Jane Cacouris, who uses her community development and sustainability experience in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, shares how listening to favela residents led to pioneering a skills hub for young people
“What is the root cause of the violence?”
This was the question we asked a group of residents in Santa Marta, our local favela community, a number of months ago.
The residents had cited violence and the drug gangs that dominate the community as key issues. The government have tried the sticking plaster approach for years, by deploying UPPs (police units) inside favela communities.
This “worked” for some time in Santa Marta. After an initial clash, the drug gangs subsided and the gun-fire stopped. But the police kept the peace by using force, and the relationship between police and residents was and is non-existent.
With the diminishing resources available, the UPP lost control of Santa Marta 18 months ago. The community say the situation is now worse than before the UPP. Bandidos (drug criminals) have moved back in, and shoot-outs are a regular occurrence.
The big question
So here we were, running a workshop, in partnership with Tearfund, to ask what is the root cause of the violence? The group’s answer: a lack of education and employment options for young people. The pay packet and prestige that comes alongside owning a gun and belonging to a gang is, in many cases, the only attractive option available.
This stayed with me…
Fast-forwarding, and we’ve now just completed an explorative study, running a number of focus groups with young people within the favela. We wanted to listen and understand what their hopes and aspirations are, what they’re passionate about, what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
Mainly it has been incredibly encouraging and we’ve been uplifted by many of the conversations, but it’s also sobering.
Talking to a group of 18 to 30 year olds, all but one were unemployed. Articulate, willing to work, pleased to talk, with hopes and dreams, but lacking in opportunities.
When we asked them to describe one thing that made them feel proud in the last year, a single mother of six couldn’t think of anything. My heart went out to her.
Talking to them, life feels very unfair. And what struck me is that they could feel resentful of me, this gringo, educated, with many options available. However, if there is any resentment, it’s not apparent. Simply an openness to talk and a gratitude that people want to listen.
We’re developing next steps, hoping that in partnership with two local churches, we will be able to work together to help meet some of these needs.
Ideas into reality
Based on the outcome of the discussions, and together with individuals from within the Santa Marta community, we’re aiming to launch a Skills Hub – a working space that is available to young people who want to start their own small businesses.
We hope to use an Incubator approach, where young people are mentored through the process of turning an idea into a reality.
We want to link to a micro-credit foundation that can offer loans for the initial capital needed, and we’d like to have a strong social component; encouraging each business to have a community-facing aspect to it – whether that’s taking on a young apprentice from the community, or allowing premises to be used for community activities, or investing in community residents in other ways.
The answers lie within
There will always be storms in life beyond our control, rains that come suddenly and destabilise us. For many of the Santa Marta community, this is currently in the form of the current economic climate in Brazil – very few jobs available, underpaid police, teachers, under-resourced schools and the resulting knock-on issues. I think in this case, the answers lie within the community, at its root.
They have the ideas, the hopes and the aspirations locked away in hearts and minds.
Sometimes it’s just a case of providing the tools to unlock those hopes and dreams. I hope we can do that.
I hope one day that all of them can easily think of something that they’re proud of.