TestimonialsEducational Community Visit to Rocinha: A Testimonial
Since 2004 Catalytic Communities has been offering Educational Community Visits to international researchers, activists, journalists, government officials, city planners and architects wanting a deeper and more engaging experience of Rio de Janeiro and its favelas. We will be offering a slew of carefully selected and organized visits during the Rio+20 UN Conference on the Environment, daily from June 13-29. If you’re in Rio, don’t miss this opportunity to get a detailed and nuanced understanding of Rio’s changing dynamics, the unique nature of the favelas, and why this is relevant globally. CatComm will also be launching a video during Rio+20: Favelas as a Sustainable Model.
Hear about our ECVs from Justin Smith, who recently led a group from the Dayton, OH Chamber of Commerce to Rio:
Educational Community Visit to Rocinha
by Justin JoJo Smith
Dayton Chamber of Commerce
“In a word: accommodating! 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.”
THE VISIT ITSELF
“As stated above: demystifying. Yes, to be sure, there were UPP police officers standing on guard to preserve the peace as part of the police pacification program. But the operative word is peace(ful). That is how we found the favela and its residents, not to mention the overwhelming politeness of the precious children as we passed through the steep corridors of their residences. And I have good reason and ample evidence to believe that even in spite of the UPP’s presence the residents of Rocinha would carry on their daily lives as the living, loving, and laughing human beings that they are. To be sure, crime and violence may manifest from time to time, but what neighborhood in the world is absolutely free of the dark moments of humanity? To project a denigrating image on any community as a point of departure is walking out of step, not to mention unfair.
During our visit we witnessed shop keepers, business-owners, selling quality goods which confirmed a legitimate sense of commerce. (I later returned to Rocinha to purchase 5 pairs of Havaiana sandals from a shoe store that provided great service, not to mention a very competitive price!) We saw residents repairing/making improvements on their brick and mortar homes from which we discerned a sense of pride in their living quarters. While construction on a hilly mountain may not have been optimal it was what was available to their ancestors. Such pride and care for their homes shows that current residents of Rocinha are carrying on that same spirit of ingenuity and industry that is characteristic of its roots. We saw brothers and sisters picking up little siblings from school and heard the cheerful banter of “school’s out” (for the day) glee amongst elementary-age students: education is valued and family does matter! Samba from “radio cars”–a car with a speaker on top–filled the air providing the very pulse of people as they carried on.
A health clinic at the top of the favela and a sports complex at the bottom reveal the public sector’s newfound commitment to wellness. But the spirit of compassionate care as well as the spectacular sport (read: soccer) give me reason to believe that the residents would nurture their way to healing and wellness on their own terms.”
OUR CATCOMM GUIDES
“Knowledgeable, patient, compassionate. The kind of people I like to hang around.”
OUR COMMUNITY LEADER HOST (Leandro Lima)
“A born-and-bred university-educated and current resident of Rocinha; a journalist committed to his cause of telling the truth about Rocinha and providing access to opportunities for it’s residents; a high-quality, high-achieving, yet humble man.”
Sam Martinez, Graduate Student, Montana State University
“During our foreign study trip in March of 2010, 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. This tour was part of CatComm’s Educational Community Visits Program (ECVP).
Christopher Gaffney, Professor of Urbanism (UFF)
“RioOnWatch is a very clearly articulated project with a lot of promise to deliveer real benefit to the residents of Rio de Janeiro. The city is currently under literal attack by real-estate conglomerates that are tearing the city apart to re-constitute it for the World Cup and Olympics. It is only through work of projects like this that real change can be effected and a different path taken. CatComm has long been involved in these stuggles in Rio and this grant will allow their excellent and necessary work to continue. As a professor of Urbanism at a Federal university (in Rio) and a foreign journalist I very much understand the need for this kind of training in order to publicize the gross violations of human rights that are occurring on a daily basis in Rio’s poorer communities.”
– Christopher Gaffney, geographer, journalist, and Professor of Urbanism at the Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro. This testimonial was offered on behalf of CatComm’s Knight News Challenge application.
Priscila Neri, Witness.org
“This is an amazing proposal and much-much needed project. Mega events like the World Cup and Olympics are particularly ripe territory for human rights abuses such as forced evictions. Video and new media are great tools to expose and stop this kind of violence. All my support for our friends at CatComm, and hoping we will join forces on this common work.”
Jeff Lott, Editor, Swarthmore College
“Recent news reports from Rio about a military assault on a favela to drive out drug traffickers are disturbing because such armed power could also be applied to communities that resist evictions for the “progress” of the Olympics. Only wide exposure of such tactics and their impact on these communities will make Brazil and the world pay attention. Traditional media cannot do this—only community based media and the networks that CatComm has nurtured for a decade can paint an honest picture of what is happening in the favelas. CatComm has established itself as a trusted partner to these communities and its work deserves the support of Knight.”
Land and Housing Rights Office, Rio Public Defenders
“It’s important to mention that RioOnWatch can be very useful to many poor communities in Rio. The Public Defenders Office of Rio supports the idea and will be pleased to be a future partner of CatComm, gathering public legal assistance and community journalism. The struggle against forced evictions demands good and creative initiatives, like this one.”
– Alexandre Mendes, Adriana Britto, Roberta Fraenkel – Public Defenders – Land and Housing Rights Office of Rio de Janeiro. This testimonial was offered on behalf of CatComm’s Knight News Challenge application.
Bryan McCann, Director of Brazilian Studies, Georgetown
“RioOnWatch is a hugely important and promising project. The city and state governments of Rio de Janeiro are prepared to use the Olympics as an excuse for opening up poor neighborhoods to real-estate development, further marginalizing the urban poor. It is crucial to note that the areas in question are NOT the neighborhoods plagued by gang violence. Indeed, pushing these poor citizens around is another way of NOT dealing with larger problems. Training local citizens to use the power of information to defend their stake is a promising endeavor, and this project is very well-designed, demonstrating intimate knowledge of the landscape and the issues.”
– Bryan McCann, Director, Brazilian Studies Program, Georgetown University. This testimonial was offered on behalf of CatComm’s Knight News Challenge application.
Rebecca Barnes-Davies, MA in Theology, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
On July 13, 2010, Catalytic Communities and FavelaArte, a community-based organization, led an educational tour as part of our Educational Community Visits Program (ECVP) to Morro da Providência, formerly “Morro da Favela,” the first favela in Brazil (over 110 years old). We took 8 Masters students from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a teacher from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to visit Maurício Hora, leader of FavelArte, and the community.
Here is what MA student Rebecca Barnes-Davies wrote us upon her return:
“I deeply appreciated going into the community with a local leader. It felt like we were guests rather than tourists, learners rather than voyeurs. Catalytic Communities offers a lens of hope and change. This is critical to understanding that local leaders have things to teach us, particularly those of us who don’t live in such harsh realities on a daily basis. I would not have wanted to enter someone else’s community on a tour in any other way.”
Rebecca Lazarovic, CURA / ARUC Research Fellow, McGill University School of Urban Planning
“On March 24, 2010, in the company of several other planners, designers and academics, from Montreal, London and Vienna, I had the opportunity to visit the Vila Autodrómo favela, thanks to the Rio-based group, Catalytic Communities. This was an independent and welcomed complement to the workshops I had been attending as part of the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum, taking place in Rio from March 22-26, 2010. CatComm organized a visit to the favela to raise awareness of Mayor Paes’ plan to relocate residents in order to create a media and training center for the 2016 Olympic Games. While the conference contained numerous workshops on the topic of slum upgrading and bridging the urban divide, UN-Habitat did not organize any site visits for conference attendees. Moreover, the conference presenters namely included policy-makers, politicians and academics, with very little representation from local community actors.
The visit to Autódromo, therefore, 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. As an urban planner, I was impressed by the neighborhood’s built form, physical layout and preservation of green spaces, as well as its amenities and social organization. After speaking to community leaders, I learned that despite being offered compensation to move elsewhere, the community does not wish to move. Many residents have been displaced in the past and they have built new homes and resided in Autódromo for over forty years now.
By bringing people to the actual site of where Cariocas’ rights are currently being contested, I was able to truly understand and empathize with the conference theme, the right to the City. I hope that others will get the chance to visit Autódromo and see for themselves, firsthand, the efforts, determination and desires of the community’s long-standing residents.”
– Rebecca Lazarovic, CURA / ARUC Research Fellow, Masters candidate, 2010 / candidate à la maîtrise 2010, McGill University School of Urban Planning / École d’urbanisme de l’Université McGill. This tour was part of CatComm’s Educational Community Visits Program (ECVP).
Bryan McCann, Georgetown University Historian
“For over fifty years, politicians, urban reformers and security forces have projected “solutions” onto Rio’s favelas, often to the detriment of their residents, and almost always without considering their opinions in advance. Digital technology has enabled greater numbers of favelados to make their voices heard, but often in diffuse and evanescent ways. CatComm’s RioOnWatch (Rio Olympics Neighborhood Watch) is exciting because it promises to create a network of young local leaders in order to share their insights and spread information in ways that will accumulate force. This is an important step towards expanding access to Rio’s political arena.”
– Bryan McCann, Director, Brazilian Studies Program, Georgetown University