“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
Closing after another year, the project had its Christmas party.The meal was delicious, like only Claudia knows how to prepare. No lack of rabanadas, singing, exchanging gifts, hugs and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and the coming year be filled with much peace, love, conquests, and of course, lots of fun.
To all those who somehow participated in the project this year, either as a teacher, monitor, volunteer or donor, our thanks and wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Without you, the project would not be reality it is today!
While I am waiting for my visa (it has been more than 4months now!), Joe invited me for a Christmas get together in Chipping. I remember (I think it was in November) that I replied that I would be in Brazil. Well, it’s not really like that!
Margaret and Keith picked me up from Preston station and took me to their house. After a while we went to Mary’s house for a dinner. Sometimes I feel frustrated because of my long waiting, but then, other times I feel very lucky and I see the reason why I am still here. And yesterday’s dinner was one of these moments – I was so pleased to join all those lovely people and to have a chance to meet Trustees and friends of Volunteer in Brazil.
I would like to thank you for the invitation, for all the support and for making me feel like one of the family!
Wondering what has put the smile on these young faces. Look no further than centre back of the image to see, Mariana Bonifatti, a visiting teacher of plastic arts and music. But now over to the youngsters who tell it best.
I wanted to learn guitar since childhood and so came this opportunity to learn. I pay close attention in class. She has taught to play Bella Luna and Poeira and Ivete Sangalo. Thelma
The Mariana came here just to rejoice, because here there was the guitars, but had no teacher . So we’re having guitar lessons. In addition, she teaches art. She is preparing us so that we can perform the play “Romeo and Juliet” of Ruth Rocha. We made wings, scenery and clothing. Djair
The art class is really cool, the teacher is very entertaining. She is not from here, she is Argentine, but she is in Rio for 4 years. Estrella
The teacher Mariana teaches to do many cool things. But one day she had taught me to do a very interesting thing, she taught me how to make a parrot, but I could not do. Then there was one day that I could make it and I was very happy! Marcos
Amazing how things work out…its not very long since Beth was lamenting the lack of a musician and scratching her head for a solution, then along comes Mariana, to share her love and skills. This phenomena we often call co-incidence makes one wonder.
Whilst Sheila and Dave have been catching up on sleep and settling back into family life. Beth has been reflecting on the time they spent in the Living and Learning Project, their impact on the teaching of English and especially their legacy.
On Monday we said goodbye to our dear volunteers Dave and Shelagh (or Xila , as the crew use to say). It was 3 months of joy and a lot of work! As legacy remained a new kitchen, tiled! motivation to learn English through fun and joyful lessons , a mural, many new and creative games, many good memories to treasure in our hearts and an immense saudade (nostalgia).
Yes! That’s how long it is since we hovered around the flight check -in desk with a large bag, ready to rescue items if the dreaded ‘over weight’ phrase was uttered. But we needn’t have worried because Dave and Sheila judged it perfectly. As they have throughout their three month volunteer placement at the Living and Learning Project in Rio. Meeting them from the flight was just as exciting as waving them off.
Uneventful and peaceful journey home just 12 hours in the air with one stop in Lisbon; raining hard at Manchester and very cold. Thanks to Sara and Cloe for leaving our house so tidy and for the welcome home flowers. Busy unpacking and trying to stay awake till at least 9pm. Massive thanks to everybody in what has been our second home, for all their love and support over the last 90 days. However, we are also excited to be meeting up with old friends before and during Christmas – Paz e amor –
Xila and Dave
Joe, chairman of VinB, has been taking stock of the year and highlights for us some of the charity’s proudest achievements.
It’s been another busy year at VinB.
We worked in partnership with CAFOD and GlobalLink to deliver the Going Global Understanding Development Course and the exposure visit to Brazil. Many of the ‘Brazilwhallas’ (as they became known) then helped out with the sponsored cycle ride – this years total was the best to date £2000 plus.
Dave and Shelagh from Longridge have done some fantastic work with the children in Rio and Martin (our volunteer in Cristino Castro) finally received his work permit – so he is now entering his third year as a volunteer. Martina, also from Slovakia, is poised ready to join Martin as soon as her visa arrives on her lap.
This year we launched the micro loan initiative – six cows are now grazing happily on the pasture land around the volunteer house in Cristino and two UK schools have come forward ready to provide micro loans to rural families struggling to make ends meet.
The website and blog go from strength to strength and a new digital story telling project is evolving as I write.
Thank you to all who have engaged with the work of our charity this year and may you have a wonderful and holy Christmas. Joe