Rio de Janeiro’s FavelasIn Rio De Janeiro’s favelas, there is a well-documented issue of police violence. The number of deaths continues to rise, with a disproportionately high impact on Black Brazilians who are nearly three times more likely to die due to police violence than their lighter-skinned counterparts. In 2022, Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, a Special Reporter on contemporary forms of racism, expressed her concerns about the excessive and lethal use of force by Brazilian law enforcement. Unfortunately, reports suggest that these human rights violations persist unchecked.

In cases where institutions and states fall short in protecting vulnerable populations, grassroots initiatives have emerged to fill the gap. Organizations like DefeZap, Casa Amarela and others are actively striving to break the cycle of poverty and violence that plagues the lives of thousands of innocent favela residents in Brazil.

The Favela 

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio De Janeiro. It is home to between 150 and 300 thousand people, all crowded into a space of .8 square miles. Rocinha is a steep, sprawling maze of houses built on top of each other, sometimes up to 10 stories high. The streets are dense with people, pavements are wide enough only for motorcycles. Heavy bootlegged electric wires hang just above the hairline of the sprawl. There are no safety regulations. Sanitation runs in a channel between houses. Disease is frequent, and with only two health centers for the whole population, many do not receive the help they need. Compared to other favelas, however, Rocinha has “relatively good infrastructure.” Houses are built out of concrete, and businesses like banks and pharmacies operate freely. Rocinha even has electricity, running water and appropriated cable TV. It is a home, but it is unsafe. 

Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, home to between 150,000 and 300,000 people, all crowded into a compact area of 0.8 square miles. The community is built on steep slopes, with houses stacked on top of one another, sometimes reaching up to 10 stories high. The narrow streets are often bustling with people, and the sidewalks are just wide enough for motorcycles. Informal, unauthorized electrical wires dangle dangerously above the streets, lacking proper safety regulations.

Sanitation facilities in Rocinha consist of open channels running between the houses, leading to frequent health issues. With only two health centers serving the entire population, many residents struggle to access the medical care they need. While compared to some other favelas, Rocinha boasts relatively better infrastructure, with concrete housing and the presence of businesses like banks and pharmacies. Basic utilities such as electricity, running water and even cable TV are available. It is considered a home to many, but it remains an unsafe and challenging environment.


In the 1970s, the introduction of cocaine laid the groundwork for the current situation in contemporary favelas. This led to the emergence of armed drug trafficking factions engaged in violent territorial disputes. Over time, these groups have become deeply entrenched in the local community. They buy land, provide infrastructure like electricity and cable TV and offer employment opportunities, especially to young men. With few other job prospects available, many residents feel compelled to accept these opportunities. Unfortunately, this situation has led to the unintentional criminalization of all favela residents by association.

A central element of this criminalization is the stigmatized image of the ‘Bandido’—a portrayal of young, impoverished, Black individuals as inherently dangerous. This stereotype perpetuates the perception of favelas as impenetrable crime centers in the public’s imagination, which, in turn, can encourage law enforcement to employ aggressive raid tactics.


Violence in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas has been a part of life since the 1980s. A public conversation around “Bandidos” shows how separate the favela is from normative Brazillian space. Nilton Cerqueira, Secretary of Public Security from 1995 to 1998, said in 1996 that the “Bandido is not a civilian.” These comments came to light during a time of “Wild West Bonuses.” In fact, the police received a salary bonus of 50-150% for demonstrating “fearless courage.” Even after its abolishment in the early 2000s, the number of deaths remains shockingly high. In 2020, 1,245 people died due to incidents with the police in Rio de Janeiro. In 2021, the number was 1,356, and this rose to 1,330 in 2022. 


In the favelas, where the state often falls short in serving its citizens, various community organizations and NGOs have emerged to bridge the gap. One such noteworthy example is DefeZap. Established in 2016, DefeZap enables individuals to report instances of violence involving state agents anonymously and securely through WhatsApp. After documentation, these reports go to a Collaborative Investigation and Documentation Network, which, in turn, forwards them to the appropriate authorities. From 2016 to 2019, DefeZap received more than 300 video sources, contributing to more than 200 investigations. The organization’s effectiveness and the positive outcomes it has achieved for favela residents have driven its expansion. In 2019, DefeZap and its technologies found application in the Human Rights Commission of the ALERJ (Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro).

Casa Amarela is another involved organization. Casa Amarela operates out of the favela Morro da Providência, delivering “human and territorial development through art and culture.” The group seeks to “reduce the social impact caused and maintained by the state’s lack of assistance in the favela.” Educational, artistic and cultural activities and classes are led by educators, residents and activists from the local area. Casa Amarela welcomes around 120 families and enjoys around 150 participants. Classes for ages 3–7, 8–13 and 14–21 help keep young people away from the militias and in education. Classes include skateboarding, boxing and music. Afro-dance lessons are also offered as a way to reinforce the “positiveness of the children[‘s] black skin” despite the demonization they face in Brazillian society. These young people can expect to be nurtured and inspired to dream of a better life for themselves and their families. 

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenging circumstances in Rio De Janeiro’s favelas, residents persist in creating comfortable, beautiful and communal living spaces. Rather than solely depending on NGOs for support, they are taking action to ensure their voices are heard. For instance, on May 21, 2020, residents organized a protest to address the issue of violence against the black community. Their collective efforts resulted in a temporary reduction in police violence, and they remain committed to these actions until they achieve the freedom they seek.

– James Durbin
Photo: Unsplash

Brazil's COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted millions of individuals across the globe, leaving vulnerable populations with unequal access to resources. As of February 2023, Brazil has had 36 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. Brazil is a large country with various regions; however, some communities were more vulnerable than others during the pandemic. Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic left the country with a better understanding of how some populations ended up more vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Living in Brazil’s Poverty During the Pandemic

The Brazilian Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) reported that those who live in working-class neighborhoods or “favelas” are more likely to contract infectious and contagious diseases. Favelas are overcrowded and contain millions of inhabitants. That is one reason why residents are more apt to contract airborne diseases. Furthermore, favela residents lack access to health care and sanitation. It’s also why Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic hit residents in the most poverty-stricken favelas much harder than those in other neighborhoods.

AE: Brazil’s Financial COVID Response to Poverty-Stricken Families

As one response to COVID, Brazil’s federal government implemented Auxílio Emergency (Emergency Aid) (AE) to aid low-income families. When first launched, AE supported poverty-stricken families with a minimum of five $600 installments, and households led by single mothers received double that amount. Over time, the program lowered these benefits, this public relief aid received global recognition. In fact, Brazil ranked as having the fifth largest governmental response.

Violence Against Women

The World Bank reported increased risks of gender-based violence (GBV) within the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. Calls to domestic violence helplines increased in Brazil. During the time of isolation and lockdown, femicides doubled. In 2020, Brazil had 1,350 recorded cases of femicide.  At the beginning of the pandemic, strict quarantine measures bolstered this increased violence. Later during the pandemic, job loss and financial instability contributed.

Combatting Violence Against Women

Luckily, Brazil already had services in place to combat violence against women. Signed into Brazilian law in 2006, the Maria da Penha Law provides women safety against domestic violence because any violence against a woman violates human rights. Forms of violence can include physical, psychological, sexual and patrimonial against women of any age. This law helps women find care and offers urgent protective measures. The law has assisted more than 3,364,000 since its initial signing in 2006.

Helplines and safe spaces further mitigate the threat of violent escalation. For example, one can report any situation of domestic violence to the Women’s Hotline (Central de Atendimento à Mulher).

Indigenous Populations and COVID-19

Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic also disproportionately affected indigenous communities. Brazil is home to  896,917 indigenous persons in 305 ethnic groups. Mortality among indigenous populations was 6.5 times greater than in the rest of the population of Brazil during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the reason for this is that about a third of indigenous villages have access to clean water and sanitation. Access to hospitals is also worse for indigenous Brazilian communities. Additionally, indigenous people in Brazil face stigma and discrimination even when they can access health care services.

To combat symptoms of COVID-19 during the beginning of the pandemic, some indigenous populations such as the Xavante community turned to traditional medicine. United Nations Human Rights Senior Indigenous Fellow from Brazil and member of the Xavante people, Ro’otsitsina Juruna, reported, “Many indigenous people did not want to take the so-called Western medicines, so instead they began to take and practice more traditional medicine, through roots, teas and ablutions. I believe this strengthened our culture.”

As the pandemic continued, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) worked to provide indigenous populations with accessible and accurate information about prevention and care. It advocated for state governments to educate indigenous communities about how to seek help in case of symptoms. It also pushed for information about COVID prevention and treatment to be written in as many indigenous languages as possible and allow communities information about the virus to indigenous peoples in as many indigenous languages and formats (oral, written, child friendly).

Reflection on Brazil’s COVID-19 Pandemic

Because Brazil’s government and national and international humanitarian organizations have intervened to help these vulnerable groups, they have mitigated the harm done even in the most vulnerable populations. Further, Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic response helped the country better understand the factors contributing to the vulnerabilities.

– Yv Maciel
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash

Farmers in BrazilMuch of Brazil’s population resides in favelas, or urban neighborhoods that are associated with extreme poverty. While living in favelas can be extremely difficult under ordinary circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues that residents already face. Malnutrition is a particularly pressing issue. It can be difficult for those living in poverty to access food, especially during the pandemic. In light of these issues, farmers in Brazil have come together to create Pertim, a network of agriculturalists who have dedicated themselves to delivering organic, healthy food to families in need.

Poverty and Favelas

The amount of Brazilians living in extreme poverty is about 5%. With a population of more than 203 million people, that means around 10 million in the country are currently living in an impoverished state. Many of those living in poverty reside in favelas. Favelas are usually located outside of large cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. They often lack amenities like basic sanitation and access to clean water, and can be extremely overcrowded. More than 11 million people in Brazil live in approximately 6,000 favelas.

COVID-19 in Brazil and Favelas

The COVID-19 pandemic struck the Brazilian favelas hard. It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing within the neighborhoods. The houses are small and oftentimes built extremely close to one another. This makes it easy to spread the disease within the favelas. The country of Brazil has had more than 500,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Furthermore, many residents of favelas cannot afford to stay home, despite the threat of COVID-19. A survey estimated that more than 70% of the residents of favelas could only go one week in isolation before they completely run out of money. As a result, job lay-offs caused by COVID-19 have caused more people to be unable to afford to properly feed themselves.

Development of Pertim

After noticing the hardships many favela residents were facing during the pandemic, it became clear to Rafael Duckur that he needed to do something to help the favela neighborhoods. Not only were inhabitants facing the growing threat of COVID-19, but they were also facing hunger due to an inability to work during the pandemic.

Many farmers in Brazil, including Duckur, who grows produce, have been able to maintain a secure customer base during the pandemic, despite some loss of business. However, Duckur grew tired of seeing the excess food that farmers were producing going to waste while so many were in need. He decided to take to Instagram, where he called for help creating boxes of free, organic food that he could deliver to those less fortunate than himself.

Duckur’s post reached many people, but Flavia Altenfelder felt particularly called to help. Duckur and Altenfelder quickly sprang into action and formed Pertim. Since founding Pertim, the two farmers have helped to create three other groups similar to their own. Together, the four groups have distributed more than 400 boxes of food, which contain fruits, vegetables and eggs, among other organic foodstuffs, to multiple favelas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced many different challenges to Brazil’s poor. In addition to healthcare issues, they must also deal with increased poverty and a limited food supply. Thanks to Pertim, however, farmers in Brazil are able to make a difference aiding those who are living in impoverishment. Duckur and Altenfelder have demonstrated that innovation and dedication to one’s community can create huge strides in the fight to end suffering and poverty.

Paige Musgrave

Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in Brazil
In recent decades, Brazil has advanced its industrialization, gross national income and life expectancy. Since 2014, however, the country has struggled with rising poverty and inequality. Brazil’s declining economy has led to a nationwide homelessness crisis. Here are 10 facts about homelessness in Brazil.

10 Facts About Homelessness in Brazil

  1. Approximately 1.2 million Brazilians are either homeless or living in inadequate housing. This housing crisis was, in part, caused by rising land costs. Brazil’s industrialization and involvement in globalization raised land prices. As a result, poor and unemployed Brazilians are unable to afford land costs and are forced to remain in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
  2. Brazil’s homeless tend to live near major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The country’s increasing urbanization contributes to these cities’ housing deficits, with more than four in five Brazilians living in urban areas. The vast majority of those in need of housing are from low-income families. Recent wage cuts and unemployment rates passing 12% have ensured that 1.2 million Rio residents remain in “favelas,” Brazil’s shantytowns.
  3. The number of houses built for families making $550 or less in Brazil’s cities has drastically decreased. Brazilian real-estate development now focuses on high-income buyers. From 2013 to 2016, the number of low-income housing fell by 500,000 units. Coupled with the growing urban population, this exacerbates homelessness in Brazil.
  4. In São Paulo, Brazil’s most populated city, homelessness is growing at 2-3% per year. Rio de Janeiro has experienced rapidly growing rates of homelessness as well, increasing by 150% from 2014 to 2017. With some success, city governments have launched programs to move the homeless into shelters and family housing.
  5. Without proper security, Brazil’s homeless are susceptible to physical, psychological and sexual violence. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 17,386 reported instances of abuse against the homeless, ranging from beatings and psychological abuse to sexual harassment. Given Brazil’s widespread drug trafficking occurring on the streets of favelas, the homeless are vulnerable to violence by both drug factions and the police.
  6. In 2009, the Brazilian government began a housing program for low-income Brazilians. This program, called Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life), provided more than 10 million Brazilians with secure housing offers over seven years. In 2016, however, the government made major cuts to the program.
  7. The majority of Brazil’s homeless are Black, a remnant of the country’s legacy of slavery and racism. Previous discriminatory legislation, such as the criminalization of homeless Black people, has contributed to the disproportionate 67% majority of homeless individuals being Black. Meanwhile, the general Black population is only 45%. Moreover, young Black men are the majority of victims in extrajudicial killings by police officers, particularly in favelas.
  8. Since 1997, Brazil’s Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) has led protests and demonstrations to secure justice for the growing homeless population. Originating in São Paulo, MTST outwardly criticizes the exponential increases of real estate and rental prices. The movement remains a quintessential voice in driving urban policy, playing a key role in the implementation of social programs like ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida.’ Furthermore, the movement outlines ways to reform such programs and address resulting urban segregation — particularly as impoverished Brazilians settle in urban peripheries.
  9. With the second-highest number of cases in the world, Brazil’s homeless are extremely vulnerable to the disease. As COVID-19 continues to spread, São Paulo’s city government has invested in general and COVID-specific homeless shelters. Other government initiatives include state-driven subsidy programs to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to the homeless. NGOs like Doctors Without Borders provide medical assistance to homeless citizens, who suffer more COVID-19 cases than the general population. Despite this attention, the homeless continue to lack adequate hygiene resources.
  10. Civil society campaigns and organizations spread awareness and conduct on-the-ground missions. Rio Invisível, for instance, is an advocacy project based in Rio de Janeiro that shares interviews with homeless citizens on social media. By helping the homeless share their stories, the project breaks down prejudice toward the city’s most marginalized. Habitat for Humanity has also been involved in advocacy in Brazil, becoming a powerful voice in public policy, pushing for an end to the housing shortage. The non-profit partners with the Brazilian government to construct houses for vulnerable families, in addition to offering week-long “Habitat Global Village” volunteer opportunities in Brazil.

Precarious housing and homelessness in Brazil remain a prominent issue, affecting approximately 1.2 million citizens. The crisis is exacerbated by rising land prices and a worsening housing deficit in urban regions. However, as awareness has grown, efforts by state and non-state actors to address homelessness have expanded. Nevertheless, Brazil must continue to fund social programs to alleviate poverty and homelessness.

Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

Slums in Latin AmericaCurrently, one in seven people worldwide lives in a slum. By some estimates, this number will rise to one in four people by the year 2030. A slum can be defined as housing with no land permits, inadequate access to basic services (water, toilets and electricity), unsafe components (broken windows, dirt floors and leaks) and an overcrowded population. These 10 facts about slums in Latin America explain how people are affected by these poor living conditions.

10 Facts About Slums in Latin America

  1. Rapid Urbanization: South America has historically been dominated by rural living. However, in more recent years, the cities of South America have seen a rapid rate of urbanization. Urban living now supports 82 percent of the population. When people move from the countryside to the city in large numbers, there are often not enough resources to support everyone. As a result, people resort to constructing illegal housing to survive.
  2. Millions Affected: In Latin America, approximately 117 million people survive in poverty. Most of these people survive in slums just outside major metropolitan areas. These cities include Mexico City, São Paulo, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro and Lima.
  3. Neza-Chalco-Itiza: On the cusp of Mexico City rests Neza-Chalco-Itiza, one of the largest slums in South America and the fourth largest in the world. With a population of 1.1 million people, the slum is filled to the brim. People flooded to the city after World War II in hopes of work, but they found poverty instead. Today, the slum has developed a systematic way of living that mimics life inside the major city.
  4. Favelas: Some of the most infamous slums can be found in Brazil. In Portuguese, slums are called favelas. Most favelas in Brazil can be found in the areas surrounding Rio de Janeiro. More than 11 million people live in this type of housing.
  5. Entrepreneurship: While slums can be a source of hardship and poverty, they can also be the birthplace for many entrepreneurs. With so many people struggling to survive, some take it upon themselves to create businesses out of the little resources that they have. For example, Bistrô Estação R&R is a bar inside a garage in Rio de Janeiro. These small businesses bring people together in their communities and can help boost the economy.
  6. Widespread disease: Slums are often a breeding ground for disease. With a lack of proper sanitation and people living in such close proximity, illness develops fast and spreads even quicker. Tuberculosis is just one example of a disease that has spread in slums. In Peru, 60 percent of tuberculosis cases in 2011 were reported from the slums surrounding Lima. Luckily, organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have hosted several government interventions to advocate for development plans.
  7. Drugs, gangs and violence: With a lack of central authority, slums are more susceptible to drugs, gangs and violence. Many of the world’s most infamous drug lords originate from these areas and threaten the local community. While police intervention sometimes occurs, often these communities are ignored. In 2015, 47 of the 50 most murderous cities were found in Latin America.
  8. Upgrading housing: With the aim of improving housing for communities living in slums, several nonprofits, such as TECHO, have advocated for the improvement of infrastructure. TECHO’s policy is that slums of 10 or more families who lack one or more necessities, such as water or sewage, qualify for aid. In several of TECHOs projects, houses have been reconstructed using pinewood and tin. Families who received this assistance have stated that their quality of life has effectively improved after the refurbishments.
  9. Pride: While slums can be riddled with poverty and crime, they are also filled with pride. In a 2013 study, 85 percent of favela residents said that they like where they are from. This could largely be attributed to the communities formed within these tight housing situations and the entrepreneurship that binds people together.
  10. Slum tourism: Slum tourism is when travelers visit impoverished populations in order to see the areas. The practice began in the 1800s when wealthy Londoners would pay to see a lifestyle that was so drastically different from their own. Slum tourism can have negative effects on a community for multiple reasons. For one, it promotes the wealth gap by separating the wealthy from the poor. In addition, poverty tourism does not necessarily benefit local areas. If tourists pay larger organizations to conduct the visit rather than community members, the money will not reach the slums. On the other hand, poverty tourism that challenges negative stereotypes and is led by slum residents can aid in the growth of the local economy.

By looking at these 10 facts about slums in Latin America, it easy to see how these living conditions can damage a person’s health and wellbeing as well as how the residents of these slums are struggling to survive. However, by upgrading communities and being conscious tourists, these areas can be uplifted and improved, helping the one-seventh of the world that lives in slums.

Photo: Flickr

Martial Arts in Brazil
Brazil’s strength lies in its globalization: soccer and its telenovelas, for instance, are instantly recognizable to the international gaze as part of the country’s cultural brand. The same can be said for martial arts. The practice of martial arts in Brazil has existed since the 16th century, but the nation didn’t globally influence the field until the 20th century. Today, martial arts is a tangible and widely known element to Brazil’s landscape that is steadily being used to empower the upcoming generation.

Martial Arts

Martial arts is not just a combat sport; it is a codified system that permits the individual to learn more about oneself internally and externally. Many, if not all, forms of martial arts strive to improve the body, mind and spirit in equal precedence. Its cultural eminence and exploration of one’s limits make martial arts an excellent teaching enhancement for children in Brazil.

This is doubly true for those born in favelas – Brazilian slums where youth options are often limited to criminality, drug trafficking and sex trade. Families are increasingly enrolling their children in martial arts classes to keep them off the violent and poverty-ridden streets. The safe and controlled practicum of martial arts provides a fresh approach to life; children that would have otherwise continued to churn the cycle of poverty are able to build trust, strength and companionship while training with others.

Fight for Peace

Located in Complexo da Maré, a dangerous complex of favelas in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone, is the organization Fight for Peace. The organization’s mission is upheld by their Five Pillars methodology. The First Pillar is to teach boxing and martial arts to local youth in order to boost self-esteem, discipline and respectful camaraderie. The other Four Pillars are education, employability, support services and youth leadership. These include opportunities such as vocational courses, home visits, education for those with learning difficulties and individual mentoring.

Children are encouraged to maintain an education and thereby continue their martial arts training until at least the age of schooling. By employing a multi-disciplinary approach that starts with martial arts in Brazil, Fight for Peace emboldens young individuals in disadvantaged communities to realize and pursue their potential.

Jose Aldo Fight School

Another valuable resource in Maré is the Jose Aldo Fight School, founded by UFC Featherweight Champion, Jose Aldo. As someone who came from an impoverished background with limited opportunities, Aldo has turned his success into a platform that paves the way for others.

So far, Aldo’s school has trained 534 students between the ages of 6 and 22 in judo, jiu-jitsu and boxing. The school aims to provide a strong and supportive community where children won’t feel that their only option out of hardship is to resort to crime.

Empowering the Youth

“Here, we replace a gun for a kimono,” says Marcelo Negrão, a jiu-jitsu teacher at Jose Aldo Fight School. Martial arts in Brazil have enabled its impoverished youth to harness the formative power of sport and use that confidence to create new paths for themselves.

Going forward, this medium of empowerment will hopefully continue to gain traction within the nation and as a global practice.

– Yumi Wilson
Photo: Huffington Post

Brazilian Slums rio de janeiro facts
In 2016, the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro drew massive media attention to Brazil. While the majority of the media focus centered on the games themselves, concerns grew about Brazil’s dangerous climate, particularly in regard to the country’s slums. Below are facts about Brazilian slums.

Top Facts about Slums in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

  1. The common term for a Brazilian slum is a favela. The name originated out of wartime, as soldiers during Brazil’s civil war sought temporary refuge on hills filled with favela plants.
  2. Favelas grew as migration increased. Since proper housing was too expensive for many immigrants, they turned to the poor, yet cheap, conditions favelas provided on the outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
  3. Approximately six percent of Brazil’s population lives in favelas. Today, there are about 1,000 favelas in Rio and 1,600 in São Paulo.
  4. The typical favela has poor infrastructure, leading to difficulties in electricity and plumbing.
  5.  Disease is also rampant within favelas, as there is no standard for sanitation. Health risks may stem from overcrowding, pollution and a lack of waste disposal systems. Life expectancy within favelas is approximately 48 years, while the national average is 68.
  6. Poor living conditions within favelas often breed crime. Drug trafficking is common, with most members being young male teenagers, who are four-fifths more likely to die before age 21, Joe Griffin of The Guardian reports.
  7. Gangs not only initiate wars amongst each other in Brazilian slums, but against police. There have been frequent shootouts between gangs and police, especially during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio when the state government was forced to employ numerous police pacification units (UPPs).
  8. Although UPPs originally heightened safety when initially introduced in 2008, they have recently been the center of much controversy, as civilian deaths have increased as a result of police misconduct.
  9. Despite these poor conditions, life in favelas is beginning to improve. NGOs, such as Community in Action, are focused on sustainable community development within these Brazilian slums.
  10. Many houses now have access to new technologies, such as television and the Internet. In addition, small businesses are making progress within their communities, most recently in the area of tourism.

Although progress appears underway, the Brazilian government must take more secure action to ensure that conditions within these Brazilian slums improve further.

Genevieve T. DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

Many believe that gentrification is a purely American and European phenomenon in which large numbers of college graduates move to cheap, urban areas and open yoga studios, green markets and “hipster” coffee shops. However, gentrification is not only a global occurrence but also an established urban renewal and regeneration strategy in all corners of the world.

The Oxford Dictionaries define “gentrification” as the “renovation or improvement (of a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class tastes.” Middle-class tastes in American cities like Portland, Seattle or New York City usually relate to the rise of what sociologists term the “creative class”—a group of young people entering the workforce concerned with personal expression and technological advances more than monetary progress. Professor and urban studies theorist Richard Florida found that one-third of Americans belong in the creative class.

“I define the Creative Class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content,” said Florida.

Although developing countries have not necessarily experienced as significant a rise of a distinct creative class, middle-class residents of the community as well as significant tourist populations have completely redesigned global cities. Specifically, some poor shantytowns—favelas—in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have experienced a complete upheaval of population and culture to cater to new, wealthier residents.

“Pacification programs” that officials applied in the past fifteen years, especially those immediately before Rio’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup and leading up to the 2016 Olympics, have done as much harm as good.

Favela residents report that areas that were once slums, full of rampant drug gangs, violence and poverty, are now safe places to live, policed by a permanent security presence. Increased security in favelas has attracted a population with a sense for business and entrepreneurship, which keeps the economic interests growing.

Foreigners have recently entered the housing market in favelas in Rio and are buying property more frequently than locals. As tourists no longer have to pay taxes to drug gangs, many foreign and native residents advertised their property for temporary stay on the Airbnb website during the World Cup and Olympics.

As the value and popularity of the city increases with new construction and business opportunities, property prices have risen dramatically. Houses that cost $2,500 in 2006 cost $75,000 in 2014. As a result, whole socioeconomic groups no longer have the ability to live in the favelas that they once called home. Current residents are also struggling with rent increases and displacement, and are being forced to move to more dangerous favelas.

Ebilene Rodriguez Periera, a 54-year-old resident of a favela in Vidigal, an area in Rio, said that the new hotels and restaurants are being built for foreigners, “not for us.” Veronica Mora, another resident of a favela in Santa Marta, detailed community resistance against rent increases, demolitions and evictions.

“For years, the authorities did nothing when it was so dangerous to live here. Now that the area is finally safe, they want us to move out,” said Mora.

American researcher and former resident of Santa Marta, Charles Heck, finds that pacification programs—essentially government-sponsored gentrification programs—have changed urbanization and urban regeneration policies. Many new urbanization policies now deny current residents basic trash, water and electrical services in what some urban theorist experts call an attempt to force residents out. Gentrification in Rio de Janeiro has resulted in Rio’s strategic plan to provide for a 5% reduction in favelas from 2013 to 2016.

“Post-UPP, urbanization has focused primarily on land titles and new businesses rather than health, sanitation, education and other infrastructure,” said Heck.

The U.N. has critiqued Rio’s implementation of gentrification policies in the past, as an organized governmental effort to include residents of favelas in urban plans is essential to a thriving city. Inclusion of large social and socioeconomic groups encourages citizen participation and increases the viability of solutions to social justice issues in Portland and Rio de Janeiro alike.

Paulina Menichiello

Sources: Business Insider, NPR, Oxford Dictionary, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Brazil’s booming economic growth is now slowing down, and the rose-tinted glasses have come off, as urban housing problems in Brazil worsen. While the country experienced extraordinary economic growth in the past decade, growing 4 percent per year between 2002 and 2008, these rates have fallen to just 1.3 percent over the past 4 years. If anything, this decline should prompt investigation beyond the pristine beaches and sleek high-rises that have given Brazilian urban life a glamorous aura.

Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two biggest cities in Brazil, with populations numbering approximately 11 million and 6 million respectively, have, in particular, captivated international travelers with increasing prosperity and abundant cultural amenities. With more perceived opportunities and advantages in urban areas, Brazilians themselves have also flocked to these two metropolises in search of better lives with 80 percent of Brazilians now living in urban areas. While these ascending cities seem to have garnered attention for all the right reasons, they also contain considerable eyesores; ostracized to the outskirts or huddled in the heart of downtown, dense slums, or favelas, stifle Brazilian cities.

As urban areas have grown, these shantytowns of old tin and cinderblock have come to house millions of impoverished Brazilians in dangerous, crowded and dirty conditions. Though synonymous with Brazil’s urban housing crisis, favelas are nothing new.

They first appeared in Rio de Janeiro around the turn of the 20th century as civil war veterans returned home without government assistance. Turning to the steep hills of Rio de Janeiro’s fame, they sought shelter in makeshift housing, but instead only found more strife in unsafe living conditions. The favelas continued to expand in Brazilian cities as migrant workers settled in Sao Paolo and Rio in search of opportunity and failed to find adequate housing. In Rio, favelas concentrated next to affluent communities and followed the impoverished up the sharp slopes, while in Sao Paolo the favelas formed on the margins of the city. Over the years, a lack of public services and precarious sitting has literally eroded communities as mudslides 1966, 1996 and 2001 wiped away favelas.

Today, favelas have become an unfortunate and noticeable part of Brazilian life, indicative of an overwhelming housing crisis. According to the New York Times, in just the past six years housing prices in Sao Paolo have “increased by 208 percent and the cost of rent has increased by 97.5 percent in the metro area.” The price of a 970 square foot apartment in Sao Paolo is 16 times the average annual wage while nearly a third of the city lives in slum-like conditions. Overall, Brazil has a housing deficit of 7 million units and 20 percent of its total population lives in inadequate housing.

Those who have resigned to these slums must essentially live without infrastructure. Most favelas lack effective sewage systems, access to potable water and waste management systems. The communities have become so densely built up, that modern roads and utilities are nearly impossible to install. As areas with little government regulation, favelas also serve as ideal crime havens. Drug dealings and gang violence plague these secluded streets and have proven notoriously hard to snuff out. In the late 90s, the homicide rate in the Diadema favela of Sao Paulo averaged one murder per day.

Obviously, confronting the issue of the favela has become a daunting task. The Brazilians learned early that the most effective strategy was, ironically, to leave them standing. In the 1980s, after years of demolition, the Brazilian government realized that slum upgrading was more humane and cost-efficient than rebuilding them.

In order to transform favelas into safer, and more hygienic communities, the city officials of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro have employed a surprising set of methods. Despite their squatter’s status, government plans have attempted to provide favela residents with titles to their homes. Not only does this provide the impoverished with dignity, but it also allows the cities greater regulation of the favelas. Along with increased property rights come building safety codes, taxes and public services and utilities that can benefit the community.

These programs have also empowered the communities to assist in the improvement efforts themselves. In Rio de Janeiro’s neighborhood of Providencia Hill, garbage and litter have become pressing issues due to narrow streets that restrict waste management vehicles. A new program has incentivized local trash collection by allowing residents to exchange one bag of trash for a gallon of milk. Not only does this clean up the community, it also provides the residents with better nourishment.

Community engagement also extends to crime prevention. In Sao Paolo, the city government has attempted to attack crime in some of its most dangerous favelas by instituting another form of an exchange program. This time, however, it involves toys. In exchange for toy guns, the program would provide children with comic books in an effort to diminish gun culture and in turn to encourage parents to relinquish their actual firearms. Over the course of three years, 27,000 toy guns have been exchanged along with 1,600 guns in just the first six months of the program.

By employing creative and engaging strategies, government officials from Brazil’s two largest cities have begun to change Brazil’s poor urban housing conditions one comic book at a time. While perhaps eyesores, the favelas have become deeply entrenched communities that are better off upgraded than demolished. Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro hold the hopes of millions of Brazilians within their limits. But the question remains: can they house them?

– Andrew Logan

Sources: Cal Poly, The Economist The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, The New York Times University College London, UN The World Bank
Photo: Wooster Collective