Recently I was in Rio de Janeiro and I had the opportunity to meet some interesting characters while I was there. One such character was Zezinho da Rocinha, a tour guide and resident of Rocinha favela. Favelas and favela tours often get a lot of bad press, so I wanted to talk with Zezinho about these issues and get his thoughts on the matter. After having lunch and showing me around his home Zezinho agreed to an interview where we talked about some of these issues. Take a look.
:30 Where is Zezinho from?
:55 Are favelas dangerous?
1:40 The most dangerous place in Rio according to Zezinho?
1:50 The law of the Favela.
3:20 How do Zezinho’s favela tours work?
3:50 What do you see on a favela tour in Rocinha?
5:00 What is the effect of favela tours on the local community?
6:00 Volunteering in Rocinha favela.
6:55 Are favela tours exploitative?
8:10 The 2 questions Rocinha residents always ask foreigners.
9:05 How to go on a favela tour.
10:00 Zezinho shows his love for his home Rocinha.
10:45 You can play paintball in Rocinha favela?
You can learn more about Zezinho’s favela tours by checking out his website here. Zezinho also has a DJ school for Rocinha residents that you can check out here. He also has a blog about life in the favela which you can read here. You can add him on Facebook if you have any questions about Rocinha or want to go on one of his tours.
Zezinho wrote a message in response to the controversy about favela tours that I think is worth sharing here. Lets see what he has to say.
I certainly understand the controversy about slum tours. I am both FOR and AGAINST them. Let me explain this.
I was born, grew up and still live in Brazil’s largest slum or favela. Life is dificult yes, but not impossible. I am proud to live here in Rocinha. I will never leave here, but I do not want to leave here. This is my home. This is my feelings about this issue of slum/favela tourism.
What I like about the tours is the contact I get from foreigners who come here. This interaction helps me to educate people about my life here in the favela. When foreigners come here I feel like my home/favela has value and are worth to be seen. The Brazilian goverment mostly ignores us and helps us very little. We want our voice to be heard. I want to feel that somebody on the outside cares about us and recognizes that we exist. Up until about 5 years ago favelas did not exist on maps. Why was this? Many foreigners come to learn how we create and live in our comunity with little or no goverment involvement. Others come because of the art and culture that exists here. I do not judge why people come, they confirm that we exist.
I started in tourism becase I saw the oportunity to show my favela and help create jobs for others here. We live here, and should be making the tours here. I have heard outsider tour companies exaggerate things or tell outright lies about my favela. They do this becase they do not know and do not live here. I am here to show a social experience not some adrenaline tour. With my work, about 20% returns to volunteers in social projects or start their own programs in the favela. Recently people have contacted me wanting to make projects like a rooftop garden class and another person wants to help bring solar energy here.
My friend Jim Shattuck and I, ran a fundraiser which earned about R$800 Reais ($400 USD), which will go to Tio Lino’s Art School in the Rocinha. Visitors to my favela helped with this project by taking tours! With this we will be able to give 40 children back packs filled with school supplies and provide much needed art materials needed for the art studio.
I was able to help a student, Leandro Lima, realize his dream of being a photographer. After learning that he had his camera stolen (outside the favela), I set aside money from my tours from August to October 2010 and during his birthday party on the 16th, he was suprised to receive this, but he is deserving!
These are people who came on visits here in the favela and in some way help contribute. Is this bad?
What I do NOT like about the tours…the tours made in jeeps or trucks is the worst becase it presents us like a zoo. The tourists have no contact with the locals and this reinforces a sense of possible danger. Tours or visits where the guests walk in the favela are more welcome. There is one company that tells their guests not to interact with the locals if they are approached. This is wrong. The glamorization of violence is another thing that we do not like here. It is as if these companies are trying to capitalize on some kind of excitement. Favelas are not war zones and people need understand that real, honest hardworking people live there, we just make less money.
There are tour companies here who use the comunity to make money but they give very little or nothing back to the community. This is not right. They should contribute something for the betterment of the favela. There are plenty of social projects here who could use help.
I am not ashamed to live in the favela and people should not feel shame to come and visit. All we ask is please do not take photos of us like we are animals and do not have fear if we say hello to you on the street.
If we want to stop or reduce poverty, we need to stop pretending it does not exist. I call it socially responsible tourism. If you chose to tour this type of comunity, try to give something back however big or small. Becase of Tourism we have a Dj School called Spin Rocinha. The dj classes are FREE to all residents of the favela. You can find us on facebook under “Spin Rocinha“…
Slums, favelas and shanties are where 1/3 of the population live in all major cities, serving the needs of mostly the rich. Visiting these places may increase your knowledge and awareness at a much deeper level than visiting a museum or art exhibition. Ignoring poverty is not going to make it go away and those who have more, should not feel guilt. Unfortunately, this world will always have this unbalance of wealth. Sad but true.
Zezinho da Rocinha