Children Play in Garbage due to Lack of Recreational Space in Travessa Sonora

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For the original in Portuguese, published in Voz das Comunidades, click here.

Three generations playing in garbage have asked for a playground. Since 1979 when Julia Borges (a cashier and manicurist in her spare time) was born, the hope for a recreational space in Travessa Sonora, Complexo do Alemão has existed. Hundreds of children from several generations have been through the same situation that Julia’s children are experiencing today.

If anyone says these children aren’t happy, it’s a lie. They run to one side, and then they run to the other. They are always very happy and play together everywhere. The games are made up on the spot and every day a new game is created. There’s no shortage of creativity, you see? However, these kids end up running a very serious risk of slipping on a mattress and falling in a place full of glass shards or even playing with iron rods exposed in the wastelands from unfinished work.

“During my childhood it was the same story, people played sliding in the mud close to the garbage pile. I always had the hope of one day having a public square here for kids to meet and hang out. We had a football pitch, but then the community was growing and as time passed, the field disappeared,” says Julia. “We tried to get in touch with the local government but we haven’t had a response. That space has an owner but the owner hasn’t done anything and so what we see is residents from the top of the hill throwing their garbage down there. Residents pay someone to come and clear the streets; we don’t have a street sweeper for that area. We only have a street sweeper to collect garbage cans and we have to look after our own areas. If we had the resources to make a little square for the children it would be excellent to occupy their minds with some kind of fun, instead of being home worrying about them playing in the garbage and with iron rods. We have a meeting square but it is far away for people to let them go alone. There is another one close to the cable car but it’s also far away. We have space here but no one does anything. We want a space to enjoy here as well. Whenever there is any public work being done in this area they only do a superficial job and the problems continue.”

“I already fell here, I slipped down on a mattress one of the neighbors threw out and I scraped myself all over. I have a friend who stepped on a nail when he was coming out to play as well. There was a guy who peed on the mattress but we have nowhere else to play. If we had a slide, a ping-pong table…” says one of the boys, who also explains that he is studying hard to become a military officer to help his family get out of this place.

Fatima Benedita Gomes da Silva, 60, recently qualified in UNISUAM in Social Services, performs social interventions with the children of the area and seeks to bring services that address people’s difficulties. One of the biggest problems is enrollment in schools because the majority of these children don’t even have a birth certificate. Fatima is helping a 48-year-old neighbor who never had an ID. She believes these sessions need to be more intensive each time so people know their rights and have access to them. “I saw these kids, these children being born, they deserve to have a place to have fun. I am really worried about the next generations because they don’t have access to almost anything and just waste their time. Their mothers work and they don’t have anyone they can stay with so, for them, fun is the STREET,” she concludes.

Samantha Shirashi, journalist, mother and volunteer for the program Everyone for Education (Todos pela Educação) says: “A Brazilian movement, which is considered to be modern and hip, upholds that children should play outside, to learn to be with nature again, running barefoot in the neighborhood square! But this beautiful world and dream only exist in the elite neighborhoods. This is the truth, I know because I am often part of this group. It is easy for people to criticize the government, complain about schools, public health and the bad conditions of the periphery, but who will effectively check the spaces where children play? As a mother I have the blessing of being able to provide my children with spaces that are comfortable and safe to grow up in, but as a journalist and activist for decades I have visited places where the population reacts and interacts with whatever they have. These images taken by Renato Moura break my heart. These are children being happy, creative, alive and rich, as few are today, imprisoned in their condominiums, apartments and school walls. At the same time they are a portrait of the abandonment of society which not only denies its young the right to safety and basic comfort but also denies their parents the peace to produce and grow the country and their communities because they are fighting against and in search of what should be their right as citizens,” she says.