“With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln
If for a moment you could drop in on one of the favelas in Brazil, you would be moved with pity and wish to see changes. That is how I feel as once again I mention the favelas–that is the shantytowns or slums of Brazil’s major cities. As I write I wish that I knew how to share with you some of the fotos I have of these hillsides covered with shacks. Perhaps somebody reading this will show me how to put pictures in my postings—till now I’ve had no luck. The issue is not just the shacks but the families who live there and suffer with the privations; for example in Rio 19% live in these desperate conditions. The favelas are one reason that Brazil has one of the highest murder rates anywhere.
Let me describe for you a picture—it is taken on a steep hillside for that is where apparently nobody else wants to live except the poor. In the right foreground is something I would not even call a shack–my first reaction is that it would not keep out the rain or any of the vira-latas—the stray dogs whose popular name translated would be “can turners.” The wall that I see has a series of short irregular boards besides some sort of a door but both leave large uneven spaces under the roof. Then more of the same boards with a flat piece of something making up the rest of the wall that is about ten feet wide. I would hate to be in that shack during a rain for the tin roof is a patchwork of pieces that not only do not fit together but have no fall to run off any water. But it is a home for a woman and her daughter for they pose next to it.
At the back corner of this shelter a few clothes hang, a couple of pairs of jeans and something yellow—perhaps a dress. Starting up the hill are some dark pieces of poles that might tell of a shack that fell down or was partially demolished. To the right are some more pieces of roofing tin over poles with some vines growing over it that might mean somebody had lived there or were still getting some shelter. The same story continues up the hill with no sign of a trail that would allow people to find their way—one shack so close to the others that one roof seems to overhang the next. Then I can see the top part of a shack that is made of a red tile in a block form so somebody is getting away from the bits of board and tin.
Often the city will allow an electrical transformer to be placed close by so the favelados—the slum dwellers can hook up as they wish. Such transformers look like a bird’s nest with wires running everywhere. As for water some favelas may have a water main nearby but often pipes from it lack pressure to get the water up to where it is needed. People carry water—a job generally given to the ladies who do it with a pail balanced on their head with a piece of twisted rag for a cushion. As for sewage it often just runs down between their dwellings.
My memory tells me that with time these makeshift shelters give way to cement blocks, tile and properly fitting roofs. Even so one can imagine that with the crowding, heat and lack of sanitation that any slum is not a nice place to live. Diseases are rampant and infant mortality is high partly because neither the mothers nor the children get proper nourishing food. I’ve read the stats that 200,000 children die each year in Brazil before the age of five. When we lived in Rio de Janeiro our son Vernon who was of Kindergarten age, picked up hepatitis by playing in a stream nearby. That stream did not come through a favela but still was contaminated. Mind you he wasn’t because we allowed him to go there—in any case Doris then picked it up from him. But that is another story.
The posting is not just about the housing or living conditions in a favela, it is about the people who live there. A picture before me shows five boys with ages no doubt between six to nine, everyone with a big smile for the camera. Four of them have white T-shirts with lettering and the littlest guy a red shirt. They all have a light chocolate coloured skin with black hair—as handsome as any boy in the whole world. Give them each an education and the orientation of the Christian faith and they could be executives in any business anywhere. If you were there you’d want to hug them each one and no doubt bring one home with you. But with the violence and drugs in the slums—something I haven’t mentioned—one or more of those boys may well die before leaving their teen years. But it will be hard for any of us to grieve over that death for we never knew any one of them. We’ve never seen an internet foto of one of them in the macabre position in which they died.
I am proud of what those of the Christian faith are doing to help the favelados, especially the church of which our family were a part when in Brazil. That same work continues to-day; a wonderful effort by dedicated Christians. It happen again and again—and I know the process continues unabated to-day. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is accepted, lives are transformed and dramatically changed for the better. I recall one of those ladies who lives in such a favela—she gives her life to minister to her neighbours. A while back a tree crashed into her shack and it had to be rebuilt but she continues to be part of that community.
I’ve never even suggested this before—but if anyone would like to help one of the children such as we’ve mentioned, contact me and we’ll get you in touch with International Child Care Ministries. Or if you wish to read a piece of fiction based in a São Paulo favela I have done some re-editing of a manuscript with the title coming from a saying in those slums—“A Stray Bullet Has No Address.” I can send it on Word but you would need to be prepared for a reality that brings heartache.