Brazil has experienced urbanization and subsequent economic growth in recent decades, as suggested by its annual GDP growth. However, residents of Brazilian slums, located in the outskirts of urban hotspots, are continuously marginalized.  These slums are known as favelas, with impoverished populations passing 1.5 million in the greater São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro areas. Characterized by high drug-related violence rates, poor infrastructure and lack of opportunities for socio-economic mobility, children of favelas are especially vulnerable to dire living conditions. In particular, favelas struggle to offer quality public education that allows children the opportunity to break away from the poverty cycle. Recent civil society initiatives that support favela children work to combat the root causes of persistent poverty by offering safe spaces and incentivizing further education.

Favela Children and Education

In comparison to students from wealthier communities, most of whom are able to access the country’s superior private system, favela children experience failure rates by third grade over seven times higher than their wealthier peers. Moreover, lack of incentives to pursue education contributes to higher dropout rates. Rather than graduate high school and settle for an average weekly salary of 950 BRL ($177 USD), some favela children end up joining drug gangs in the pursuit of making a sufficient income.

For the many children in favelas who do wish to attend school, violence on the streets between drug factions and police has proven to be a disruptive barrier. When crime makes it too dangerous for children to go to class, school is canceled.  Moreover, trauma due to widespread armed violence negatively affects children’s abilities to effectively learn.

Two Brazilian Initiatives That Support Favela Children

EduMais is a Rio de Janeiro-based NGO offering a variety of free after-school educational programs, ranging from English to web and game design. The diverse subjects offered, allow children to engage in extracurricular classes relevant to their interests, and each program incorporates favela-specific methodologies to best ensure enthusiasm and commitment. For example, “positive discipline” avoids punishment and instead adapts children to a classroom by having them help create rules at the beginning of the year. A trauma-sensitive approach ensures that lesson plans are catered toward children’s cognitive abilities. In addition, children enrolled in after-school programs remain in a healthy environment off the streets, and are therefore less likely to use drugs or fail out of school. EduMais encourages its students to value education as an important curiosity that remains useful beyond the classroom setting, and into adulthood.

Favela INC teaches English and business courses to adolescents living in the favela of Vidigal, located in southern Rio de Janeiro. Recognizing the region’s lack of entrepreneurial education opportunities, which contributes to residents’ limited abilities to achieve socio-economic mobility, the organization offers young residents free teaching and mentorship programs.  The programs seek to foster well-rounded students ready to face the business world by focusing on four core areas: project planning, financial literacy, digital marketing and personal development.  These programs offer students the tools, resources and newfound entrepreneurial spirit to transform their favelas’ economic and cultural ecosystems. Additionally, Favela INC aims to incentivize its students to pursue higher education after schooling, as only 1-3% of favela residents currently hold a university degree. Students are also connected to networks that they would not have been able to attain without the program, leading to a greater number of job opportunities moving forward.

Looking Forward

The historical exclusion of favela residents, as evidenced by the slums’ lack of quality education and widespread drug violence, has prevented many individuals from being able to escape from impoverished conditions. The grassroots initiatives of Favela INC and EduMais in Brazil’s favelas support favela children by providing educational opportunities, incentivizing and inspiring a passion for learning and offering the learned tools to succeed in the 21st-century job market. Through the power of education, community-based teaching aims to alleviate economic insecurity for the next generation of favela adults and tackle Brazil’s root causes of widespread poverty.

Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

Children within Brazil’s low-income slums, or “favelas,” are among the country’s most vulnerable. This vulnerability is due to a lack of educational resources or incentives to attend schooling, violent environments and the lack of opportunities for socio-economic growth within favelas. It is estimated that in Rio alone, 240,000 Brazilians live in the dire conditions of favelas.

Favelas and Poverty

Given their marginalization, progress toward achieving socio-economic mobility and employment is far more difficult for children in favelas relative to children of wealthier neighborhoods. They are at a heightened risk of involvement in crime, such as the extensive drug trafficking occurring within these favelas. Child labor within drug operations is a widespread issue affecting homeless and/or orphaned minors living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Young girls are often swept into the sexual exploitation occurring within the gangs.

In order to combat the injustice and marginalization of the favelas’ youth, civil society groups have recently offered creative endeavors that have proven imperative to restoring hope and sparking change. Dance education in favelas brings Brazil’s impoverished children closer to a sense of purpose and self, by offering an option for physical activity off the streets. In particular, the separate favela dance projects Espaço Aberto and Na Ponta dos Pés have collectively taught thousands of previously disempowered children lessons of resilience and patience in order to progress toward brighter futures.

Espaço Aberto

Opened in 1998, the Rio favela dance school “Espaco Aberto,” meaning “open space,” has the primary mission of spreading joy and inspiring young children and adolescents with the opportunity to dance.

The school mainly teaches ballet, a style typically associated with wealth given its formalities and years of extensive training required to master the art.

The school’s co-founder and dance instructor, Yolanda Demetrio, seeks to unravel and transform disheartening favela stereotypes of indignity and permanent grievance. With professional dance instructors alongside her preaching messages of encouragement and incentive, the past 22 years have seen countless favela residents go on to follow Demetrio’s footsteps— eventually opening their own dance studios and improving their economic circumstances.

However, the school is not meant to lead students to only pursue dance careers, although that may be a feasible result. Rather, Espaco Aberto motivates a historically overlooked population to find the potential within themselves. For example, just two years into dance studies, a young student named Jeferson became inspired by the school’s value of goal-setting. His newfound confidence in his abilities emboldened him to re-enroll in formal school.

Na Ponta Dos Pés

The Na Ponta Dos Pés ballet dance project, translating to “Pointe Break,” is specifically geared towards favela girls in the impoverished Alemao complex located in northern Rio. Professional ballerina Tuany Nascimento began the project in 2012 when she recognized that the daily violence and hardships faced in favelas scar vulnerable children— and particularly girls.

Historically, the more than 60,000 Alemao residents have suffered from the aftermath of poor political decisions, further endangering the community. Prior to 2010, a lack of government authority in the area resulted in the control of drug cartels threatening the security of civilians. Recent years have seen the sudden presence of armed police units with the formal intent to reduce narco-political power, yet it has only contributed to community violence and disorder. As residents are killed by the police and the death toll continues to rise, the violence results in instability. Female victims are disproportionately affected.

Similar to Espaco Aberto, Nascimento also wishes to offer an alternative to those falling victim to, or choosing, a harmful lifestyle.

“People get into crime because they don’t have opportunities, but the ballet project gives them a chance not to fall into the wrong kind of life,” said Nascimento.

The project began in a rented basketball court, safe from outdoor violence. Since then, as more people come to realize the importance of dance education in favelas, the project has received a several thousand-dollar grant to build a proper dance studio. Dance education in favelas inspires girls to imagine their worlds as extending past illegal activity and including endless opportunities. In the vice documentary entitled Ballet and Bullets: Dancing Out of The Favelas, in which Nascimento and her students share their stories, one described her newfound hope and determination.

The student said, “Poor people don’t have a future? No. We’re a lot more than that… Not just because we’re ballet girls. You can do a plié, a grand écart, why can’t you do other things in your life as well?… A black woman can be a businesswoman.”

Overall Impacts of Dance

These two grassroots projects show how dance education can positively impact people living in favelas. Both dance studios emphasize patience, yet inevitable achievement. Newly found confidence in one’s dance capabilities, as in the cases of Jeferson from Espaco Aberto and the student from Na Ponta do Pés, can transform into one’s motivation to achieve improved living conditions through education and hard work. 

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Pixabay

bringing opportunity to Brazil's favelas
Brazilian favelas, or slum neighborhoods, are Brazil’s historically impoverished and overlooked communities. Typically located on the outskirts of the country’s largest cities, the favelas are especially prevalent in the greater São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro areas. An estimated 1.5 million people live in these favelas, lacking proper infrastructure and water systems. Crime and police killings within favelas are rampant, relative to Brazil’s affluent neighborhoods. In addition to favelas’ dangerous and unhygienic conditions, their low-income residents often lack opportunities for socio-economic growth; this is largely due to the neighborhoods’ marginalized nature. Recently, however, organizations throughout the world have brought resources to help people living in the favelas.

5 NGOs Bringing Opportunity to Brazil’s Favelas

  1. The Favela Foundation funds and collaborates with countless educational initiatives throughout Rochina and Rio de Janeiro’s slums. The foundation recognizes the lack of government action, realizing the importance of grassroots initiatives to assist vulnerable youth. Further, the foundation has played a major role in the success of literacy projects in favelas, launching a teacher training program specifically geared toward children in these areas.
  2. Catalytic Communities, or CatComm, is an NGO based in Rio de Janeiro that is dedicated to empowering favela communities through strategic advocacy, research and education. These efforts are made to ensure that impoverished residents are treated as equal citizens. A recent project, the “Casa Technology Hub,” offers internet access to these communities. The group also launched a website that publicizes the voices of favela residents who are often excluded from mainstream media. By offering funded assistance to these communities, CatComm’s initiatives have been effective in bringing opportunity to Brazil’s favelas.
  3. Community in Action focuses its efforts on education development in Rio de Janeiro, working to elevate the lives of both children and adults in the favelas. Programs include extracurricular sporting events, childcare and vocational training for adults trying to enter the workforce. Since 2004, the NGO has offered these individual and group programs, resulting in countless foreign volunteers serving more than 10,000 people living in favelas.
  4. ActionAid is a UK-based NGO that aims to empower women and girls. The organization has made significant efforts in Brazil’s favelas, recognizing that female inhabitants are a marginalized group within an already marginalized community. They are often the victims of violence and sexual exploitation within favelas, as many young girls resort to prostitution to improve their circumstances. ActionAid provides therapy and educational courses to empower these women and give them the skills they need to enter the workforce. Each of ActionAid’s programs works toward its greater mission of gender equality, one favela at a time.
  5. The Brazil Foundation has raised $53 million for over 625 grassroots organizations throughout hundreds of Brazilian cities, since its founding in 2000. In addition to partnering with and funding NGOs that promote social and economic opportunity in Brazil, the Brazil Foundation offers each organization unique training to ensure the sustainability of its projects. The foundation’s thematic approach categorizes the organizations it supports in categories ranging from socio-economic development to health. This makes certain that the foundation distributes its funding and assistance to diverse groups in an organized and effective manner.

Since the turn of the century, these five organizations have worked tirelessly to bring opportunity to Brazil’s favelas. They aim to counteract the inequality and opportunity gaps between Brazil’s wealthiest citizens and regions, and impoverished favela inhabitants. With about one in every 20 Brazilians living in a favela, the role of these NGOs is growing and becoming more vital to bringing opportunity to Brazil’s favelas.

Breana Stanski

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in BrazilThough major improvements have stimulated Brazil’s economy over the past few decades, the country still faces a major poverty deficit. While the country does have one of the top 10 economies in the world, poverty in Brazil is still a major issue. The percentage of the population that lives beneath the poverty line struggles to make it from one day to the next. Four components that influence poverty in Brazil are the pertinent numbers, the unemployment situation, the influence on housing and the current global lockdown’s impact.

The Numbers

With over 200 million citizens, Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world. While the poverty rate is now impressively less than 10%, 16 million Brazilians still live unsustainable lives.

Many of the families living in poverty do not have access to education, clothing, clean water, food or fuel. Kim Lango, a humanitarian who has spent a number of years helping to relieve poverty in Brazil, told The Borgen Project in an interview that “We once drove a Pre-Med student home one evening only to discover his home only had three walls….” On their way to the house, Lango passed by dead and wounded people on the streets who were waiting for an ambulance that would only come if the family had sufficient funds.

According to a Getulio Vargas Foundation study, an alarming gap exists between the wealthy and poor, and it is increasing. Marcelo Silva de Sousa and Víctor Caivano state that Brazil ranks with the “most unequal nations in a broader region where the gap between rich and poor is notorious.” During the seven years of the study, the richest Brazilians increased their income by over 8%. However, the income of the poorest population decreased an entire 14%.

The gap shows Brazil’s drastic inequality. In fact, only 10% of Brazil’s citizens earn half of the income in the country.

Lango gave her perspective on some of the reasons for this gap. She first stated that “lack of access to adequate education[…] creates a vicious cycle.” Those living in unsafe and inadequate places often find themselves stuck there due to the rigor and expense of the education system. Lango also said that discrimination plays a significant role in this gap and that many consider poor people unsafe and ones they should not connect with.

While the poverty rates are startling, Lango offers hope: “the most beautiful acts of overcoming will always be from Brazilians helping their own people.”

The government has a welfare program devoted to alleviating poverty. The Family Grant, known as the Bolsa Família, offers a monthly allowance to families in poverty.

Unemployment

Another of the components that influence poverty in Brazil is unemployment. When a major recession hit between 2014 and 2016, the unemployment rate hit 13% and emerged as a major issue contributing to poverty in Brazil. While the unemployment rate had improved somewhat since then, it had yet to recover enough to significantly impact the poverty in Brazil.

Unfortunately, in 2019, Brazil’s unemployment increased to a 12.4% unemployment rate, leaving millions of Brazilians out of work and desperately searching for the means to make money. Still, the available jobs often have an informal and inconsistent nature.

According to Mark S. Langevin, Director of Brazil Works, Brazil has reached a “historic and dismal record” of citizens not contributing to the workforce. Langevin stated that the number is over 65 million.

Housing

Because of extreme poverty, many Brazilians do not have access to proper shelter, or even shelter at all. In fact, according to Habitat for Humanity, over 50 million people in Brazil do not have adequate housing. The country requires 6 to 8 million new houses to sufficiently shelter its people.

Habitat for Humanity is working to develop proper housing for those living in the slums. Due to the successful implementation of their programs, Habitat for Humanity is currently working on over 1,500 houses in Pernambuco, one of Brazil’s states.

A report determined that the 2010 census revealed that over 5% of Brazilians live in makeshift settlements called favelas. Brazilians often build favelas using materials that they scavenged. Moreover, these homes often do not have appropriate water access.

The government has been working since 1993 to improve these conditions. During that year, 20% of Brazil’s population lived in favelas, so the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro developed a program to help improve the housing and road access for those who lacked sufficiency in those areas. The program, the Favela-Bairro project, also funded social programs for children.

While some are making efforts to improve the conditions, the poor housing situation remains prevalent.

The Current Lockdown’s Impact

The last of the components that influence poverty in Brazil includes COVID-19’s impact on the country. With the current global lockdown due to Covid-19, poverty in Brazil could increase drastically. There are over 30 million informal workers who have unprotected jobs that the lockdown now threatens.

The lockdown has come at an unfortunate moment due to social program cuts that came as a result of the recession in 2014. During that time, many workers became sporadically self-employed, which severely weakened the economy.

Humanitarian groups have had to scramble to increase food programs. One of these groups, a Catholic relief group called Caritas, has oriented its focus entirely to providing food.

While those already in poverty or unpredictable work situations are facing an uncertain future, the government has begun to respond to the issue. It adapted the emergency aid fund rules to improve worker’s lives during the shutdowns. The banks have more restrictions and there has been a loan suspension for school funds.

Though the poverty here is vicious, wonderful programs, both governmental and humanitarian, are stepping up to fight the deficit. Hopefully, continued aid and government efforts will eradicate poverty in Brazil in the future.

– Abigail Lawrence
Photo: Flickr