So today we only had one item on the agenda, a tour of one of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro.
As we were touring the favela we got a really good history of the favelas in Rio. Currently there are over 800 favelas in Rio with about 20% of the population living in them. They range in size from from around 50 to 200,000 people. Favelas for those that aren’t familiar with them are shantytown a built into mountainsides and unused land for people who can’t afford to live in traditional housing. We visited the Racinho favela, the largest in all of Latin America with 200,000 people living in an area less than 1 sq kilometer in size!
At the risk of sounding cliché, I will say that seeing those living conditions truly makes you appreciate what you have. In addition to the accommodations I noticed some other cultural differences. First off, children were often walking around by themself, something you don’t really see in the states. Another really cool thing we saw was part of their informal economy where one woman turned her living room into an art gallery, with amazing art!
We learned the history of gangs and drugs in the favela and how the culture changed once the police arrived. We also debunked some of the myths of the favelas. Some believe the people there have nothing, but they have electricity, water and cable tv! Others believe that they have these things but steal them and pay for nothing. While some of these people do live like this, there are certainly people that pay for everything.
With people not having to pay for these things it brings up the question of whether or not people want to leave the favelas? This made me think of the US and the accusation or belief that people on welfare are content living off of welfare. I could have a whole other blog post about this but for now I’ll just leave you to ponder this comparison.
Another comparison, and one I mentioned earlier was between the rich and poor areas in Rio.
You can clearly see the favelas, that cost about 200 reals per month to live in. Then at the bottom of the picture you see the high rises right next door which is the most expensive part of Rio to live in where homes can cost around 10 million reals! Such a stark contrast cohabiting the exact same area. The issue of poverty is something I’ve studied a lot and an issue I hope to tackle in my professional life so this was an amazing experience for me.
Tomorrow we are off for a relaxing day at Ipanema beach and Copacabana!! Hopefully I can get a tan!!
So today we got a proper southern introduction into the town of Pulaski and the surrounding area. We took an economic tour of the area as well as stopped in the new Ratcliffe museum. We learned so much that really put into context for us why we are here and why what we are doing matters.
At the Ratcliffe, I GOT TO RING THE BELL IN AN ANTIQUE FIRE TRUCK, we learned about the amazing people, past and present, that make this community what it is. We learned that Pulaski is quite possibly the unluckiest town in America because almost every important building in town has burned down at some point (some of them even twice). But, and at the risk of sounding so cliche, the town rose like a Phoenix from the ashes each time on the back of people like John, the man who showed us around the museum. To see people like him, and Eric, and Buz fight to preserve the history of this town when most would have just walked away, really made you appreciate the love these people have for their community and made me even more excited to serve in this amazing community. This is a town worth fighting for (sung to the tune of Mulan’s a girl worth fighting for).
Then we drove around the area and saw all the abandoned factories that use to be the economic engine of the area. Then, even more upsetting was the damage and carnage left behind by the tornado that hit three years ago. The only thing more upsetting than all of that is knowing that in the richest country in the world we can’t even help out a town recovering from a natural disaster (this is something that I had to take quite a bit if time to calm down from).
The thing that stuck with me most was the similarities that Pulaski had to so many places that I know. When I see the blight in the aftermath of the tornado I can’t help but think of Springfield. When I see a once proud industrial down filled with abandoned buildings and empty storefronts I can’t help but think of my hometown of Ware, MA. These are not problems unique to Pulaski, however, the solution will be. We must abandon the idea of one size fits all policies and the notion that what works in one place will work in others.
The best part about this tour is that it gave us all a sense of purpose for what we will be doing this week. When we are rebuilding homes we know it’s because we need to help where the federal government will not. When we hand out food to those who can’t afford it we know it’s because these industries left to find cheaper labor and left these people with nothing (NOT because they are “lazy” or want to live off of public assistance). When we help kids with homework, or just play games with them at the after school program we know it’s because these schools, and education are the only things that will save these kids from suffering the unfortunate fate of their parents and give them a hope at repairing their community. Lastly, we know that when people thank us, with a smile, for doing what we may believe to be insignificant, it is because they realize that not everyone has forgotten about them and that there is hope for this lovely little town that could: Pulaski (pronounced pew-laski), VA.
I am living Pulaski