This article from Favela do Aço, is the third in a series about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on daily life in the favelas. The series is made possible through a partnership with the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies at San Diego State University.
Lack of Public Policies and State Neglect
When talking about Rio de Janeiro’s West Zone, it is important to note that there are two realities, separated only by a tunnel. The West Zone of Barra and Recreio, neighborhoods close to the South Zone, live a reality never experienced in West Zone neighborhoods such as Santa Cruz, one of the last neighborhoods in the municipality, surrounded by favelas which haven’t been the subject of public policies for years, despite every citizens’ right to them.
In the midst of the crisis caused by the arrival of Covid-19, more than ever, the 6,000 inhabitants of Favela do Aço, one of the favelas in Santa Cruz, are experiencing state neglect. Open sewage at the front door is a daily reality for residents, along with poor garbage collection, resulting in garbage heaps in different parts of the community where children play and the elderly pass by.
On top of everything, information does not seem to reach the community. Many residents, despite believing in the gravity of the situation, are not following the recommendations for how to take precautions. On the one hand, this is because they don’t have what they need to protect themselves from the actual reality; and on the other, it is simply because they don’t know how to follow the recommendations.
The Brazilian Constitution says that every citizen has the right to basic sanitation. However, this right is unrealized in Favela do Aço. We can see the extent to which the population is denied the right to dignified living conditions. How does one avoid getting ill living next to sources of disease? In addition to improper sanitation, water shortages are constant. They last for days on end and prevent people from carrying out their daily activities. How does one keep one’s house and oneself clean like this? Bearing in mind that the main recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus bring up issues that have been neglected for years, more than ever our attention needs to return to the favelas as a whole.
Collection Campaigns and Support from Collectives and Volunteers
Projects that work in the community are at the forefront of organizing efforts aimed at ensuring that the community faces this challenge with dignity. People are risking their health to help however they can—the sense of community belonging and the duty to protect one’s own speak louder, especially when people know that possibly nothing will be done by the government to protect this vulnerable population.
In order to mitigate the impact of coronavirus in the favela, the collective mobilization of Favela do Aço/Vila Paciência (as the community is also known) started three weeks ago under the initiatives of three projects operating in the area: Hope for a Child Project (PEPUC), CASA Collective, and Levante Aço (Aço Rising). The campaign was put into practice based on the understanding that hunger and environmental racism, among so many other issues, are part of the reality of residents and will worsen with community contamination, the lack of environmental justice and without local resources to supply the basics.
The mobilization has been trying to fight hunger, which has worsened during this period since many residents are informal workers, like street vendors and others who earn their living from odd jobs and are now left without an income. Most houses have six or more people. The extra income from the Bolsa Família cash transfer program is what saves hundreds of families, but the benefit does not adequately cover anyone’s livelihood.
To map and reach the people who would most need the help to stay at home during the quarantine, the mobilization team focused on the elderly, single mothers, and families with a large number of children per home (in the majority of which, houses have more than four children). The deliveries were made directly to the resident’s homes, avoiding gatherings. There were deliveries of hygiene products, to prioritize the use of soap and emphasize the importance of frequent cleaning. Along with the distribution, work disseminating information is being done.
All of the material that is being delivered comes from donations, whether in the form of food, hygiene products or money. The goal is to have enough supplies until the month of May. For this, it is important that donations continue so that the favela can breathe and resist forever.
Moanan Costa do Couto, 20, lives in Cesarão, a favela located in the West Zone. She is part of the College Entrance Exam Prep team at Santa Cruz Universitário and is currently studying law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). She started working as a volunteer in Favela do Aço a year ago. Four months ago she co-founded Levante Aço (Aço Rising), a project aimed at teenagers in the community, together with the eight young people on the team.
Rayane Marques da Silva Gomes, 19, is a resident of Favela do Aço in the West Zone of Rio. She studies History at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio) and works as a mediator with autistic children in public schools. A year ago she started helping with social projects in the community and four months ago co-founded Levante Aço, together with Couto.