West Virginia University College of Law, 2L
May 28, 2007
Reflection Day 16
To me a `hood is a `hood. While there may be varying degrees of poverty and differing structural issues, similar issues face poor areas everywhere we go. As we approached the Rocinha Favela, I was amazed at the striking similarities between the main street and parts of the Bronx, or parts of East Harlem , or parts of the South Side of Chicago or even the West Side of Chicago. My stomach was in knots. As rich as we are in the US, we are still losing the same battle as the rest of the world.
As we ride up a windy road on motorcycle, I take in all the sights and sounds. These are people like you and me. They are working, living, loving, dying, and enjoying life. Every Brasilian we have encountered who learned of our pending Favela tour tried so hard to dissuade us, with scary tales of violence and overbearing drug lords. They acted as if we were going to some unknown hostile territory. Unknown yes, but hostile no. As we begin on the walking part of our tour, we see children going to school, people going to and from work or running errands. Our guide Luis explains that the children are public school students. The little ones with orange shirts are in kindergarten. Just like my daughter Nailah. Bright eyed and ready to learn, the children march off with their back packs in tow. This is real life.
As we descend into the actual neighborhood, we begin to navigate narrow corridors. Luis explains to us that the street we are on was once a major byway, that had the capacity to hold cars. Now it can barely support two way passenger traffic. Along the way we stop at a local shop and an art studio. We stop and say hi to Luis´s grandmother as she looks out the window. Luis, our tour guide appears to be a man of the people. Luis is our Lula (the Brazilian President) the kids shout out! He brings hope to many people in his community. He helps to connect the kids with his friend a local artist who teaches the kids art in his studio and then helps sell the best paintings. They teach the kids to use their talents instead of begging for money or turning to crime. After touring the art studio we meet perhaps the finest young artist in the neighborhood, Nicholas. At 9 he is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English and he is an avid painter. He talks to us for a little while and shares a little about what inspires his work. He has been painting for about four years. Nearby his father beams proudly at what his son will accomplish. Hopefully Nicholas can go far. I am interested in seeing how he grows up. What would it take for us to help these children empower themselves with the tools they need to thrive and be successful Brazilians?
The people Luis works with are only a small group and cannot expect to correct all the wrongs around them. But it is a shining example of what is possible when Brazilians come together and take action. Grassroots community based programs produce the best results. I feel at home here, around the people. Another major success for this community, is the day care center. The center is funded solely by donations and money from the tours. In the day care center it is naptime, but many children wake up to sneak a peek at the gringos (foreigners) who look at them. Seeing the little ones makes me think of my own children. I know how hard it is to have safe, decent and trustworthy people to care for your children. This center is a life saver. The women and men who care for these children do so out of the belief that they deserve love and care and attention, while their parents are away at work or school. During the tour, Luis has a surprise for Professor Outterson, the top floor has been completed since the Law School´s visit last year! They will be able to have a second nursery which can hold about 20 more children.
My own personal struggle pales in comparison to the daily challenges faced by the residents of Rocinha. Even though there is the uphill hike to catch the bus or motorcycle taxi and the inadequate garbage and sewerage system, the people here don´t let the shortcomings take away from living. It is easy to have anger and despair at a situation (and while some may choose to drown their sorrows) at least from our brief visit the residents of this community are as vibrant and diverse and proud as any other in Brazil. At home in the US and abroad, we need to stop fearing and ignoring poverty and work together to end its reign on our society.