Sunday, July 4, 2010

Another side to favelas in Rio

Ok Jim - kudos to you for getting such long comments out of me!  I'm really liking your blog topics lately!  Follow up to Jim's blog...

As someone who has been on the favela tour, I have to comment that there are definitely tour groups who have good intentions, and give back to the community.  There are so called "good favela tours".  On the tour that we went on, we were given some really useful and informed information about life in the favelas, most of which broke down negative rumours and stereotypes that favelas are crime ridden, poverty stricken, slums.  The woman who led the tour was really passionate about setting us straight on what the favelas are all about.

The people are poor but they're not miserable, was more or less the theme of the tour.

On that note, the proceeds from the tour went towards funding a community elementary school (which we did go to visit and meet the teachers and students in this school). 

Obviously, I too felt a bit timid going on the tour. I didn't want to be the ignorant tourist going to gawk and stare because the reality is I have a huge interest in life inside the favelas.  They are such a huge part of the culture and community of Rio.  You can't turn a corner without seeing a huge favela community spiraling up a mountain.  We were so privileged to be allowed in.  And I was so grateful and surprised at how friendly and accepting the community was of us entering.  Everyone we passed said hello, smiled, said bom dia...

Yes, the favelas are run by drug dealers.  Another reality.  But as far as crime ridden?  The only rule inside the favela is 'don't shit where you live'.  They don't want the cops coming there.  Of course, drug dealing is sort of an invitation for crime but at least you know the intentions are there!

Anyway, I was really impressed with how respectful and informative the favela tour was that I went on.  I will post the name of it shortly because I can't remember right now.  The only advice I can give if you are thinking about going on a favela tour is to do your research before.  Do your research before you take a tour and make sure you're joining an ethical one. 

Here are a few pics from the tour we went on in April...
The school that the tour funded
Tight walkways between houses


  1. Thanks for your thoughts from your first hand experience. Like you I have an interest in the realities of my neighbors. I have thought more than once to volunteer my time to teach English in a school attended by more than just rich kids who don't really want to be there. (So far, such organized opportunities have been in Rio and I shutter at the thought of more bus travel over the bay. But I will find something in Niteói.)

    It's good to know you can go with a reputable tour operator who gives back. And I especially like the myth-busting aspect of taking a tour. Gosh knows practically everyone I speak to who does not live in a favela speaks poorly of them and their residents (except the one resident who leaves their poor neighborhood to come and clean their house, and even then...).

    I am reluctant to endorse the tours on the travel sights I post at because of the voyeuristic, relatively rich tourist coming to see the poor people in Brazil while on vacation aspect of it all. Often time these travelers have not thought about their motivations behind their desire to take pictures of poor people or the impact they may have on those they will be shooting (so to speak). That's where I'm coming from.

    I have spoken of taking a tour myself to my friends and family and they look at me like I have three heads (none with a brain). But I come off a 30 year career in social work/social justice and that does not seem to register with many in my current circle.

  2. SorrY I didn't just write a comment on your blog but I thought it would be too long and also, I wanted to share my thoughts with the public because it's definitely a sensitive subject for a lot of Brazilians.

    My MIL also looked at me like I had 3 heads upon hearing I wanted to go to a favela. Also, my 12 y.o. student's opinions on favelas are that they are poor, dangerous, and ugly.

    I thought the exact opposite when I saw them for the first time. I think they are incredibly cool looking and just so fascinating!

    I completely understand where you're coming from. I think it lends itself to wonder whether it is the tour groups we should be discouraging or the tourists themselves? It seems more likely that the 'people' wanting to see favelas want to go and stare and gawk at how 'different they are' and make citizens who live in favelas feel that way as well.

    As far as I am aware, the tourist groups aim to break down myths and help fund positive additions to the community. But, of course, there are going to be some who would love to just take advantage of the nosey, invasive, ignorant tourists! C'est la vie... :(

  3. I certainly understand the controversy about slum tours. I am both FOR and AGAINST them. Let me explain this.

    I was born, grew up and still live in brazil's largest slum or favela. Life is dificult yes, but not impossible. I am proud to live here in Rocinha. I will never leave here, but I do not want to leave here. This is my home. This is my feelings about this issue of slum/favela tourism.

    What I like about the tours is the contact I get from foreigns who come here. This interaction helps me to educate people about my life here in the favela. When foreigns come here I feel like my home/favela has value and are worth to be seen. The Brazilian goverment mostly ignores us and helps us very little. We want our voice to be heard. I want to feel that somebody on the outside cares about us and recognizes that we exist. Up until about 5 years ago favelas did not exist on maps. Why was this?
    Many foreigns come to learn how we create and live in our comunity with little or no goverment involvement. Others come becase of the art and culture that exists here.
    I do not judge why people come, they confirm that we exist.

    I started in tourism becase I saw the oportunity to show my favela and help create jobs for others here. We live here, and should be making the tours here. I have heard outsider tour companies exagerrate things or tell outright lies about my favela. They do this becase they do not know and do not live here. I am here to show a social experience not some adrenalin tour. With my work, about 20% return to volunteer in social projects or start their own programs in the favela. Recently people have contacted me wanting to make projects like a rooftop garden class and another person wants to help bring solar energy here. These are people who came on visits here in the favela. Is this bad?

    What I do NOT like about the tours...the tours made in jeeps or trucks is the worst becase it presents us like a zoo. The tourists have no contact with the locals and this reinforces a sense of possible danger. Tours or visits where the guests walk in the favela are more welcome. There is one company that tells their guests not to interact with the locals if they are approached. This is wrong. The glamorization of violence is another thing that we do not like here. It is as if these companies are trying to capitalize on some kind of excitement. Favelas are not war zones and people need understand that real, honest hardworking people live there, we just make less money.

    There are tour companies here who use the comunity to make money but they give very little or nothing back to the community. This is not right. They should contribute something for the betterment of the favela. There are plenty of social projects here who could use help.

    I am not ashamed to live in the favela and people should not feel shame to come and visit. All we ask is please do not take fotos of us like we are animals and do not have fear if we say hello to you on the street.

    If we want to stop or reduce poverty, we need to stop pretending it does not exist. I call it socially responsible tourism. If you chose to tour this type of comunity, try to give something back however big or small. I work with a art school and encourage people to bring art supplies, not money.

    Slums, favelas and shanties are where 1/3 of the population live in all major cities, serving the needs of mostly the rich. Visiting these places may increase your knowledge and awareness at a much deeper level than visiting a museum or art exhibition. Ignoring poverty is not going to make it go away and those who have more, should not feel guilt. Unfortunately, this world will always have this unbalance of wealth. Sad but true.

    Thank you,

    Zezinho da Rocinha


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