Educational Community Visits Program
Since 2004 Catalytic Communities has worked with visiting university departments, graduate researchers, journalists, conference goers, and volunteer groups to provide informative educational visits across Rio’s favelas.
Together with local community partners, we’ve led over 1000 visitors, from 15 countries, through a wide range of favelas (violent and non-violent, economically vibrant and neglected, large and small, old and new, steep and low-lying) with an eye towards engaging visitors with the favelas they visit, either through direct volunteer service, the publication of articles voicing community concerns, or ongoing awareness-raising around the issues faced by residents beyond their departure.
By visiting a neighborhood guided by local leaders, rather than large NGOs, government officials or tourism companies, one gains a much deeper and more complete understanding of the issues a community faces, and the unique contributions each community affords the city. Local leaders know everything about a community, from its geography and demography, to how infrastructure and politics work. Most importantly, they provide insights that others may gloss over or ignore entirely, allowing visitors to gain a truer picture of local dynamics. They, in effect, are the most appropriate guides to answer all one’s questions.
A typical community visit takes 4-6 hours including travel, but shorter and longer visits are sometimes arranged based on the needs of participants. It involves a discussion with CatComm staff about Rio — politics, planning, culture and economy — more broadly, and a direct look at the details of the community in question through the eyes of local leaders.
CatComm suggests donations of US$50-$70 per visitor ($70/visitor for 1-9 people, $60/visitor for 10-19 and $50/visitor for parties over 20), 50% of which benefits the community organization receiving visitors and sharing their community’s stories. 50% benefits Catalytic Communities, which organizes the visit, provides background and broader contextual information for visitors, and accompanies and provides translation services (to English) during the visit.
Please read the New York Times article, Slumdog Tourism, before contacting us to organize a visit. You may also be interested in the Observer article, Before You Pay to Volunteer Abroad, Think of the Harm You Might Do. We also recommend Tucker Jordan’s 3-part analysis on tourism in Rio’s favelas: 1, 2, 3. We do not run “favela tours.” We hope that all visitors engage with the community during and after their visits and that the awareness produced is carried far and wide.
“The visit to Rocinha today has been beyond our expectations. We went absolutely everywhere, saw very different zones with many interactions with the locals. We had a demonstration of percussions by three young men on the top of a roof, could admire a street artist performing graffiti, and all the way children smiling at us, some locals asking us to come back… But all that could only happen with the presence of Carlos who cares a lot for the community of Rocinha, and the excellent relation between him and Felicity and Isabelle (CatComm). They both took excellent care of us.”
– Sophie Clark, June 2012.
“The professionalism and patience of the CatComm team in arranging our visit to Rocinha was truly remarkable. I was exchanging emails back and forth to finalize the logistics literally hours before the visit actually happened. I felt as if our group’s visit was the organization’s top priority despite the ad hoc (read: unplanned) nature of the request… Our tour group, members of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, from Dayton, Ohio, was visiting Rio de Janeiro with tours and excursions set up by a global tour company. Amidst the visits to the amazing “touristy” sites of the Marvelous City, the tours did not include an in-depth visit to any favelas. Instead, we looked at them from a distance as we passed by in our comfy coach with the general sentiment as expressed by our guides being that of disdain, that they are “slums” of the poor. Prior to my visit I had heard them described similarly but could not let such a description stand without seeing with my own eyes the residents and their everyday lives. In fairness, one of the tour guides did advise that if I/we really wanted to visit that it’s good to have a trustworthy accomplice/guide. That seemed common-sensical…
And that is where the amazing CatComm Team and local community leader from Rocinha came in, enabling those in our group who came along on the ECV to draw their own conclusions; in summary: debunking the prevailing myth of favelas as slums.”
– Justin Smith, Dayton Chamber of Commerce. Read Justin’s full testimonial here.
“During our foreign study trip, our group of architecture students and professors had the opportunity to visit three of Rio’s favelas: Vila Autodromo, Santa Marta, and Morro da Providencia. All three visits were organized by CatComm. I was deeply moved by what I saw in the favelas, and our experiences there have forced me to seriously re-evaluate the direction I am going in architectural practice. I was particularly interested in the conflict that has developed in the city’s attempt to displace the people living in Vila Autodromo for the purposes of the Olympic master plan. I now intend to focus my thesis work around design proposals that could strike a balance between the city’s interests and the interests of the people living in Vila Autodromo. The will of the people, their sense of community, and their ingenuity have created a safe neighborhood with a unique identity. This case highlights many misconceptions about life in the favelas, and demonstrates the need for organizations like CatComm to help empower these people and give them a voice in a fight against leaders who are willing to displace them from the homes and the area they have invested so much in.”
– Sam Martinez, Graduate Student, Montana State University.
“The visit to Autódromo provided an eye-opening experience, which allowed us to gain a more nuanced understanding of favelas. If not for the visit to Autódromo, one of a small number of peaceful favelas, and one that is not environmentally at-risk, I might have left Rio perpetuating the same stereotypes of favelas: that they are universally ridden with violence and characterized by unsuitable living conditions. After speaking to community leaders, I learned that despite being offered compensation to move elsewhere, the community does not wish to move.”
– Rebecca Lazarovic, CURA / ARUC Research Fellow, Masters candidate, 2010, McGill University School of Urban Planning, visited Vila Autódromo with several other planners, designers and academics after attending the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum in March 2010.
“As part of a Global Immersion Course to Brazil, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA students have been visiting the Asa Branca Community for the past six years. Accompanied by our good friends from CatComm we have been tracking the development of this community through the years. The most remarkable observation year after year is the joy and optimism we see and feel in the community. New houses go up, new businesses open and the smiles of the children get impossibly larger every year. Some of the children we have seen grow up into young men and women who are involved in studies, sports and community. It is a pleasure to be a witness to such a successful development project.”
– Mabel Miguel, Professor of Organizational Behavior, Kenan-Flagler Business School, UNC
“CatComm has visited us and has left our community well and hopeful. Our community is one of those that hasn’t received anything except for the threat of removal. So these visits bring residents the hope that there is someone watching us, someone who’s going to publish or understand, at least understand, which is what’s most important, and help others understand… CatComm has brought us moral support and has contributed, always looking for whatever is most needed.”
-Jane Nascimento, Social Director, Vila Autódromo Neighborhood Association
Click here to read more testimonials from past visitors.