By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The ever-expanding digital social inclusion initiative Viva Favela launched the 2.0 version of its website earlier this year, marking a dramatic shift in both focus and scope for the unique project.

From the Colors of Brazil series by Correspondent Walter Mesquita of Baixado Fluminense, photo by Walter Mesquita/Viva Favela.

“It’s 100 percent different from the original site,” says Mayra Jucá, Projects Coordinator for Viva Rio, the non-governmental organization behind Viva Favela dedicated to promoting a culture of peace and development through social projects, research and formulation of public policies.

The website was originally launched in 2001 to serve as a standard news source about life and happenings in Brazil’s low income communities using text and photos produced by twenty selected favela residents, dubbed ‘community correspondents’, in conjunction with professional journalists and photographers.

Viva Favela 2.0 expands beyond its traditional format and now correspondents can contribute not only text and photos, but also vast forms of multimedia such as videos and audio recordings.

“With text, we encountered a barrier to reach our target audience, namely the level of education. By expanding into mixed media, we can reach and interact with a much larger public,” explains Jucá.

This significant change in reader/viewer participation prompted another important change in Viva Favela: now anyone in Brazil can enroll as a correspondent through the website. “In 2009, we trained another group of fifteen correspondents in multimedia,” she continues. “The new site was produced by these fifteen individuals, and between April and now, more than three hundred correspondents from around the country have signed up.”

According to Jucá, information about Viva Favela opening to public participation was disclosed exclusively through the internet, on sites such as Orkut, Twitter and Facebook, and through their mailing list, which now has approximately 12,000 recipients.

From the Pregnant Women in Alemão series by Correspondent Rodrigues Moura of the Complexo do Alemão community, photo by Manuel Rodrigues de Moura/Viva Favela.

To maintain the professional quality of the original Viva Favela ethos, correspondents have the opportunity to interact with guest professionals via the website and receive feedback on their submitted work. One section of the site is devoted to submissions and suggestions for articles and works to be published in the “magazine”, a different area of the site. A group of editors then chooses which of the pieces will be included in the magazine.

The purpose of Viva Favela is two-fold. First, it serves to democratize information, that is to provide news about the favelas from an insider’s perspective, free of the stigma that often appears in related stories by mainstream media sources.

Secondly the project serves as a mechanism to reduce social exclusion by providing amateur journalists from poor communities with the tools and training needed to broaden their potential and provide them with opportunities to become professionals. In other words, to offer them a better life.

“By training correspondents we’re forming new leaders. While many favela residents rarely leave their neighborhoods because they feel discriminated against, our correspondents are gaining confidence to circulate the city and feel comfortable wherever they go. It’s empowering them,” says Jucá.

Of the twenty original community correspondents, sixteen have gone on to college to study journalism with the help of scholarships coordinated by Viva Rio. Nearly all have entered the professional market for journalism.

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