Joe shares thoughts on perception

After showing a video of children talking about the Living and learning project a volunteer remarked that they didn’t look like they were from poor backgrounds. This reminded me of a volunteers who in the centre of the city of Rio observed that you never see anyone from the favelas. I remember saying to her, ‘and how would you know that they were from the favelas’? She replied, “by the way they were dressed”.

Both these experiences reminded me of the different ways we perceive things.

In Brazil the poor take great pride and effort in their appearance – the centre of Rio is full of people from the favelas but the outsider would not ‘see’ them if they were looking for people who look poor.

It is interesting that the poor don’t want to be seen as poor but the ‘rich’ require them to look poor to generate sympathy and generosity.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I think it’s not just a “poor in Brazil” characteristic either. Watching the Lenny Henry etc series about living in the slums in Kenya (Comic Aid) – I was struck by the amazing cleanliness, high standard of dress etc of folks living in the most desperately poverty-stricken conditions.
    Which brings me to a worry I’ve had festering for a wee while…. why oh why is Africa seemingly the dominant/exclusive recipient of much aid from the UK?
    Is Latin America left to the fund-raising activities of US and Canada – AND of course your good selves!???

  2. Ah, what a wonderful comment!
    If for people who live in the same culture the perception of things in the world can be very different, then what can we say about the perceptions of people who come from different cultural and historical backgrounds!
    Yes, here, poverty and appearance are closely linked. We have a popular saying that shows the pre concept of appearance: “I’m poor but I’m clean.” Perhaps we can understand better, beyond the obvious, when you consider the history of the emergence of the first favela in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.
    In colonial times, in Rio de Janeiro, there were many diseases that are proliferating (yellow fever, typhoid, etc …) The narrow streets, the heat, humidity and the cluster of people were seen as the main causes of poor health. Thus, when Brazil becomes a Republic, there is a public health movement, in the name of cleanliness and health, that expelled all and poor families from the city center, wich will be redesigned taking as inspiration the urban reform carried out by Haussmann in Paris . The lack of hygiene that causes of diseases in the city was attributed to the poor people. The government, however, allowed the poor to collect the wood left over from the demolition of their houses to build their shacks on the slopes of a hill near the center, Morro da ProvidĂȘncia. This hill was covered by vegetation that had the name of Favela (small comb), giving the name so we now call the slums. So instead of people is in filthy slums …. Can we think that having a clean and tidy appearance may withdraw, at least visually, the stigma of being a favelado (slum)?

    About what could be called poverty, I like the concept given by Amartya Sen, who says that poverty can be defined as a deprivation of basic capabilities of an individual and not just as an income below a predetermined level. He understands “capacity” as a kind of freedom: the freedom to have different lifestyles. For example, a rich person who fasts in his sole discretion may have the same completion of operation that a poor person forced to undergo extreme hunger. But the first can choose to eat well and be well nourished in a way impossible for the second.
    Operations are defined as what a person may consider valuable to do or have. Operations range from elementary, as to be adequately nourished and free from preventable diseases, to very complex activities or personal states, as able to participate in community life and have self respect.
    In his perspective, how can we do to determine, at first look, those who are poor and who are not? Maybe in some extent we are all lacking something … would perhaps be wiser to share, exchange, than simply give charitably?

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