From the Favelas of Sao Paulo [Newsletter 1 Brazil]

Hi everyone,

How are you doing?

For the 7th year in a row, we have taken our balluchon to put our skills at the service of an exceptional NGO during our summer vacations. This year, with Sarah, we propose you to travel with us to Brazil and to discover a Franco-Brazilian organization called Arca Do Saber located in the heart of the favelas of Sao Paulo.

Romain Sion Brésil

To hide nothing from you, we left with some prejudices: social inequalities at the highest level, sometimes dangerous districts but an increadible atmosphere. We were not at the end of our surprises…

Our arrival:
Having landed in Rio de Janeiro, we took the opportunity to discover the splendid view at sunset from the top of the Sugarloaf before heading to Sao Paulo. Very kindly an expat family had accepted to lend us their apartment. When we arrived in front of the double security gate guarded 24 hours a day, we understood that we were arriving in another world. With a panoramic view, a swimming pool, a gym, staff for cooking, cleaning…, the apartment is located in the most beautiful area of the city. From the very first day, we understood that we would have to make the great distance every morning between the neighborhoods where the “elite” reside and the most difficult social classes.

Sao Paulo

When we arrived, Thais, the director of the NGO, warmly welcomed us and introduced us to the whole team. Being a dentist, Sarah’s mission is to do a dental check-up of all the young people of the NGO in order to identify possible critical cases and to collect data to convince the municipality to release the budget. As for me, I am in charge of an impact measurement mission on one of their educational programs.

At the entrance to the Favela:
Although reputed to be less dangerous than Rio’s, Sao Paulo’s favelas remain important drug trafficking points. As we entered the favela, we noticed 3 lookouts filtering all the comings and goings of this entrance.

Romain Sion Arca Do Saber Vila Prudente

Placed in strategic places, they are able to find anyone in a few minutes with their walkie-talkies, especially the police in civilian clothes. The armed gang being located at the end of the street, we quickly understood that it was not necessary to walk around anywhere and that we had to respect some rules. In order to be identified as volunteers, we wear fluorescent vests marked Arca Do Saber.

Romain Sion Arca Do Saber Vila Prudente

What struck us was the perception of the police where the inhabitants are more afraid of them than of the traffickers. The day before our arrival, a big police raid had taken place in retaliation for the robbery of a jewelry store. These are the most dangerous moments when it can be dangerous. On their side, the traffickers do everything to keep the peace and avoid robberies. When the inhabitants rebel, it is bad for business.

The soul of the favela:
Convinced that we must go beyond this first reality, André the community leader in charge of all housing issues (access to water, electricity,…), took us to visit his neighborhood. By going into the small invisible alleys from the outside, we discovered the soul of the favela. Many artists have expressed themselves directly on the walls of the houses. The common denominator: it is the mosaic.

Romain Sion Arca Do Saber Vila Prudente

But why these materials? According to André, mosaic is the expression of diversity. From different pieces, we constitute a harmonious and beautiful whole. We then went to a chapel where the stained glass windows were made from bottles embedded in the walls. Would you have imagined a ballet hall in the favela? It is however the case! Many positive initiatives exist. Culture and art are powerful levers of change. The leaders of the favela have understood it well!

Romain Sion Arca Do Saber Vila Prudente

After one week in Arca Do Saber, we are not at the end of our surprises. Before concluding this 1st newsletter, two observations: the kindness of the Brazilians and their taste for music. Music is one of the elements that unites all Brazilians, whatever their social or ethnic background or age.

Do not hesitate to send us your news.

Have a nice vacation and see you soon,

Sarah & Romain