Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rocinha Favela = Misunderstood

Waiting anxiously at the end of our street for any bus with the illuminated words 'Rocinha' branded on the top, we felt a sense of both apprehensive and excitement at the same time. Finally a bus approached with our desired destination and we boarded, squashed, close and hot we were whirled down a long concrete tunnel 'Zuzu Angel' which for us felt like the very clear marker of where the affluent Gavea neighbourhood ended and the Rocinha favela began.

 At nighttime all we could see of the vast favela was the sea of lights cascading down the mountain above. Police presence was very apparent as the red and blue lights of about 3 police cars flashed on the street. We walked from the bus stop to the 'Super Sucos' juice bar, where we had been told to wait for two volunteers who would take us to the school. As we sat down and ordered a Manga juice (admittedly that was one of the few fruits we understood) we didn’t feel nervous or unsafe at all, instead we were interested by the constant growl of motor taxis, the chatter and bustle of people, the combination of smells from petrol to fried onions.  It seemed like a place constantly on the go and while we sat, waited and watched the time go by, no one paid any attention to us, and that was something we were not expecting, being that we do seem to give off that tourist English vibe no matter how hard we try. It was a pleasant surprise and an eye opening first insight. 

As Ben and Jess took us on a short tour  (they are both Resident Volunteers who have both been working with 2Bros and living in Rocinha for 6 months) one word came to our minds: Community.  Granted this is a buzz work in the applied theatre world but at times it seems it is misrepresented, as what we witnessed was: a community just simply of people living, working, laughing, playing, talking - going about their lives. It wasn't the shocking, scary, unsafe place depicted in news reports or travel guides. This was something very different.

Walking up a little sloped alley, just a few minutes from the entrance of the favela, we arrived at Escola Moranguinhos 'The school of little strawberries'.

Jess explained that she takes beginners English classes for 8 year olds twice a week, and that evening we would be able to sit in on and help in one of her classes. At around 6.30pm, 12 highly energetic children came bursting through the door, interested to know who we are, why we are there and trying to converse as best they could with us. While the fact that we don’t speak Portuguese seemed a slight issue and at times was a barrier, once we met the kids and started to play some simple English exercises and games which focused on predominantly on numbers, letters and short sentences we seemed to cope well, and anything we didn't understand would be translated for us by one of the Resident Volunteers.

After a whirlwind hour or so, the class was over. We then met Jennifer, who is co-ordinator of the company and has been working with them for around a year.  She was very friendly and welcoming, and she told us exactly what the schedule for our time with 2bros would look like. Aside from our classes we will have the opportunity to help in Erin's class (which is teenagers learning intermediate English) as well as Jess's class. Also there is a field trip which the students are attending in a couple of weeks and Jen asked if we could cover the classes while some of the students go on the trip! After the class, the other volunteers asked if we wanted to grab some sushi before we left (an offer we happily accepted as we have heard that sushi in Rio is the best outside of Japan) and as we sat in a small restaurant, lost somewhere in the streets of the favela, we found the opportunity to get to know the people working with 2bros. Over some delicious sushi what came across most was their sense of happiness and passion living in Rocinha, as well as their admiration for the sense of community spirit generated by the people who live there!

Olivia Jackman
Masters Student from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London
2bros Voluntourist


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