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In Brazil, the Poorer the Better for the Rich

 In Brazil, the Poorer 
  the Better for the Rich

Brazil is a very class
conscious culture. The majority of politicians
and the elite in control have little desire to change the lives of
the poor. The lower class is viewed as a source of affordable
domestic labor. Street children are seen as nuisances and favelas
as crime areas which should be left to the police to deal with.
By Jennifer
Grant

If there are so many poor people in Brazil, how can they afford to buy things?

In stores in Rio many
items are marked with two prices. The first one is the cost of the item if
you pay the entire purchase price up front. The second is a credit-plan amount
which specifies both the payment price and number of premiums needed to own
the product. It also lets you know if interest must be included in the payments.

Many people, who cannot
readily afford to purchase up front, opt for the credit- plan. When one buys
many items in this manner, everything adds up. This results in some Cariocas
spending their thirteenth salary (a mandatory bonus salary generally paid
at the end of the year) just to try and catch up on their debts.

For those who pay the
whole amount at once, what form does the payment take?

Just as in the United
States, Rio’s residents use cash, check, and credit card. Writing bad checks
is also a problem in Brazil. One way the country copes with this problem is
to post the name of bad check writers on a web site which can be accessed
by both merchants and the general public.

The fact that someone’s
friends or boss can go online and see whether they have honest payment habits
serves as a personal deterrent in addition to protecting the store owners.

Why do so many things
cost $1.00 or even amounts which don’t require change?

It seems that both Rio’s
sellers and buyers hate to deal with change. For low-priced items, like a
drink or a sandwich, charging exactly $1.00 serves to make things quicker
and easier for everyone.

Do both rich and poor
Cariocas shop in the same areas and buy the same types of things?

Like anywhere the world
over, people tend to shop in their own bairros where there is easier
access and they know with whom they are dealing. Naturally, the more income
one has, the more they can afford. The price of the goods is marked accordingly.

Does everyone own their
own appliances?

While appliances of all
types are available, members of the lower class cannot always afford to possess
their own. In the favelas, the apparatus with the most personal value
is usually the television. Everyone either has their own, or, at the minimum,
a sharing arrangement with their neighbor.

Do Carioca appliances
resemble and operate the same as those in the United States?

While they are just as
adequate in the way they function, the appliances may appear and operate somewhat
differently.

What about furniture?

Furniture tends to be
generally smaller in actual size as well as built to occupy less space. This
is because the average home generally comprises a more compact area. Also,
the average Brazilian is somewhat more petite than the average American.

Furniture tends to be
hand made as opposed to factory produced. Varnished wood and cast iron metal
are the materials used most frequently. Kitchens come in complete units.

Do Cariocas
use computers to the same extent as people in the United States?

Computers are widely used
in Rio. A variety of Internet services originate there. However, a smaller
percentage of the population can afford machines of their own. To help solve
the problem, Internet cafés have sprung up in many of the bairros.

An Internet café
allows someone to rent a computer by the hour. In the favelas, nonprofit
organizations are providing residents with local access. These organizations,
along with individual volunteers, offer support and training in computer technology.

Are Cariocas
animal lovers?

Very much so. In fact,
the Brazilian term for pet, animal de estimação, translates
to `treasured animal’. While some could argue that the title is only to differentiate
them from livestock, the phrase also reflects how deeply pets are valued.

Dogs and cats both make
popular companions. Those who live in Rio’s most crowded bairros tend
to keep smaller dogs, due to lack of exercise space within their apartment
living quarters. However, many breeds and sizes can be found throughout the
city.

Among the most popular
are toy poodles, bull terriers, Yorkshires, Labradors, and Cocker Spaniels.
Of course, mixed-breeds are everywhere. Dogs can be seen roaming unsupervised
in favela streets, but rarely in heavily traveled parts of the city.

How do the homes of
the wealthy differentiate from those of the poor?

Wealthy and middle class
houses and apartments are usually situated within blocks of the beach or else
near other areas of beauty and leisure like the Tijuca National Forest or
the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lovely recreation area complete with lagoon
and park. Even when the actual square footage is small, there is often a feeling
of spaciousness.

The upper and middle class
homes frequently have many rooms complete with quarters for live-in domestic
help. Decor may be modest, but is usually tasteful and beautiful. Cariocas
take pride in maintaining a home in which to entertain guests.

High end apartments often
have guards, electric gates, or other measures of security. Additional fees
for these services may be charged aside from the rent.

In contrast, the homes
of the poorest members of the lower class are often built on steep hills or
outlying areas bordering the higher class bairros or close to the central
sections of Rio. They appear tightly grouped together either in ditches or
stacked on the hillsides.

These homes incorporate
one or two rooms hastily constructed out of abandoned wooden boards or poured
piles of concrete. The majority of roofs consist of a sheet of metal laid
atop the structure’s four corners.

If one is more fortunate,
his roof may be made from brick or broken loose tile. There are instances
where neighbors share bathrooms and cooking facilities. Furnishings may be
so sparse that the sole piece is a bare mattress laid on the floor where several
members of the family sleep huddled together.

In some favelas
there is no city sewage system or utility services. Trash and exposed drainage
pipes cover the hills. Currently, about 25% of Rio’s 6 million residents live
under these conditions.

How did these shantytowns
get started and why do the people live like that?

Many of the people who
live in Rio’s favelas came from the northeastern region of Brazil.
Some were descendants of slaves left without land of their own. Others were
farmers who suffered in the droughts for which the agricultural areas of northeast
Brazil are notorious.

Hoping to find work and
a better life for themselves and their families, these migrants headed to
Rio. Upon arrival, they either camped or built crude homes surrounding the
sections of the city where they hoped to find work.

Unfortunately, they soon
discovered that their dreams were hard to realize. This was due to lack of
education, job skills, and the large number of congregants.

How did the migrant’s
homes come to be known as `favelas’?

As the number of migrant
workers increased, so did their houses. The shantytowns became analogous to
the wild favela flower which covers the hillsides in continual blooming
abundance.

What were the migrants
called?

In accordance with the
term used to describe their living areas, the migrants began to be called
`favelados’.

What became of the
favelados?

Many never left the favelas
or else were forced to find a wealthy patron who would give them work in his
or her home. Out of frustration and desperation, some took advantage of the
access to lucrative black markets facilitated by Rio’s international shipping
port and either started or became members of gangs which traffic in illegal
commodities ranging from drugs to other humans. These conditions persist in
the present.

What about the children
who live in the favelas?

The children are supposed
to be in school. The Brazilian government now gives a financial incentive
to poor families who send them. However, there are some parents with such
troubles of their own that they do not make an effort to see that their children
attend.

Some encourage the children
to work or beg instead. There are even situations where the effects of poverty
are so disastrous that the parents feel incapable of caring for the children
and abandon them to relatives or life in the streets.

In cases where the situation
is particularly bad, the child may be the one to choose life in the streets
rather than remain in the care of his or her family.

This reflects a significant
contrast with upper and middle class children. They usually attend private
or international schools and are well attended by family members or nannies.

What happens to the
children in the streets?

Life in the streets is
hard. What can’t be begged or earned is stolen. Tourists are told to watch
their wallets because some of the children become very good at picking pockets.
Unfortunately, because of thefts from their stores, the merchants do not have
much tolerance for street children and put pressure on the police to do something
about them.

The police regard the
children as an irritation and take them off to juvenile institutions or worse.
In the past, this has led to violence. This happened at Candelária
Church in 1993 when police shot street children sleeping in the church’s courtyard.

What else can happen
to these children?

To escape the difficulties
of their lives, both children who are in the street, as well as those who
are at home in the favelas, face the temptations of drugs. They have
not been taught how to say "no".

Marijuana and cocaine
are trafficked by the gangs, making them easy to obtain. Street children use
glue because it is cheap and the high lasts for a longer period. Unfortunately,
it also destroys their brains or eventually kills them.

Other children are sold
or used for illegal purposes, willingly or not. Those who allow themselves
to be used illegally feel there is no other alternative. Tragically a few
people, especially those from other countries, take advantage of this.

Is this the fate of
all favela children?

Fortunately not. Thus,
it is important not to stereotype. Many favela parents are warm and
loving While favela children have more obstacles to overcome than others,
many do go to public school. A few even receive scholarships to private ones.

Others find productive
ways to earn money through working within the favela, finding domestic
jobs in homes, producing artwork, or participating in projects sponsored by
nonprofit organizations such as Viva Rio.

Are there many of these
organizations?

Viva Rio is perhaps the
biggest and most well known of the local organizations. However, there are
others, both municipal and foreign. The vast majority are non profits. Others
are programs through churches. There are also private individuals, such as
well-known activist, Yvonne de Mello, who have given unselfishly of their
time and money to help street children or volunteer within the favela
communities. Some of these individual activists later form their own nonprofit
organizations, such as Yvonne did with Projeto Uere.

What are the organizations
doing to help?

Some organizations focus
on supplying food and shelter to children who live or spend a lot of time
on the street. Others stress education, providing scholarships and transportation
which enable children to attend public or private schools. There are organizations
which offer training programs which supplement public schooling.

Still others combine different
types of strategies or present their own unique solutions. Even the national
government of Brazil has become involved. Under President Lula, the nation
is trying to help meet basic nutritional needs through Projeto Fome Zero (
Zero Hunger Project) as well as increase the financial incentives for parents
to send their children to school.

Perhaps the most comprehensive
organization, as previously mentioned, is Viva Rio, which serves as an umbrella
for many different types of programs.

Here is an example of
the types of projects which fall under their wing: television education courses
for both adults and children at the primary and secondary education level;
computer science classes; library services which also offer access to the
Internet; music instrument lessons under the direction and coordination of
professional musicians; violence prevention and conflict resolution seminars
given by members of the Brazilian Boxing Federation Fighting for Peace program;
a junior police program which utilizes materials prepared by the Institute
of Public Safety; legal assistance; promotions for the reduction of weapons
and disarmament; gardening programs which train young people to care for the
city’s landscape; reforestation and environmental maintenance campaigns; and
building projects to repair homes damaged by flooding along with the construction
of new housing.

What obstacles stand
in the way of improving the lives of the favela dwellers and other
lower class members of Carioca society?

Brazil is a very class
conscious culture. Despite having elected President Lula in 2002, who overcame
a poverty background, the majority of politicians and other elite in control
have little true desire to change the lives of the poor.

The lower class is viewed
as a source of affordable domestic labor. Many of the wealthy believe that
by hiring them in their homes, at a slightly above minimum salary, they have
provided an acceptable means of assistance. Otherwise, the status quo is accepted
without much question.

Street children are seen
as nuisances and favelas as bothersome crime areas which should be
left to the police to deal with.

Due to this "us and
them" attitude, Brazil is world recognized for its poor record on human
rights. Big cities are especially notorious for this, and Rio is no exception.

Does race enter in?

Prejudice is one determined
by social class instead of by color. Early European settlers were encouraged
to have relationships with those of different races in order to populate the
territory. This left the Carioca citizenry a wide combination of races.

Almost everyone is a mixture.
30% of the residents claim African heritage. Skin tones range from pale white
to deep black. The nation prides itself on what they believe is a lack of
racial prejudice.

On the surface, it does
appear that Cariocas of all shades and hues of skin tones interact
together without distinction. However, the outsider often notes that the majority
of the lower class is made up of people with the darker skin tones. Those
of the elite have lighter ones.

Isn’t anything being
done to overcome these obstacles?

It is to Brazil’s credit
that they have elected President Lula, but he will not be able to change the
situation overnight. It takes more than the head of state to change attitudes
which have existed since the time of the Portuguese rulers.

Fortunately, there are
caring individuals from the other classes who are willing to make a difference,
as well as people from foreign countries.

Could a child from
another country help?

Certainly. One way is
to contact organizations which offer assistance in the form of scholarships,
community development projects, etc. The child and members of his or her family
can then become involved in one of the charity’s fund-raisers to solicit money
or materials.

He or she might even want
to try and hold a money drive at school, church, or through an outside club
or scout troop and donate the proceeds. The organization may have their own
personal ways an individual child can contribute, so it never hurts to ask
them for suggestions.

Prior to becoming involved,
someone in the family should do some research to ensure that whichever agency
they are donating to will use the money where it is needed.

Just as a child may pray
for his family and friends, he or she can also ask God to bring assistance
to Rio’s needy children. This is a beautiful way to care for others who live
far away and with whom one has no means of personal contact.


The text above was excerpted from Rio de Janeiro: The City, the Life,
and the Kids, a work aimed at grades 5 through high school level. The
author, Jennifer Grant, is currently seeking a publisher for this book.
Comments and contacts in English and Portuguese are welcome at sjennig@yahoo.com.
Please reference the book title or Brazzil in subject line.

Grant wishes to
thank Jazon da Silva Santos for his comments and editing work on some of
the chapters contained in the book. She has authored previous articles in
Brazzil magazine, as well as an article on the children in the favelas
for Faces Magazine, which is used in United States schools.

Her interests include
promoting awareness of the needs of the favelados and the organizations
and individuals which are willing to help them through both the written
word and by making presentations at churches and schools.

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