Im Rahmen meiner Diplomarbeit, verbrachte ich 6 Monate in Rio de Janeiro, der zweitgrößten Stadt Brasiliens. Das Leben dort schien so leicht, friedlich und sorglos. Doch ich kam auch in Kontakt mit der anderen Seite Rios. In Rio leben ungefähr 12,7 Millionen Menschen, davon sind geschätzte 30 Prozent Bewohner von Armutsvierteln, den sogenannten Favelas. Aber die Armut ist nicht das größte Problem – auch Kriminalität und Drogen dominieren das Leben der Menschen in den Favelas. Das Projekt „Favela Street“setzt genau hier an: Mit dem weltweit beliebten Ballsport werden Kindern und Jugendlichen aus der Gewaltspirale gezeigt. Bei unseren ersten Begegnung erzählte Wendy mir von ihren Erfahrungen, ich wurde neugierig und bat sie um dieses Interview.
1. Wendy, you are volunteering for „Favela Street“, a project that was recently started in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Can you briefly explain what Favela Street is and what the objectives are?
The project was started in March 2012 by Philip Veldhuis from Holland. He used to volunteer for a dutch NGO here in Rio (IBISS) and decided four years ago to take action himself and start his own project in a favela. I am basically part of it since the beginning and we are persueing two main goals:
On the one hand, we want to help „ex-soldados“, young people who were working for the drug business in the favelas, to find their way out of criminality and support and show them a future perspective. The second important side of the project are kids. We want to make sure, that they dont get involved in the drug traffic in the first place and prevent them from getting in touch with dangerous people and bad influences.
We connect these two goals by organising soccer tournaments and trainings for the favela kids. In this way, we can keep the kids away from the streets and involve ex-soldados, by teaching them how to organise and carry out an event for 500 kids.
2. The drug traffic seems to be a big issue in Rio. What does it mean to be part of it?
In Rio, 1.300 kids under 18 years of age die every year because of the drug war. Many kids already get involved in the traffic by the age of 11 or 12 and most of them dont make it until their 21st birthday – they get killed before.
Being part of it means being part of a strict hierarchy. The newer members of the gangs mostly have to do the „easy jobs“ like keeping watch over in- and outgoing goods. Gradually, responsibility and money increase but also the risk grows that something happens.
We mainly work in two favelas, where one big drug gang called „commando vermelho“ dominates the business.
3. But how can Favela Street prevent kids from getting involved in the drug business?
Playing soccer positively influences the kids in different ways. Soccer for them mostly means fun. They love to play and quickly grow together as a team. Many of these kids already have a rather disillusioned view of their future. They think „I am from a favela, so I will never be able to accomlish anything in my life“. It is important to build up their self-confidence. They gain this quickly as they realize they’re getting better by just doing it regularly and pushing/supporting each other.
The regular trainings and sessions also mean more structure in their everyday-lives. We make sure that they go to school constantly, otherwise they can’t take part in the trainings. As long as they are with us, we know that they are not hanging out on the street, which is also an important aspect.
In the end the ex-soldados who are teaching them, pretty much function as role models. They also come from a favela, they have already been at the bottom but found a way out. This gives the kids strength and shows them a perspective.
4. How would you describe the role of an "ex-soldado" and how do they get involved in Favela Street?
When they come into our project they are between 16 and 25 years old and decided, that they want to get out of the drug business. We therefore work together tightly with a project initiated by IBISS, called „soldado nunca mais“ (drug soldier never again). Within this initiative, they get supported and prepared for a life without drugs and criminality. On this path everyone of them has to gain experience by learning, helping out and taking responsibilities in other projects and Favela Street is one of them.
We teach them skills in organising and carrying out events and they get paid for that as well, as it is their job. The money can’t keep up with what they used to earn as a soldado but they start to value quickly that it is honest money. The goal of this phase is to prepare them for a life without drugs and criminality but with an honest job. We want to support them until they can manage their own future. In the end we are also aiming for getting Favela Street run by ex-soldados only, who can pass on their knowledge and thus extend the project to a lot more places.
5. So this is basically the plan for the future?
Yes, because until now we are located only in two favelas, where we give trainings two times a week and have soccer tournaments every two to three weeks (depending on the money available). We currently work with 500 kids and 4 ex-soldados. There are about 1.300 favelas in the state Rio de Janeiro, so in the future we would like to extend the initiative and start over in other favelas as well.
6. When you came here first, how were you, as a rather exotic girl for here, received by the kids?
I got introduced to everyone by Philip, the founder who is also a „gringo“ with light hair, so it was not completely strange to them. The kids were awesomely friendly and curious right from the beginning and wanted to know everything at once. Where I’m from, why I’m here and so on. I was feeling accepted from the beginning.
7. Can you move freely around the favela or do you have to be accompanied by local people?
I am basically never alone here. Either Philip or somebody else who knows the place is with me. Not especially because I couldn’t move around alone but because a big part of the program is being and interacting within a team. But of course it is also important to be aware of that something could happen and you shouldn’t take that risk.
8. How does Favela Street pay for itself?
Until now we basically afforded everything with funds of family and friends. In some parts we are also cooperating with IBISS. To keep this project running we will need to gather another 1.000 ,- EUR per month - donations are always very welcome!
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