This article from Vila Aliança is the sixth 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.
I’m Waldemir Correa, cultural organizer and creator of the Caixa de Supresa Sociocultural Group in the favela of Vila Aliança, in Bangu, in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro. Currently, we are experiencing a unique moment in our favela with the advance of the new coronavirus. At first, our community, and I believe others as well, did not realize the gravity of the pandemic.
With the steady flow of news coming in via radio, television, and other media, the reality of the pandemic increasingly became part of everyday life. The bars, soccer fields, and squares, as spaces for socialization and meetings, were the places where you’d hear the most about this new virus. The situation became more worrying because, in addition to the scientific community not having a real understanding of the situation we are experiencing in Brazil and in the world, in the second week of March, the information we received was often contradictory.
From that point on, we experienced widespread panic, which also did not help with prevention. It was then that some community organizers began to share ideas about the need to care for the children and the elderly. Euphoria and fear took over families as they found themselves without reliable knowledge about Covid-19 or the financial conditions required for adequate and correct prevention measures.
Community Organizing in Response to Rains and Coronavirus
Before the pandemic, our favela of Vila Aliança was already facing a great battle to rebuild houses that were destroyed in the previous weeks’ rains: “the waters of March.” Because of the rain? No! The blame lies with the total irresponsibility of the State in relation to basic sanitation, infrastructure, and public facilities in the favela. We, community organizers, who were already working together to minimize flood issues, realized we should be even more united in facing the pandemic. This was especially important given the lack of action from public authorities and the vulnerability of the favelas.
The initiative to help residents came about through the union of various Vila Aliança groups: Caixa de Surpresa, a group of barbers, and local soccer teams. United, we were able to collect donations and help the residents of Vila Aliança and nearby favelas such as Muquiço.
To face the pandemic together, we went to bars, soccer fields and squares where people discussed the issue and passed on information. Now, with a foundation, and knowing the attitudes we should take to protect ourselves in this great battle for our lives, we have made it clear to the community that the fight is by everyone and for everyone.
I believe that it was at this moment that many realized the gravity of the situation and became part of yet another struggle, this time to avoid infections in their families. And there was an understanding: families, when they are protagonists in the action and not merely collaborators, take over duties and tasks, acting with much more joy and responsibility. From this moment on, a great chain of solidarity was formed. The efforts belonged not only to those previously recognized as organizers, but to the entire favela.
Being a long way from downtown Rio, the absence of public policies has always been the greatest problem faced in our daily lives. But once again, it was the favela that came together and sought to do the best for itself. With schools closed, children had much more free time in the favela. Soccer, ping-pong, reading groups, recreational activities in groups would be the answer for children. With bars and baile parties still open in the community in the first weeks, our children and youth were still exposed, leaving families to question the paradigms involved with living in the favela.
Community Organizing Pays Off
The discomfort of families opened up a range of possibilities for us to discuss a series of issues. These included the concept of growing up and raising children in a favela, where the constituted authorities are not present with public policies of inclusion and care. On March 29, we concluded several weeks of publicity efforts to clarify questions about the pandemic. Now, we no longer have bars or bailes open. The soccer fields are empty. The elderly, the young, and kids don’t play outside anymore. With this, the possibility of coronavirus proliferation was significantly reduced.
The soccer fields in Vila Aliança have served as spaces for socializing and hosting team meetings for generations. There are soccer teams that have been together for more than 30 years. Always, after the games, groups have social gatherings to talk, laugh, and listen to music. Soccer and soccer fields in Vila Aliança are a cultural link of great significance within the community. Each team brings together musicians, cooks, dancers—a plurality of culture in the surroundings. The empty soccer fields now serve as a thermometer, showing the difference between before and after our coronavirus prevention organizing. Now, we are protecting ourselves and protecting others. As a result, there are no more gatherings over the weekend.
The solidarity between families was clearly evident in terms of caring for children and the elderly. The Waldir Franco Municipal Health Center, a reference point in our community, with professionals engaged in the fight for prevention, expanded their activities in the dissemination of information about Covid-19 and elderly vaccination. A large portion of their employees live in the community. That contributed to better communication about prevention between the health post and Vila Aliança. It was gratifying to realize that even in such a sad, sensitive, and delicate moment, some families understand their role and their participation as being fundamental to the transformation of daily life within the community. They understand that their actions really will protect them even further.
The Visible Negligence of the State
I cannot refrain from reporting my disappointment with government leaders and their policies. Growing up and living in a favela, we experience moments and situations totally adverse to what we can call a healthy upbringing. Children and youth are left to their own luck, without any place to coexist. They end up having their growth interrupted early on several occasions by involvement with drug dealing or by the repressive State apparatus: the “security” forces. We are scared and nervous about everything that could still happen, however we also have a history of struggle that belongs to us through this difficult moment.
We continue to work to minimize the adversities brought by the rains during the first week of March, on top of the coronavirus pandemic. We can’t solve all the problems in their entirety, but groups continue to show solidarity and try to support the families. Our organizing group no longer wants to only react to the tragic situations that may affect us, but rather, work on prevention, seeking solutions, and taking care of our children. The concern with hygiene and the care for our rivers and streets will continue to be the target of our actions, as our favela families have realized that it’s us for us, one for all, and all for one.
This is our story of overcoming adversity through collaboration in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, which does not only experience the current problem of coronavirus, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather, this is a place that has already experienced many other vulnerable situations and risks.
Waldemir Correa is a community facilitator in Vila Aliança, a favela in Bangu. He is a founder of the Caixa de Surpresa Sociocultural Nucleus, photographer, educator, and a popular communicator. He is, above all, indignant!