Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sit Down, this is going to be a long one!

fotos: Mike do Skate with the board I gave to him and a foto of the Puzzle project being done by Ryan J Goode, professor of Geography is San Diego.

God helps those who help themselves…this is a long one..

My mother used to say this to me. I am not sure how much god has to play in all this so I interpret it as “you can’t just talk the talk, you need to walk the walk.”

After reflecting on the years I spent abroad, coming back to Rocinha, I am very thankful. Rocinha has given me so much. I made a decision to start helping the community back in 2004 when I started raising money for Two Brothers Foundation, a non profit here in Rocinha. I have since moved onto other projects, but that was the start. I am now involved with many different projects of different sizes. I feel like the octopus with 12 arms, each representing something I am involved in.

My website is helping to make things happen here: My website has brought so many good things happening here in Rocinha. I have had the opportunity to meet some great people from all over the world. But like anything, success (not necesessarily monetary) brings people who question my intentions and who are jealous. These are mostly people from foreign countries. There are enough people here in Rocinha who know the work I am doing and it is not just about “favela tours”. It suprises me to see foreigners questioning my work. These are people who are staying in favelas or volunteering in favelas. I think they think that somehow I am exploiting my own community. One person was doing research on favela tourism. The other was working for Catalytic Communities which is a NGO working in several favelas. I guess that because they are staying in a favela, there thought of the favela tour as exploitive. I can understand if I was from the outside, but I am from here and LIVE here. Any money I earn is used here in the favela. My money does not leave here. I buy everything from here. I am a active participant in the favela economy. I will write more below about what things and projects I am working on here.

Please respect my work: I receive many emails from students who are studying various things about favelas. Most are great people but I have recently met some who expect the world of me. They send me all these questions to answer for their research and they want a “complete” tour….all for FREE! I live in the favela because I don’t have a lot of money. They expect all of this for nothing? Then you are either cheap or you don’t really value my work. Exploitation of the favelado. I am tired of this. I am not stupid and I am not here to be taken advantage of. My work is good and it has value. So, please respect my right to earn my living.

Thank You Y: I returned to Rocinha becase I felt I could more to help the community. The idea of the website is to promote Rocinha. Anybody who takes the time to look through and read the 40+ pages or so can see that its not just a tour website. My website involves many people from the community. This was how I wanted my site to stand out from the others. Yvonne of Toronto, Canada, I need to thank a great deal for coordinating the design and content for the website. She first came to Rocinha in 2002, she loved to dance and the samba culture here and decided to return each year after. Two years ago she wanted an intensive, complete tour of the favela. This took 3 days, about 8 hours each day. She wanted to know everything about the place. So, I gave her the tour. After seeing my work, she wanted to help. I did not have money and I knew nothing about websites. She offered to help for no cost, so I told her she will always have a place to stay in Rocinha. I thought this the best as I had a extra room that she could stay.

My life in the US: My mother, who is American, thought I may have more opportunities in the US and this is why I was there to see if this was true. Many people ask about my living in the US. When I was living in the US my quality of life was actually worse because of my living conditions. Because of lack of money and only a part time job, I had to resort to some “illegal” living situations. One place I was living was in the basement of a nightclub. I rented the small space for $150 a month. I told the people that I was going to use the space as storage. By American standards, nobody would ever imagine somebody living in this space. They knew I was a dj, so I think they thought I was using the space for dj equipment and to practice. The club was open until 3 am so I never had a problem coming or going. The floors were made of cement and it was only a room, no kitchen services or bathroom. My “bed” was a door supported on bricks and several layers of blankets. I could not afford a mattress at the time. I had to go to the restaurant next door to use the bathroom and I also got a cheap membership at a gym to be able to shower. To wash clothes I had to walk four block from my place. Another place I stayed was a monastery run by monks. Again it was just a room. It was simply furnished but I had to contribute 15 hours a week of work to stay there. I also squatted in abandoned buildings sleeping in fear that somebody might “jack” me or my stuff (not that I had a lot of stuff). The difference is here in Rocinha, I have stability with family, a good circle of friends and people in the community who support my work. The whole idea about living in the US was to see life there. There was no money tree or American dream for me, only struggles and trying to survive. I think living there and having those experiences made me stronger but also made me realize how good I had it in Rocinha. But I do not regret any of it. Its part of life experiences.

Honesty about my work: Most who contact me, want a more personal visit to the favela. I do not mislead people with the tours. I do let my guests know that they could come here on their own if they wanted but would probably get lost or not know where the points of interest are. Rocinha is a huge place. Some do come back for funk parties or just to hang out and eat. Feel free to come into Rocinha on your own but stay on the main street and leave your camera at home. The media is the culprit for spreading fears about favelas. So, for the average foreigner who does not have contacts, who wants to visit the favela, how else are they to do that? What truths are they given about favelas? So, this is why they take a tour. It is important to know that depending on the favela, it is not advisable to just go walking in on your own. There are some favelas that are dangerous and do not receive tourists. Rocinha is different in that we receive over 200 visitors a day. Daniel and Amanda from Stockholm Sweden not only took a tour but came back several times just to visit, eat and go shopping. I have a rule, the first time, guests pay because it is my work. The following times I was with them, there was no fee. You return as a friend, who respects me and the community.

Poverty tours? People ask me about “poverty tourism” or “poverty tours”. I am not showing that. Yes, favelas are poor, but poor compared to what? India, Africa? I had one visitor from Egypt tell me that Rocinha reminded them of back home in a middle class area. Rocinha is a poor working class area, the focus being on “working class”. I am here to provide a social and cultural experience, that focuses on the good things. Everybody already knows about the bad and I don’t feel it is important to reinforce negative and sometimes exaggerated media stories.

I don’t even like the word “tour”, because it really does not describe what I do or offer. When creating the website and the name, I was confuse as to what names to use but Yvonne told me that I need the word “tour” in my website address otherwise nobody would find me. Hopefully in reading the website, the informed person can then make decisions based on what they read. And if they want to know more, they can always contact me.

People’s Perceptions: Just because I am a tour guide here does not mean that I am making lots of money. It is now low season, so work is little. The month of April I only made $430R. One month I can make this or I can make $1200R a month. I never know. When I returned to Rocinha, many people had assumptions that I had or made a lot of money in the US. To give you a idea, the average house here in Rocinha costs about $30,000R (about $17,000US). My dream is to someday have a house that I own. I still have not reached that dream. Most people by my age here in the favela own their places, while I still rent. So this should give you a idea of my financial situation. I am not starving but there are many people who live here in the favela that have and make much more money than I do.

The challenges of outdoor tourism are, if it rains, I can not make tours here because its miserable and the place looks more ugly and gray. But people have this idea in their head that if you are a tour guide, you must be making a lot of money, because you are working with tourists. If you are a older established tour company then you will be making much more. I am still new guy out there. People need to understand this. My website is only one year old. I started this FAVELA ADVENTURES to expose favela culture to the outside world and to dispel the myths about the people who live here. If I am able to create a job for myself and others, then even better. I have always believed that people who live in the favela, should be the tour guides.

Employing Guides from Rocinha: this has always been the first priority for me. I think it is the right thing to do. Again it involves WE who live here. At this time, I have three guides available who are all from Rocinha. Washington, who was raised in Roupa Suja, is my best and most reliable guide. He speaks English perfectly and with confidence. Melodia, born and raised on Rua 4 (4th street). His English is getting better everyday. It helps that his girfriend only speaks English to him. Melodia is also one of the instructors from ACORDA Capoeira which is one of the cultural programs on my website. Tomas right now is in school but after he completes, I will be working with him. He is 21 years old, from Vila Cruzeiro, a part of Rocinha, but lived in the USA for some years. And he also speaks English perfectly. I will only hire guides from here in the favela. (see fotos of Melodia and Washington)

Helping programs in the community: I started helping people here in Rocinha when I found out about this school who taught English. This was in 2004. This was before my tour guide days. I was djing and making art to live. But I saw this project needed help, so I would donate a portion of what I earned djing and with the t-shirts to this program. It was called Two Brothers Foundation. I dj’ed a party at a fundraiser for Two Brothers in December of 2008 at the Loca Luna Lounge in Atlanta. Through working with Two Brothers, I met Viviana (Vivi) Rodrigues, the president of Two Brothers at that time, and she introduced me to a friend of hers, Alexandre who lives in Sao Paulo. Alexandre has a football program for favela youth in Diadema. He needed equipment for the kids. I was able to talk to a guy in San Francisco about donating used or old football things. Sunset Soccer, is a store owned by Toby Rapport. Toby loves Brasil and football. He has been to Brasil many times with teams who are competing. He currently teaches football programs all over San Francisco. So, Toby donated footballs and uniforms to the kids. I packaged and sent them on to Alexandre’s project. These two projects were the beginning of my helping people. You can contact Viviana at and Alexandre in Sao Paulo at: Alexandre has a link his program go to Facebook and type in "IBCFOFICIAL ONG" "Crianca Feliz" is the name of the project.

Tio Lino: In 2009, I parted ways with Two Brothers. I found a project here that called out to me, it was Tio Lino’s Mundo de Arte in the Valao (a area of Rocinha). I have always loved to draw and design t-shirts. So, meeting Tio was one of the best things that happened to me. I asked around to many friends here about Tio and not one person had anything negative to say about him. Tio is about 60 years old and is born and raised here in Rocinha in the house that he currently uses for his art school. He has been teaching kids for 30 years. He used to be a lifeguard down at Posto 13 on Sao Conrado beach. Now that he is retired, he dedicates his time to the kids. I was not sure how I could help and decided just to hang out and help Tio teach the kids art. When I started doing the tours, I asked Tio if there is anything he needed. Even though I live in the favela, I still wanted to give money to a project that is deserving. Tio later suggested that I could help with art materials. Kids needed paints, brushes, glue, markers, scissors etc. So, I started buying materials and giving a portion of what I made to his school. Many tourists also make donations of art materials as well. Tio is one person in the community that I look up to and admire. In December, Tio stepped on something sharp that cut his foot. Soon after, his foot became infected and several of his toes turned black. He had gangrene. In January he went into the hospital to have half his foot removed. Tio’s art school was closed for almost 4 months. He did not return to the school until the end of April. I was not able to bring visitors by the school because it was closed. I really wanted to show them the project I support but how could I? Tio is back, but he is still in a cast and walking using crutches. We are all happy Tio is back.

Mike do Skate: Mike is another guy I admire here. He is about 40 and sells beer at all the parties here. Mike has no use of his legs so his transportation is his skateboard. I saw a program on television with this guy Raimiro who has only one leg. Raimiro’s show is about him taking part in activities that most disabled would not do. I have seen Raimiro skydive, bungee jump and ski. In his regular life, Raimiro uses a artificial leg. But this show was to be different. Raimiro wanted to learn how to get around on a skateboard, so they filmed the show here in Rocinha. Mike taught him how to ride. At the end of the show Mike gave his skateboard to Raimiro. When I saw this I thought it would be nice if I could design something nice for Mike. He had always been asking me about t-shirts and designs. But for this, I wanted it to be different. So, I got a board with wheels and trucks. I stripped off the design that was already on the board and painted Mike sitting on his skateboard holding a beer. Added the words “Mike do Skate” (Skateboard Mike). When I returned to Rocinha, I saw Mike one day selling beer, so I went home and got the board for him. When I gave it to him, he was shocked. He thought he was not deserving of this, but I told him he was. A few days later I saw him and asked him why he was not riding the board I gave him. His response was “Its like a trophy, I can not ride that.” I guess if he really needs it, he will ride it. (see foto above in title of blog entry)

Rebecca and the rooftop project: I met Rebecca several times when I was in San Francisco at parties. She is university student who later contacted me about interest in Rocinha. She came to visit Rio July 2009 with her friend Luciano who is a portugues instructor in San Francisco. Rebecca contacted me through email about wanting a tour of the favela with Luciano, who is from Brazil. I am surprised because I rarely get Brazilians who have interest to tour favelas. Well, I met Rebecca and Luciano and after their visit, Rebecca told me that she would like to return to make a project here. I told that I would help her get the contacts to make her project happen. She went back to the US to study and was able to get a grant to make her project here. Her idea is to teach people in the favela how to make rooftop gardens. When she arrives I will make sure she can complete her project. Rebecca’s website: Contact Rebecca here : (see foto Rebecca & Luciano)

Money as a tool: Some people get strange when the topic of money is brought up, especially in poor areas, because there is not much of it. I believe money is a tool that can affect change and be used to help others. Unfortunately we all need it to survive and it measures our “work” value in society. I want to get money but not just for myself. Because with money, I can then make things happen. When I returned to Rio, I wanted to link with programs that could benefit people. The first contact I made was with Casa 579 in Santa Teresa, a guesthouse. I told Teresa who manages the guesthouse that I wanted to help a program that they support. Within 15 minutes walk there is a small favela called Julio Otoni, which Casa 579 supports. When Casa refers me people, I give a portion to the Julio Otoni project, which is a small community center in the favela. These places help me and in turn I can help them. Their website is:

Painting houses: I heard about Haas and Hahn through the media. Two Dutch guys painting in favela communities. The first was Vila Cruzeiro where they painted a boy flying a kite that covered several houses and the koi fish design near a large stairway going up the community. And now painting houses in Santa Marta. I am a artist and loves anything to do with art here in the favela.

I went out to watch some of the painting they were doing. Coral was their sponsor who contributed paint and uniforms to the residents who helped in the project. About 28 men were able to paint about 35 houses mostly in the main square at the bottom of the favela.
I returned one day to see the last days of painting and they invited me to a party celebrating the project that would be held about 2 weeks later. I decided that I was so moved by the beauty and colors of the houses, that I wanted to do something. I had some t-shirts done up in honor of Santa Marta “Uma Comunidade Linda”. When I went back for the party I gave out the shirts for free to the painters who took part in the project. I don’t know why I did this, but it felt good to see people happy and proud of their community. For more information on favela painting and how you can help:

Blessings from the North: In 2008 and 2009, I had opportunities to talk to many universities and students about favelas and the culture of life here. Through the internet, I found this website . I noticed that they helped favela communities here in Rio. I cannot remember the first contact or who made it. All I know is that Lauri Francis, the creator of this NGO came to hear me speak at NYU (New York University) in downtown Manhattan. She traveled over an hour just to meet me. I was honored for her to think of me as having this value. She is a woman who is working full time, going to school to get her doctorate in education, and she is running this NGO.

Her project helps teachers with materials and support in the classroom. This is especially needed here in the favelas. She began her work in another favela and had interest to visit Rocinha. She wanted a tour but also wanted to spend some time here and see some of the projects I am working with. I first introduced her to Tio Lino because I know he can use the help. Liliane Smith from Holland and Lauri, both helped to build and create a small library in Tio’s studio. Lauri also bought many books and materials to help the kids there. Lauri has other plans to help Tio and I to raise money to repair the roof of the studio that was destroyed by the heavy rain in April.

The next week, Lauri returned to Rocinha to look into another project that I thought needed help. Viviana who used to work at Two Brothers, teaches pre-school full time at Escola Moranguinhos. Lauri met Vivi and they both made a connection. Lauri returned to Escola Moranguinhos and brought many books with her. It makes me happy that I am able to connect people who can offer help to those who are deserving. Viviana and Tio Lino do not have computers. But for more information about Tio Lino’s Mundo de Arte, Escola Moranguinhos or blessings4brazil, you can contact Lauri at

Puzzle Connections: It’s amazing how connections with people work. In june of 2009, Ryan Goode, a teacher at San Diego State University contacted me through Facebook about visiting his university to give a talk to the students about favelas. He wanted me to come in October. I went, gave the talk and stayed in touch. He was nice to show me around the city and we ate at this Italian restarant that I will never forget. The best spaghetti and meatballs I ever had. He contacted me soon after saying he was coming to Rio to study portugues and do some university work. He needed a place to stay and he wanted to stay in Rocinha. So, he stayed with me for two months. We were on my roof overlooking the community one day and I made the comment that it would be interesting to have a “quebra cabeca” or a puzzle made with a fotograph of Rocinha. With the density of the houses I thought it would be a great challenge for people who like puzzles. Ryan agreed. My idea would be to make such a puzzle to sell, but to raise money to help with Tio Lino’s damaged roof. Part of the profits would go directly to Tio. The other part of the money would go to the costs of developing the puzzle. I think this kind of puzzle would be a great learning tool for students. So, I contacted a friend of mine Tee Cardaci who is a web designer to hook up with Ryan to build a small website about our fundraising efforts. The site is in the development stages and I hope it will be up soon. All I want out of all of this is just one of the puzzles. I will let you know how this goes as the project moves forward. If you want to contact Ryan about this his email is:

Surf favela: One of the guys I work with is a surf instructor. He is Ricardo “Bocao” Ramos. He has been teaching surfing to the kids in Rocinha for 22 years. He used to be homeless and lived on the beach. He was a surf bum. But as he got older things changed for the better. As he was surfing he met guys on the beach that would give him broken surfboards. He would fix these boards and then give them to kids and teach them how to surf. His project became a realty and a full NGO after getting interest from Jack Johnson and several professional surfers. Jack Johnson and the Surf Rider Foundation came to Rocinha in 2007. This gave “Bocao” more exposure to his program of teaching favela youth how to surf. He has over 65 students enrolled in his programs. His non profit is called “Surf Escola Rocinha” and is located in the front of the new sports complex just outside of Rocinha. I often receive visitors to my website that want to learn surfing. So, I will set them up with “Bocao”. The last guest Bocao taught was Michael Kranz from Germany. This past April a brother and sister from Vancouver both took lessons from him and they did not even know how to swim. The guests paid Bocao directly for the surf lessons and I do not take a commissions fee. I saw Bocao teach before I decided to work with him. I wanted somebody who I trust and who is good at what they do. Bocao has been great according to the guests who wrote me after to say how much they enjoyed learning to surf with Bocao. This August 31, I will be Dj’ing a party for the surf school to help promote their work. If you are in Rio at the time, come on by. If you want more information about Bocao’s program or you would like to learn to surf, contact me and I wil set up a meeting with him.

There are some other projects still in the talking stages, one is about bringing solar energy to rocinha , starting a kids road or indoor hockey program, and there are others but I will write about them as they get closer to action being taken.

One last thing, I want to mention is this…

Perdeu… perdeu!!!!! These are the words often said by a robber to his victim in Rio. They say this as they are taking your money or name it..they says this..
My idea started after reading this blog about my friend Leandro, who had his backpack stolen. I know Leandro personally and he is class A people. He is a university student, a photographer and currently has a job working with the PAC (slum upgrading) project here in Rocinha. He also lives in Rocinha very close to my house.
As I was reading his blog, I was saddened by the thought of him losing his passion of photography. I know if I was robbed of my passion, I would be depressed too. The story goes is that he was in Barra de Tijuca (which is a rich neighborhood) and he was on the sidewalk when a motorcycle came out of nowhere. The robber stuck a gun in his face and told him to give the backpack. So, my friend gave him the backpack. It’s ironic that in the favela this kind of thing would never happen.
Leandro had already asked me to Dj his party as his birthday is on the 16 of October. I have enough time to put my plan into action. Leandro has no idea but I will be buying him a new camera. I think he will be very happy. I made some money in the last two months and I put savings away for this. I want nothing from this, only the satisfaction that I was able to help somebody who needed it. The person who is helping me with this is Rick Echavarria of New York. He has returned to New York and I have given him the money to buy the camera. Cameras are more than double the price here in Brazil. Rick will be returning to Rocinha in September before my friends birthday. I invited Rick to Leandro’s party as I want him to see Leandro’s face when he opens the box to see a new camera. And then he can go back to his passion of Photography. Leandro’s website is: its in Portugues, but I guess if you need translate it, google should be able to help. To contact Rick about this project, his email is:

As you can see, I am very involved in the community and not just a tour guide. I have always said, the Favela is about WE not ME!!!

If you have questions about any of the projects I have listed here, feel free to contact them.