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Aiden’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 24 Jun 2006

Location: São Paulo, Brazil

MapToday was an unusual day.
What began as a tour of the organisation Leo and his friend Tiago founded, ended out showing insight into a different life, an alternate world, and I was not really prepared to see it.
Tiago is one of Leo´s friends who grew up in a ´favela´ neighborhood. For those who do not know, a ´favela´ is a shack, or hut for which people call home, who have very little to no money at all. Those who have seen City Of God are already enlightened. The biggest favela in São Paulo, Paraisópolis, which means Paradise City, consisting of 80,000 people and growing.
You see here in Brazil, schooling is somewhat seperated from university entry... its not like Australia. After graduating, students sit like an ´university admissions test´ to enable them to get into university. Of course, the people who can afford private tutoring or special courses, use these to prepare, and also have attended private schools which prepare them for this test from the start of schooling, but those growing up in favelas or public schools, are sometimes unable to read and write correctly after graduating.
To cut a very long story shorter, Tiago studied his arse off and won a scholarship to attend a preparation course for the university admissions test. He now studies Law with Leo at Mackenzie University here in São Paulo. Having no way to pay for his degree, Tiago approached Leo, who was treasurer of the Law society at the time, and asked what help they could give him to stay studying here at Mackenzie. He applied and recieved a full scholarship to study Law.
Having gone through this ordeal, he asked Leo´s help to start up a foundation that would coach those students who wanted to study further and prepare them for the university admissions test. ´MACKVEST Investir Educação Social´ was born (the translation for that name is Investing in Social Education). They use the public schools on the weekends, and volunteer students from Mackenzie University teach these students from favelas to prepare for this test. One school started in the neighborhood where Tiago was from, and now has grown to 300 students in São Paulo with volunteer teachers teaching in the North, South and East of São Paulo. The presbyterian church has now founded the project and food is now provided because students often have to travel 5-6 hours to access the public schools. MACKVEST Investir Educação Social is growing faster and faster every day.
Leo is a co-ordinator but still chooses to teach because he loves it so much, and today he took me to the public schools where they teach. Students are students where ever you go, but hope it what is driving these students and teachers in these schools. Walking around with Tiago and Leo was a bit like walking around with the principal at school... everyone pretends to work in case he catches you not studying. I hear Leo is pretty harsh when his stduents arent working...
The second school we stopped at was on the border of São Paulo´s biggest favela (80,000) and it is comprised of 5 districts. Little alley, Big Alley, Swallen Foot, Centre Area, and another i am not sure of the name. Along with the program that Tiago and Leo run, the public school is also like a community centre for kids of all ages to go and hang out, so they are not in the street. Capoeria, breakdancing, chess, ping-pong, and of course futbol is played each weekend. Tiago asked if i wanted to play futbol with the locals from the favelas. They dont participate in the program but Tiago knew them from working in the favelas. It was quite an experience... they are far better than most futbol players i have played against, though teamwork is not too evident... now I see why Brasil National team are a team of individuals- it starts from ground roots. But Leo, Tiago and I did pretty well I thought, i even scored 2 goals, and won one game!! Though I didnt crow at all, I was more afraid than ever of upseting any of them.
I think I may have been the first foreigner ever to play with them in the favelas.
After a hot 3 rounds of futbol we settled down and I was introduced to Gilson and friend.
Leo quickly told me that basically he is the man in the favelas, actually vice president of the Favela Union, as the president didnt live there. To look at him there wasnt much... you would walk past him in the street and not look twice, but in the favela the difference was evident. Leo assured me that walking around with him in the favelas, nothing would happen to you. He was quiet, not saying much at all, and really only speaking when spoken to. His voice was high, soft and far from authorative, though when he spoke everybody listened. He was accompanied by his friend, who I forget his name who held a bag and what seemed like his own personal assistant. As when headed down the first road of the favela, Gilson´s assistant reached into his bag and out came a pair of brand new adidas sunglasses for Gilson (Leo was pretty sure they were fakies). I walked inbetween Gilson and Leo as I am sure Leo could sense my uncomfort. All eyes turned as we made our way through the favelas, street after street of dirt, cobble stone and cardboard as walls. Nothing was done, that they hadnt done themselves. I was numb on entry. My eyes glazed over after looking at what these Brasilian people call home. Shack after shack with cracks and leaks and water dripping from everywhere. Having skipped over quite a small trikles of water, i was informed that São Paulo´s sewage line passed straight underneath the favelas.... as they had lost houses in a landslide which fell the sewage lines. The streams turned into what were like rivers of sewage water, flowing its way through an endless maze of favela shacks. This is what was responsible for the smell. I was still numb. As we made our way through this maze I was told a story about the a man who whilst visiting the favelas slipped and hit his neck paralysing him from the waist down, and a local man dragged him from the stream of sewage which saved his life. That man now donates money to the favela and created a `Casa Da Amizade´ or Friendly House, where the local use to visit doctors for pregnant women, and also used by kids for fairs and so fortg. We stopped at a headland which looked over the society within a society. To our right were the richest apartments in São Paulo, and less than a par 4 on a golf course to the left were the favelas, a city of the forgotten.
Leo spoke and asked if he could take a photograph... the reply was along the lines of ´for dollars´and a laugh followed... I wonder how true that was, but Leo said it was a joke between friends. Gilson didnt really seem interested in me, and walked on ahead in front of us most times, as though he had more important things to do than show an english-speaker the favelas. He sometimes stopped and talked, explained the landslips and the houses lost. I didnt ask questions, i just nodded politely. I was pretty afraid of talking english there. As we approached another area of high ground, actuallly another site of a landslip, the view of the valley of favelas seemed endless. Tiago who doesnt speak english come to me and said ´triste´ which means sad or unhappy. I couldnt have agreed more. I could not believe i was in here... i was still numb. A sickness had come over me, i felt ill.... ill from responsibility. I knew that 2 hours from now, i would be in a car, driving back to Leos to fresh food, and warm bed, and these people would be here still.
I wondered what they thought about us, i wondered how they lived.
I rarely talked, because I was too busy thinking. Leo commented about if I could imagine what it would be like if it rained.... he quickly responsed, ´i cant.´ I definitely cant either. As we were driving back from the centre of the favela I had to stop myself from crying. I felt tears building up in my eyes. Tears of responsibility, tears of believing this was my fault, tears of illness or tears of trying to think what I could do to help. I know why Leo doesnt want to stop teaching... because he is making a difference.
Having pulled onto the main road, with houses the size of 20 favelas and huge walls which neighbor the districts, Leo asked me, ´so what do you think of the favelas?´ My mind still rushing with thoughts of anger, frustration, and helplessness, i simply replied...
´you dont want to know.´