Lewis visits a favela (a shanty town)

Lewis held on tight as the driver sped up the hill at a pace, narrowly missing trucks and cars and other oncoming vehicles. He was on the back of a motorbike taxi which is the normal way for locals to get to the top of the biggest favela (slum or shanty town) in South America, Roçinha. He felt the wind whip through his mane and felt a nervousness in the pit of his stomach as the driver beeped for other drivers to get out of their way. There are more than a thousand motorbike taxis working in Roçinha; after all there are more than 150 inhabitants living in this favela!

As the motorbike climbed the hill, Lewis was struck by the colours of the buildings and the vibrancy of life of those in the favela.

In spite of the obvious poverty, there were people going about their daily business, shopping in many of the little shops and stalls all the way up the hillside. Some of the buildings were more make-shift than others but normally the houses were built from red bricks and then painted in a range of rainbow colours. Some, on the other hand were simply made of corrugated steel and concrete blocks: presumably built from whatever people could put their hands on. People don’t have planning permission to build their houses so they grow up, one on top of the other in a higgledy-piggledy way.

The Brazilian word ‘Favela’ comes from the ‘fava’ tree because often the favelas grew up in the areas where the fava trees grew and indeed, there are many of such favelas all over South America. The favelas until recently had a terrible reputation for being home to many drug-lords who operated their businesses from there (as Lewis the Lion could see from the bullet marks in some of the walls!). However, now the government has cracked down and has got rid of many of the drug-lords and there is a heavy police presence in the favelas so people feel safer to live and walk around.

Like many parts of Rio de Janeiro, Lewis was very impressed with some of the street art found here in the favela as it seemed to detract from some of the slum conditions, such as the rubbish strewn on the ground around him.

(Here is a photo of a little boy as he makes his way down the hill barefooted through the rubbish).

As he walked along some of the narrow, shaded streets, he was struck by the mass of electricity cables above his head and sewerage outlet pipes protruding from the buildings. You had to be careful where you stood in the favela if you didn’t want to be dripped on!

Most houses had big, blue, plastic water containers on the top of their roof so to collect the rainwater. At night they needed to have covers to prevent the spread of dengue fever. This is a disease spread by mosquitoes which are often attracted to pools of stagnant water.
The first place that Lewis visited in the favela was an art studio and the sale of art is seen as a way for some of the locals to express themselves and escape from the poverty trap. Lewis the Lion was so impressed that he bought a painting which reminded him of his stay in Rio de Janeiro. Some of the proceeds from the sale would go back into projects to teach children in the favela about art.

The favela itself had developed over time to include three schools and a hospital. The government had even built some new homes for some of the residents who had lost their homes in a mudslide on one side of the favela.

There were signs up around the favela telling residents where to go in the event of heavy rains as the favela had no proper drainage system.

Lewis the Lion jumped of fright when he saw a huge, grey rat scamper through the rubbish and through a narrow lane! Such living conditions clearly attracted the rats too.
However, Lewis the Lion was surprised to see that some houses had satellite dishes for the residents to pick up international channels on their televisions. Even within the favelas, there was a range of people who weren’t quite so poor as others. Lewis recognised that recycling rubbish also played a big part in favela life as by collecting used cans and aluminium, people could have some of their electricity bills paid for. That was why you would often see people on the beaches and streets of Rio de Janeiro carrying big, plastic bags filled with tin cans and rooting to find them on the beach and in litter bins.
As Lewis the Lion and Helen walked down through the narrow lanes, they were greeted by a group of young boys who treated them to some fantastic rhythmic drumming.

They didn’t have drum kits but rather a range of plastic and metal containers turned upside down along with some wooden batons.

In spite of their simple resources for their musical instruments, they were clearly very talented musicians as everybody really enjoyed listening to them and younger children were even dancing along! Click here to see a short video clip.

All of a sudden Lewis the Lion started to hear his tummy rumbling. He’d been so fascinated about learning about life in the favela, that he’d forgotten how hungry he was! It was lucky therefore that his tour guide then stopped off in a traditional bakery.

Inside all of the products ready to eat were splayed out on a table, each item cost 3 reais (approximately a pound). There were slices of cheese and tomato pizzas, pastels (a type of fried pastry with various fillings), then various cakes and doughnuts but most interestingly were small pots of something called açai. Inside these special pots was a type of slush-puppy made from a berry only found in Brazil, a claimed super-fruit, which comes from the Amazon rainforest. This açai berry is dark-purple, sweet tasting and very popular in Brazil.

Traditionally it is served with honey, banana and granola on top. Lewis the Lion and Helen found the açai berry very refreshing as it was very hot walking through the favela.
Crafts were being sold on small stalls and in particular, woven bracelets and jewellery. These seemed to be very popular in Brazil and especially with the tourists.

As Lewis reached the bottom of the favela, he could see many children running around barefooted but with happy faces. A group of children had plastic bottles tied at the top with string and it looked like they were playing a game a bit like cookers where you had to swing the bottle at your opponents. There were other children flying kites and other children playing with their pets, especially cats and dogs.

Some children even begged Lewis to stay with them in the favela and Lewis the Lion felt sorry that he couldn’t stay with these children and play for longer.

At the bottom of the favela, Lewis the Lion could see that construction work had started to create a track running up the side of the favela, perhaps for the installation of a funicular or tram? Lewis hoped that this would be ready soon for the residents as walking through the narrow lanes between the tightly-packed houses was not easy. There was a lack of proper pavements and in many parts it was very steep and slippy and you had to watch your step.

As Lewis the Lion stood on the famous arched bridge, overlooking the stunning view of the brightly coloured favela from the bottom of the hill, he felt a mixture of emotions. He felt privileged that some of the residents had shown him and taught the about their humble existence of life in a favela but at the same time he dreamed another big dream: that those children of the favela would have a chance to have better living conditions and good opportunities in their future lives.

Looking at some of the photos from Roçinha, could you create your own artwork, like some of the children of the favela?

About Helen Molloy

Helen Molloy has been a Primary Learning and Teaching Consultant, leading on the introduction of Primary Languages in the City of Stoke-on-Trent for the past 5 and a half years. She is passionate about language learning and inspiring children into developing a curiosity and awareness of other people's languages and cultures.
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2 Responses to Lewis visits a favela (a shanty town)

  1. Rebecca Shine says:

    Love your post on Rocinha. We were there 5 years ago visiting that very same Favela. So many memories.
    Enjoying reading your blog – priceless in fact!

    • Helen Molloy says:

      Obrigada, Rebecca! Funnily enough Brazil feels so far away now we’re in a freezing cold Bolivia. Glad you’re enjoying the blog and am doing my best to keep up with it: constantly a month behind me thinks though! However, thanks for the encouragement. Hope all’s good with you in New York too. Unbelievably, we’re on the same time zone as you now!
      Loads of love to you all,
      Helen and Lewis the Lion x

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