This article is part of a series of profiles of initiatives in Rio de Janeiro’s Sustainable Favela Network.
Initiative: Itaguaí Women’s Association—Warriors and Social Articulators (A.M.I.G.A.S.)
Contact: Facebook | Instagram | +55 (21) 98660-6686 (Whatsapp & Calls)
Year Founded: 2015
Community: Engenho, Itaguaí (municipality on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro)
Mission: To promote social inclusion, transforming lives and realities through education, art, and culture, for the community at-large. Guaranteeing human rights, with a focus on employment and income generation.
Public Events: Itaguaí Solidarity Kitchen, inside the Engenho Residents’ Association (A.M.E.) headquarters, on Mondays and Wednesdays, at 6pm, dinner is served for free. On Sundays, breakfast is free for the community between 9am and 10am, while lunch is served at 12:30am.
How to Support: Physical donations can be dropped off at Rua Manoel Soares da Costa, 13 – Engenho – Itaguaí. Bank transfers via PIX email@example.com or account: Bank CORA SCD (Code 403) | Checking Account: 2053522-9 | Name: Cozinha Afetiva Comunitária Sustentável
Anna Paula Sales has lived in Itaguaí for over twenty years. Originally from Pedra de Guaratiba in the far West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, she has since become a well-known and widely respected member of the community. That community is Engenho, a favela with around 20,000 residents in Itaguaí.
“I raised my children here. My children went to school here. Our roots are here.” — Anna Paula Sales
The municipality of Itaguaí is located within Greater Rio de Janeiro‘s Baixada Fluminense, a lowland region that covers much of the metropolitan area. Although it is a suburb of Rio, it is itself very isolated from the rest of Greater Rio. “[Itaguaí] has no urban mobility,” Sales says, “you can’t get here nor leave from here, because, either way, you’ll spend three hours on public transit.” This isolation from more lucrative jobs closer to Rio’s metropolitan center has led to pockets of high levels of poverty in the city, among them in Sales’ community. In many ways, the residents of Engenho live not only physically on the periphery of Rio’s Metropolitan Area, but also socially, politically, and economically.
Since 2015, Sales has been a key figure leading the women of A.M.I.G.A.S., an acronym which means, in Portuguese, “girl friends,” and, at the same time, is an acronym that stands for Itaguaí Women’s Association—Warriors and Social Articulators. Speaking of the roots of the organization, Sales clarifies that it is now even more far-fetched than before.
“A.M.I.G.A.S. arose from a demand, from a necessity, to defend the lives of women victims of domestic violence and sexual assault… [and soon] we realized there was a need to support not just these women, but also their children.” — Anna Paula Sales
However, due to increasing poverty and socio-environmental tragedies from both the coronavirus pandemic and extreme flooding, the support provided by A.M.I.G.A.S. was expanded to serve pregnant women, the elderly, and chronically ill residents of Engenho. Nowadays, Sales says that the public “expanded [even more]. We opened our services to everyone!”
Recently, A.M.I.G.A.S. launched their Youth Friends of the Environment (J.A.M.A.) program.
“J.A.M.A. was developed to promote environmental education among community youth. We have an open-air sewage canal, and when you educate people not to litter, life is better… We need a lot of help to do this, so we are establishing a network of youth from the community to support environmental preservation and sustainability [practices].” — Anna Paula Sales
Another project spearheaded by advocates at A.M.I.G.A.S. is the empowerment of waste pickers. Sales says that, due to high unemployment rates caused by the pandemic, the numbers of these professionals have skyrocketed in her community and city.
“Basically, everyone became a waste picker… [To empower these workers] we provide support, we offer food, we incorporate aspects of environmental education as well. We direct them to the government, so that they are registered and protected, working under the law. We provide them with many supplies and guide the conversation with local authorities on their behalf.” — Anna Paula Sales
By providing both physical and mental support to the waste pickers of Itaguaí, A.M.I.G.A.S. is able to help improve the overall sanitation of the city, while also augmenting household income and environmental protection. In many families, the money earned by waste pickers is the only source of income, serving as the only barrier between families and famine.
Each month, A.M.I.G.A.S. offers programs to the community of Engenho at the headquarters of the closely allied Engenho Residents’ Association (A.M.E.), founded in 2018 to defend and support community residents as an official representative of the community. Sales describes some of the main projects planned for the coming months.
“We work with Zero Hunger… [Our] July is [focused on] prevention of violence against women… [and so is] Lilac August, and then there’s Yellow September, a campaign against suicide. Eventually, we arrive at Christmas Without Hunger.” — Anna Paula Sales
Preventing and eliminating hunger in Itaguaí is very important to Sales and her women warrior friends at A.M.I.G.A.S. The women’s organization provides free meals to the community three times a week, every week as part of their Itaguaí Solidarity Kitchen. It is not uncommon to have 300 people show up for a hot meal on rainy days, when it is hard for waste pickers to collect raw materials for recycling and make enough money to have a proper meal, or when the low lying city is flooded and comes to a halt. So, even before the water levels go up and it gets dangerous, when people notice it’s going to start raining heavily, they go to A.M.I.G.A.S. to make sure they’re fed, safe, and not far from home amid extreme weather events, that often ravish favelas in Rio. “When the rain starts, everyone worries,” Sales remarks.
A serious problem in Engenho are the frequent floods that occur after heavy rains. Large sections of the Baixada Fluminense are below sea-level, which makes the problem even greater. This, along with poor drainage systems and lack of basic sanitation, lead not only to floods, but also to the backup of sewage, including human waste, in drains. Floods are recurrent during the summer, but in the February 2022 rainy season, A.M.E.’s headquarters, where most A.M.I.G.A.S. activities take place, experienced very high water levels, damaging or destroying much of their property. The water mark from the flood can still be seen on the walls. Now, the most important items are kept elevated, so as not to be spoiled when the rains are heavy.
These floods have also led to governmental forces entering the community and aggressively destroying homes in 2021 and 2022, particularly houses along the canal. Evicting citizens was banned by a ruling of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) at the time, due to pandemic. Even so, some Engenho residents were removed. It is important to bear in mind that the most vulnerable to climate change in Rio are residents of the favelas and that the solution lays in improving their infrastructure, not relegating residents to the margins through eviction.
“Many people [here] have tuberculosis. They only have one bed in their home, they don’t have a refrigerator, they don’t have a stove, they don’t have any money, they don’t have a job. On top of all this, they are ill!” — Anna Paula Sales
These are the particular individuals that A.M.I.G.A.S. supports through their events and programs. Other regular events include twice-a-week professional training. For these courses, A.M.I.G.A.S. partners with local businesses or other not-for-profits to train community members in professional skills that can help them secure a stable and higher-income job. A.M.I.G.A.S. additionally stores a large quantity of high-quality clothing, furniture, and other personal item donations that are free for community members to take as needed. A.M.I.G.A.S. works to eliminate extreme poverty and inequality in Engenho.
“[Human suffering] is what concerns me the most. As a human being. I am unable to be well, knowing that there are others who are not.” — Anna Paula Sales
A.M.I.G.A.S. intends not only to maintain the services and resources they provide to Engenho residents, but to expand them, reaching more people in the city of Itaguaí.
“By the end of the year, we want to implement four new projects. We want to see if we are able to provide more empowerment for the youth by getting them an income, but still with a concern for the environment… other projects as well, such as expanding our professional training courses and provide more food support from our kitchen.” — Anna Paula Sales