By Jake Cummings, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Favelas in Rio suffer from a number of stigmas. As the narrative goes for many critics, they are an urban nuisance, a blight on the landscape. They are a manifestation of desperate poverty, a war zone for the drug mafia, or, at best, an illegal housing solution forever condemned to makeshift status. But to Lance Brown, a New York City architect, favelas are something far more significant than their popular image would suggest.
In fact, they have nurtured of some of Brazil’s most important cultural movements, such as samba, funk carioca and capoeira. And they exemplify many of the conditions, such as social cohesion, active street life, and environmental sustainability that urban planners in the developed world are constantly trying to replicate.
In short, many advocates feel favelas are communities worthy of preservation, support, and study. Brown shares this conviction with local non-governmental organization Catalytic Communities, and last year, his support for CatComm landed him and his partner, Irma Ostroff, a free trip to Rio through CatComm’s annual Rio Raffle.
Brown describes: “From arrival to departure the visit is rich in options … The most ‘significant thing’, the reward, from our visit was the time spent, the engagement, with all those engaged in pursuit of an equitable future for all Cariocas and their generosity in sharing their lives with us.”
Catalytic Communities, founded in 2000 by Theresa Williamson, who has roots here in Rio, in the United Kingdom, and in the United States, is an organization dedicated to the recognition, support, preservation, and integration of favelas and other nontraditional communities into wider society. CatComm achieves this by organizing educational visits of communities, by training community members in social media, journalism and documentary production.
Williamson explains: “Our Rio Raffle is the single biggest grassroots fundraising campaign we run each year. It provides a core and critical portion of our annual budget, allowing us to pioneer new community training programs–like this year’s video trainings for young leaders, which, should the raffle succeed in raising US$15,000, will begin in September. We have 1,500 raffle tickets available this year, 300 have been sold so far.”
This mission is especially crucial in the run-up to the World Cup and Olympic Games mega-events, the ongoing development for which promises to completely transform many of these places, relocate their residents, and, in some cases, eradicate them completely.
During their trip to Rio this past April, Brown and Ostroff visited Morro da Providencia, Rio’s first favela settled more than a hundred years ago, and the favela Asa Branca, a self-built, self-contained neighborhood in Zona Oeste (West Zone) designed from the grassroots specifically to encourage social cohesion and to discourage drug trafficking. They stayed in Williamson’s bed and breakfast in Ipanema, just a few blocks from the beach, where they were able to spend some leisure time catching some rays.
Following on the success of its 2010 contest, Catalytic Communities is holding its second annual raffle this year, where the first prize again will be free round-trip airfare, accommodations, and favela visits, with a total value of US$3,945. This year, they are also able to award an iPad and Brazilian concert tickets as second and third place prizes.
Each entry costs US$10, with more details and online purchase available here. Proceeds for the raffle will fund a youth video journalism course, one of many ways CatComm brings visibility to communities that often exist in the shadow of the mainstream view.