A man I had been emailing (Dirk) who volunteers in a favela in Sao Paulo, invited me to go and have a look at the work that he and many others are doing to help. Dirk has been volunteering at Monte Azul (Blue Mountain favela) for the past six months, because he wanted to help people.
When I arrived at Monte Azul, he was sick and couldn’t leave the volunteer house, but instead sent another volunteer (Cristoph Rust) to show me around. Christoph, who is twenty years old and has been working here for four months, came to volunteer for a year instead of doing military service in Germany. He came with the help of an organisation called Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steinen, and teaches violin, gives English lessons, and helps in the kindergarten and in many other areas.
Cristoph kindly showed me around the favela and showed me all of the wonderful things that the organisation (that has the same name as the favela) Monte Azul has done over the past thirty years since it was first founded by a German woman, Ute Craemer. I met with Ute, who also said she was working on another project called Alianca Pela Infancia, which helps children. Christoph showed me the workshop, the library, the bakery, the kindergarten, the hospital, and the kitchen (which I did some lunch preparation in the next day). He also took me to Centro Culture Monte Azul, where there are capoeira, music, painting, language and dance classes, and also special activities for the disabled.
I was then taken by Christoph, to Carminha’s house for coffee and biscuits. Carminha is a woman living in the Favela with her three teenage daughters Brena, Brenda and Bruna. It’s quite interesting that Bruna actually has a boyfriend called Bruno too! She is very happy in the favela, and said to me how much better it is now since the organisation Monte Azul (which she now works with) came. She told me how it used to be a lot poorer and how she used to live in a wooden house on the river. Her house now is quite nice, and even has a television (on which we watched a movie about a favela in Rio later that evening after she invited me to stay the night on the couch).
Before staying the night at Carminha’s house, I went for an hour or two to visit the volunteer house and say hello to Dirk and all of the other volunteers. There were quite a few volunteers, and at one stage, after popcorn and cheese on bread, I could hear about 5 languages being spoken at the same time, in one small room… English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese!!
On the way back down to Carminha’s house, I saw many open garages with Evangelists preaching inside. I ended up finding out that if people want to go and watch this they must pay 10% of their wages!!! Although I was in a favela, it was much safer than walking the main streets of Sao Paulo at night, because everyone knows everybody in the area. We did however walk past a young boy of only about twelve years of age, who had become involved in drug trafficking!
When Christoph and I arrived back at Carminha’s house, we played a game of Badminton out on the street with her daughters and Bruno. I then went into the house again, and was offered first a nice meal, and then a comfy couch to sleep on. The next day she even put corn-rows in my hair!!
Carminha mentioned to me that she had looked at moving into a house outside of the favela, but said that she felt much safer here where she has met a lot of honest people. She first moved to Monte Azul from the state of Salvador with her husband because he had a heart condition and could only get operated on in Sao Paulo (SP). Since then, her husband has moved to another area in SP with another woman, and Carminha re-married to a German man. Before she came however, everybody from her old home up north had said to her that she will either have a good life with money and be successful in SP, or she will either not have a chance and die in a favela.
But with her connection to Monte Azul, and free food (as she works for the organisation) free education for her daughters, and free medical expenses, she believes that she has a very good life.
Christoph came to pick me up the next morning and took me to the kitchen where we made pizza bases, before eating lunch and then visiting another house in the favela where a disabled girl is living. I went to the bathroom upstairs, and was quite surprised to see a turtle wandering about, trying to enter the room that had the bathroom after I had left!?! We took the young girl for a stroll in her wheel chair, and just before leaving the favela, I visited the hospital to see pictures of what Monte Azul used to look like… a lot poorer.
Volunteers are currently needed at Monte Azul so please email email@example.com if you are interested in helping or visit http://www.monteazul.org.br/ for further information.
Alianca Pela Infancia (http://www.aliancapelainfancia.org.br/) is in need of donations.