Oct 7, 201302:00 PMPoint of View
Uncovering the Future Voices of the Favelas
(page 1 of 3)
The taxi driver is reluctant to take us all the way into Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo's second largest favela. He leaves us roughly 6 blocks away from the community center where we are about to have a meeting. With a makeshift printed Google map in hand, we hesitantly make our way into unfamiliar territory. This will be our first experience visiting a favela, and needless to say, we were a bit nervous.
Ironically, we'd spent the last 14 months digging into the complexity of favelas and, in the process, became huge advocates for pushing beyond the stereotypes and the stigmas of crime and danger. And now here we are, nervous about our short journey through the neighborhood. Our fight or flight response to the place, would end up characterizing a large portion of our trip; it would also become a much larger metaphor for the residents of the favelas: There are those who want to fight for improvement, and those who want to do all they can to get out. This favela dichotomy is demonstrated as we make our ascent through winding streets, towards our destination.
James and I came to Sao Paulo, to meet some of our largest research questions head on. Having successfully built out a dense network and defined a series of assumptions that we were acting upon, we had not yet begun to develop a deeper understanding of our users—the residents of the favelas. We'd come to Sao Paulo for two weeks, with hopes of uncovering the true value of maps and data collection for these communities and the systems that exist within them. From a government and NGO perspective, creating a tool to generate and capture informal data would be a monumental success. We just weren't sure if the residents themselves felt the same way.
Courtesy Meagan Durlak, 2013
After our apprehensive tour through the winding streets of Paraisopolis, we made it to our destination, the community center. In comparison with other São Paulo favelas, or even all of Brazil for that matter, Paraisopolis is well developed. There is a soccer field, an orchestra, a ballet group, and an education complex. Our main contact at the community center, Gilson Rodrigues, is a lifelong resident of the favela and current director of the center's operations. Gilson wants to garner as much government support as he can, in order to make crucial improvements for his community. Our conversation with him validates our belief that maps and data collection would help in his government advocacy process. But the question remains: Would, the community care?
The next favela we visit, Heliopolis, is the most populous favela in all of São Paulo, peaking at some 150,000 residents. Here, too we had set up a meeting with the director of their community center, Reginaldo. In complete contrast to Gilson, Reginaldo tells us flat out that his main motivation is not to create numbers for the government, but to create empowerment for his community. As a matter of fact, he feels that the best way to achieve success would be to tap into the youth movement within the favela. In his mind, they are the force that can create space for adoption of new projects within their community. As we walk through the streets of the favela, this becomes exceptionally apparent—we see young people everywhere; they’re working in shops, flying kites, walking to school; even the local radio station is run by volunteers who don’t look a day over 18. This insight would prove to be of immense value to our project further down the road.