you told me about that before I left for Brasil. Lula was the great big hope, but like many politicians it was more hype and little action. Seeing brasil makes me long to see Pakistan because I know such disparities are there too and I'm curious to compare the two.

Baji I had found some great links on this in Brasil but in writing this I couldn't seem to find them. If I do, I will share them.

rehtwo said...

Thank you for this post and the pictures that go with it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read I do not understand how they can have utilities if the government isnt helping them though.

Aisha said...

Rehtwo, thanks:)

Anon- according to what I learned they steal it. Kind of like in the US you can steal cable if you are so inclined. Similarly they do this. It makes ense as most of the blue collar service people are favelados so they know the hookup to help their people...

Maleeha said...

amazing. thank you so much for sharing with us. i knew nothing about the issue and i'm really grateful that you've enlightened us.

and yes, go to Pakistan and compare. your heart will never be the same.

Shabina said...

this reminds me so much of the shanties that people in India live in (i've never been in one, but read about them in A Fine Balance).

I agree with you, Baraka, that poverty in the U.S. def doesn't compare - but I always get wary when politicians say that, as if that's an excuse to overlook how crappy the poor in this country have it.

ya heard?

Zak said...

Aisha you've been tagged !

Baraka said...

Salaam 'alaykum Shabina & Aisha,

Aisha: Pakistan will be an eye-opener for you - amazing beauty in people and landscape, and the direct opposite in both too.

Shabina: Yeah, I feel the same. Just because it's a different poverty makes it no less our (or the politicians') responsibility to eradicate.

I'm more apt to talk about the difference with people who've never traveled to a developing nation - they can't even comprehend it because it makes complaining about the mall not carrying the shirt you covet into real perspective.

I wish more Americans traveled - we'd be a better nation for it.


Tee said...

They're all so beautiful.

I can imagine how heavy this weighed on your heart, because even after reading just your entry about them, I'm finding it difficult to speak what I'm feeling.

These kinds of things make me question religion. Not just Christianity - just God in general. The unfairness of it. The guilt of being born in the US. Why me? I didn't do anything to deserve being born an American, and they did nothing to not deserve better circumstances.

And yet here I am.... and there they are.

May God forgive me for being one of "little faith" - but really, I'd question the size of someone's heart who didn't wonder these things.

This entry was worth waiting for. I love how you include interesting facts I wouldn't find out anywhere else, like, the law about women who are caught fighting have their heads shaved.

I can't understand why Brazil doens't at least include them as citizens though? This is very strange. Maybe it is the government's way of cleaning their hands of them.

Thanks for posting this, Aisha. I really enjoyed it.

Aisha said...

Maleeha, yes I am sure Pakistan would alter me. I can still remember (I was only 8) the hands of a woman reaching up to the bus I sat in. She was wearing rags and holding a crying infant in her arms.. her outstretched hand stayed with me forever.

Shabs would you recommend "A fine balance"?

Zak, Tagged you say?? Its been a while since I've been tagged. How exciting :) Shall do it soon! :)

Baraka traveling really does giev a person more perspective. I mean, even the poor here (your average poor) have running awter and toilets. This is middle class living in some countries. Its amazing how its all relative.

Aisha said...

Tee, thanks for your input on the post. You wrote this:

"I can't understand why Brazil doens't at least include them as citizens though? This is very strange. Maybe it is the government's way of cleaning their hands of them."

I wanted to respond to that. I will email you some articles on this (b/c I am afraid to surf too much at work. Yes they erally dont want to be bothered (the Brasilian gov't). Infact not too long ago they had a secret mission where police were told to kill street children. They were causing high crime so kill them. This was huge adn went on for at least ten years. Children sleeping on the streets, dead the next. Government ordered. People knew but were relieved to be eradicating crime. Then what happened was that a politicians son was mistaken for a poor kid and was murdered. Well suddenly there was a problem with what was going on and it was "officially" put to an end. Did you also know that they sterilize women after having babies. Brasilian law students in our class justified this by saying that "well if the poor keep having more babies they will outnumber everyone else" i guess a resource allocation argument. I was INFURIATED. What about planned parenthood classes? birthcontrol? Financial classes to teach them how much they can save if they plan? For the favelados children are the retirement plan. They will care for the parents when they age. Did you know that FORTY percent (40%) of the women of child bearing age in Rio are sterilized. The doctors just swoop in during a C-section they just happened to NEED to do and go ahead and tie up the woman as they scoop the baby out. Its awful.

Tee said...

Wow - yeah I'd be interested in the articles when you have time to send them... Everyone knows what goes on in China as far the "1 baby law" - I had never heard of this happening in Brazil. I totally agree with you (that they should be educating people on birth control, budgeting, etc.)

The poor people in many countries are of the same thinking - the more children you have, the better off financially you will be when you're old. Culture says the kids will take care of you. It seems selfish but I guess that is how they survive.

Shabina said...

Aisha - it's my favorite book in the whole wide world! I got one of my co-workers to read it, and now his wife is reading it b/c he enjoyed it so much.

*great* stuff :)

Shabina said...

er... favorite *fiction*, i should say. hehe

Amani said...

I love the pictures; they are such beautiful children. Having a child myself makes me see things differently. I don't know what I would do if my child had no chance to advance in the world. That would be so frustrating.

Aisha said...

Tee, I dont even know if its a bad thing to have your children as a retirement plan. It's a culture thing I guess. In a collectivisit soceity where its "welfare of the group" mentality that is the norm. And for the poor, its really a matter of survival. The parents put all into their childrne. When the children can they help their parents back.

Shabina it will go on my wishlist tonight then :) thanks for the tip

Amani, yes, i mean all parents want their children to hav ea better future. I can't imagine what it must be like to know they won't... btw is that your baby in the picture by your comment? So cute!

momyblogR said...

I knew this post was coming and I also knew it would bring tears.

I'm just thoughts on the subject are many, I just can't seem to get them together. Those children are amazing. Their smiles are captivating and the eyes are filled with so much....

That thought of only two out of HUNDREDS getting out to experience life and the rest not standing a chance is overwhelming to me. Heartbreaking!

How can these people and more importantly, children be invisible when they are in such plain sight?

Maybe I'll just pack up my family and move there. Talk to the leaders and they will naturally agree to help form all the wonderful things needed to give these kids a fighting chance. There will be schools, youth activities, worship centers, and grants for any child to further their education if they so desired. AND, there will be no one sleeping in the street....everyone will have a clean bed at night.

OK....THAT is just my pipedream. But really, WHY can't that happen?

Great post!

Amani said...

Yes, That's my baby!

Aisha said...

Mommybloggr, bless you for your beautiful heart, you know how sometimes you can write and in your mind you know there will be someone who will be reading it and you almost write it with them in mind? I felt that way when I wrote this, knowing you would read it. It is so sad. You hear about kids in other countries without a chance. But to see that they erally dont have ac hance. It breaks you up. I mean to really stop and think about it like you did... its such a shame. such wasted potential. its criminal really. but what can you do? Teachers always loved the refugee students in my school b/c they are so respectufl of the teacher and so motivated to learn. THIS IS WHY. They dont take it for granted. They know what a privelege and a blessing it is to be educated and to have a chance.

Amani, very cute :)

Mia said...

Fantastic post Aisha. Beautiful.

momyblogR said...

I think maybe it haunts you for the same reason it haunts me. I thought the very SAME thing when I posted that picture Just look at the faces you've captured, there is the rub!

Take some pleasure in knowing as I did, my kids just got off those swings with friends.

tahin said...

Dear Aisha, thank you this sad but meaningful post..
I will translate and recommend it to Turkish bloggers. (With your permission)

Actually you are quite wrong when you say; "they have no hope."
There is always hope.
If we believe there is no hope then we already accept the defeat. The defeat of poverty, defeat of unjustice..

There are lots of NGOs which are working for children, trying to find out "hope".. I am sure you know it.
Then we should take action and do something.
Doing a little thing is better than doing nothing.

Thank you again for this post..

Aisha said...

Mia, thank you.

Mommyblogr, I replied back in your comments :)

Tahin, you are Turkish! I went to Turkey two years ago and it stole my heart. I loved the beauty of the country and the warmth of its people. I never felt so at home. We have a few very close friends who are Turkish... so... I guess I'm saying I am quite partial to Turkey :)

I would be honored if you decided to translate the post. About the hope... I have no doubt they have hope for happiness but from my perspective they had no hope to go to college or overcome their poverty. But you are right. Even in the desolate circumstances there is hope such as the NGO's are trying to provide, even little things like me bringing attention to their situation, and you bringing it to the attention of Turkish readers. Things like that help , and you are right, without hope there is nothing. I know for a fact the children had hope in Brasil. I guess I also knew the insurmountable odds they faced and this perhaps made me feel hopeless to help them.

I'm curious what the situation is like for the poor in Turkey. Are their advancement opportunities similar.

tahin said...

I am so glad that you liked Turkey:) You are always welcome:)
In wich part of Turkey or cities have you been?

The situation is not (thanks to Allah!) same as in Brazil.
However poverty is a big problem, specially in east part of Turkey. To go to university, students have to pass a very difficult exam and to pass this exam you need to study very hard. However, lots of children in south east of Turkey are not going even to school.

Life is very hard. We have to work to find solutions for them..

tahin said...

And.. Here is my response to you in my blog:

We aleikum Salaam Aisha,
Orthodox Jews have been protesting in USA, UK, France, Canada, Austuria and even in Israel.

These photos have been taken in different protests and countries.

You can find more information here:

Neturei Karta

Aisha said...

Tahin, thanks for the link. Very fascinating organization. Its strange to see Jews protesting the creation of Israel.

Unfortunately in Turkey we did not see as many places as we wanted to. We stayed in Istanbul and went to Selcuk and Kusadasi (and Ephesis) for a few days too. My brother recently went, he spent three weeks and went all over Turkey. He said Capadocia is breathtaking. I hope one day we will go back and see it.

momyblogR said...

I LOVE photography, just capturing a moment. For one of them to evoke emotion in someone is a HIGE compliment. Thank you so much!

However, yours do very much the same thing. Only your writing is so passionate and brings the person to where you. You photo's bring your words to life.

Are you SURE you're an attorney? LOL!

ASH said...

Aisha: As you and I have spoken before on this subject I would like to take it offline...i.e. to real life. I studied the Favelas as part of my University degree and also focused attention on other marginalized economic groups in other countries. There are parallels in other countries....although as with each country they are unique in the way the government and society treats them.

I am not saying my views are controversial, only that my comments would be long-winded and might bore some folks.

FaveladodaRocinha said...

Thank you for write this story on peoples of favelas. I live on Rocinha larges favela in Rio. I like my place but do not like police problem and discrimation of the middle class peoples. I am happy but have not much of oportunity of people live out of the favela. Here we have school for teach many sujects of English, Spanish, French and other fun things. Many ONG here to help us. thank you making this story for people see the problem of goverment in Brazil not help everbody in favelas.

FaveladodaRocinha said...

nice to recieve your e-mail.

thank you for write to me.

Suroor said...

Aisha, this post made me very emotional. Thanks, because this is informative. Beautiful!

DJ said...

If anybody here want to know about life in favelas, you can make meail for me and I am writing book of my life of being raise in Rocinha favela in Rio..

thank you

Jodi Clark said...

This is a passionate blog explaining a reality that is hard to put into words. A few years ago when you wrote this the organization we work with in Brazil would have told you the same statistic--only two had been accepted and started going. Since then we --Channel to Brazil for assisted 9 young people from the favela Aqua Frio in Fortelaza, CE, enter college and three have graduated.
Thank you for explaining so clearly the plight of these people and the grim reality they face.

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