We’re two weeks in to To Ligado’s new year and things are really starting to come together. We had a slightly bumpy start, partly due to Carnival and partly due to big changes in state school timetabling. Traditionally school kids have only gone to school in the morning or the afternoon, but the government are rolling out new full day schedules. This is obviously great news for the kids as they’ll have more taught hours and there won’t be this ‘dead time’ in the morning or afternoon where their parents are working but they’re not in school. What this means for the project is that it has lost some of its older kids as they’ve been put on this full day timetable.
Carnival is finally coming to a close here which means that Projecto To Ligado will opening its doors for yet another year. We’re expecting 36 kids to turn up on Monday afternoon and they’ve got an exciting year planned out for them. A lot of familiar faces in the staff team and some new ones. There are the rocks, Beth and Monica, who provide the stability and experience that is so vital for the project. Claudia is back to keep on cooking, although now in the brand new kitchen that Dave and Shelagh slaved away on before Christmas. Beth’s son Gabriel will continue to work as a Monitor helping the kids on their school work. He is joined by Thais, who recently completed her teacher training course. It’s fantastic to have her as a new member of the staff as she was one of the earlier graduates from the project after spending 5 years at To Ligado. I actually remember teaching her when I first came out here as an 18 year old! Other returners include Mariana (Art) and Marina (Reinforco). Hockey continues to grow; the President of the Rio de Janeiro Hockey Club came to our staff meeting last week and brought with him a very enthusiastic, newly qualified hockey teacher. Perhaps the most exciting development is that Tom will be moving from teaching Music one day a week, to four. The goal over the next few months is to put together a To Ligado band and, at some point, perform to audiences. I think this a fantastic project in so many ways and will help keep the kids energised for their other lessons as well. Continue reading
“So, what do you think about the UPP?”
The two women opposite me leaned back and sighed.
“Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel…you want to know what we think about the UPP?”
They looked up at the ceiling and then at each other. I couldn’t make out anything from their expression. Right at that moment, I had no idea what they might say, good or bad. Which was surprising, given how extensive the media coverage has been of the UPP’s role in ‘pacifying’ Rio de Janeiro’s many favelas, both globally and within Brazil.
“You know, I had a lot of hope when I first heard the UPP were coming to my community.” said Rita finally. “That they would get rid of the drug traffickers for good, that we would have reliable running water, electricity, justice and that the police would treat us with respect. That things would change.”
What does it mean for the UPP to come to a community? The formula sounds simple – set a time and date for a full-scale entry into a favela by Rio’s military police, BOPE (pronounced boh-pee). Make it public so that the drug traffickers won’t stick around to put up a fight. Build a police station within the favela. Then staff it with specially trained officers who will work solely within these communities. The police division that runs these embedded stations is the UPP – the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora. Four years after its creation, they now have a presence in 28 favelas in Rio. Most of the Brazilians I’ve talked to who live outside the favelas, and much of the mainstream media, cautiously or wholly embrace what the UPP are doing.
The thing they all point to is the big drop in the kind of full-scale gunfights between heavily armed traffickers and police that once gave Rio its reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Certainly when I first came here five years ago, the sound of gunfire was relatively common. This time around, I don’t think I’ve heard a single gunshot in 7 weeks. So – from what I can hear from the safety of where I live, and from what I read several stages removed on the BBC and in Brazilian papers – the UPP have made a difference. But I had no idea what the people they were sent in to help actually thought.
I tried a more direct question. “So what has the UPP changed for you?”
“A UPP não mudou nada.” Ed. The UPP haven’t changed nothing.
“Nothing?” I said.
What followed was about an hour of Rita and Maria explaining to me why they felt so at odds with the public perception of the UPP. How the drug traffickers were still there, working from the ‘Boca’ (The Mouth) where they’ve always sold their drugs in the community of Falete. How they were still present in much of favela life, from controlling the lucrative gas cannister trade, to resolving domestic disputes. How the community was caught between the law of the traffickers and the rule of the police. Maria and Rita illustrated all this with their own stories. Continue reading