Thursday, November 14, 2013

Welcome to Favela Complexo da Penha

Hub and I are officially living in Rio and we are settling in just fine. We moved here to be closer to Hub's upcoming project Street Child World Cup (SCWC) and we've already hit the ground running. On our first day I joined Hub on a business meeting in favela Complexo da Penha, one of the city's most notorious barrios that has recently been pacified in the lead up to the World Cup and Olympics. I was really looking forward to this trip. I was curious about the level of poverty, what the people would be like, and how it would compare to City of God. I didn't want to do any research, so that was my reference point.

Philip Veldhuis who works for Favela Street and has been living on/off in
Complexo da Penha since '08. He's Dutch, but is very Brazilian.

We went to visit a project called Favela Street who are training the Brazilian girls team for the SCWC. In brief the SCWC will be a conference on street children and a soccer tournament, where street children from 19 different countries will be flown into Rio and play against each other in the style of the FIFA World Cup. Nanko, who runs this program and IBISS program Soldados Nunca Mais (Soldiers Never More), took us in and showed us around. We got to meet the girls who were all very polite, but I had anticipated a bit more interaction. Some of the younger girls showed interest in Hub and I whereas the older girls were very nonchalant.

So the pacification program is where the military have entered and "occupied" certain favelas in an effort to them clean up and push out the drug gangs. This sounded like a wonderful program, but Nanko and Hub explained the more mixed reviews from the residents. They don't fully trust the military in their neighborhoods, who to be fare are often plagued by corruption. I was told that police often react on a "shoot first, then ask" basis, which is just horrifying. And even after a favela has been pacified, tensions still run high and war can break out at any time. Just last week a fight broke out in Complexo da Penha and a police officer was gunned down. I felt comfortable and safe all day, but it was made clear that we would not have been allowed to enter this favela without Nanko. It was a bit surreal.

Hub and Nanko. The meeting took place at this little bar and everyone knew Nanko.
Locals would stop to say hello and hang out with us.

Complexo da Penha reminded me a lot of El Salvador. The streets, the energy and the smells took me back to my summers spent in Ilopango and Ciudad Credisa. We spent the majority of the day just at the base of the barrio, hanging out with locals and boys from the IBISS program. We took a quick tour of the favela on motorbike, which was really fun. We went to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, a beautiful church that towers over the neighborhood. On our way down we rode through narrow streets (think two of me wide) and down staircases. I'm usually such a chicken, but what a rush!

Me geekin' out with my motorista
Hub and I were taken to the top of the favela for a quick photo. There were few local boys
watching us, trying to speak in English to us Gringos.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha de França

We stayed until sunset and although conditions there are sad, Complexo da Penha is a beautiful place. As we left Max, an ex-soldier from the IBISS program who had spent the day with us, gave me a hug and said what a pleasure it was to meet me. It was so genuine and I was really taken aback. I felt grateful to have met him and get a glimpse of his favela life. 

We're going back for their weekly Sunday night fiesta with feijoada and dancing. Keep you posted.
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