Santa Marta Favela, Rio de Janeiro


Did you ever joined a (group) tour that inspired you?

I felt the need to blog this, separately, because it became as one of the best part of our Rio de Janeiro trip!

I have to admit that prior into doing this tour or even before coming to Brazil, I had no single idea about favelas. On my very first day at my apartment in Vitoria, it did caught my attention because I can see it from our balcony.

I love the view. I love looking at it! I love the symmetry of those brick small houses. A landmark that certainly added beauty to an already beautiful place and country.

It is also a beautiful source of inspiration for artists and sketchers alike, that it even got a feature on Google's doodle on June 18, 2014 during the 2014 World Cup opening day!


So I got curious and curiouser. Thankfully, Frenchie is as equally fascinated and intrigued as I was about this so called communities around Brazil that we took the plunge of visiting one favela community.

Michelin Travel Guidebook of Rio de Janeiro pointed us to the direction of Santa Marta Favela through the guided tours under Favela Santa Marta Tours.

Luckily, we had the tour guide, Pedro to ourselves because quite frankly, I'm very skeptical about being in a group tour, mainly because things are being done too fast. But not on this one. We were able to take our time, we were able to ask what our curious minds wanted to ask, and we were able to learn a lot of things. And of course the bonus was, we were able to gain a friend and inspiring lessons as we capped it off.

Urban Dictionary defines a favela as; a Brazilian ghetto, the toughest neighborhoods you would ever want to find yourself in. Makes American ghettos and barrios look tame. Even the police are afraid to enter.

But don't be scared off by this definition because, yes, although they are dangerous neighborhoods, but you also have to think that the people who live here are simply getting by with their day-to-day-lives just like any of us.

Coming from the Philippines, I can't help but feel a certain familiarity to this place. Yes, we have slum areas around the country as well. Here's a Google image I found of slum area in Manila...


Having said that, I wanted to share what lessons I've taken from this tour...

They didn't really choose to be there. Historically, because these people were considered poor in the social status hierarchy, they were pushed away from the city and were forced to live in these areas. In 1900's after the end of slavery, the poor migrants moved from the countryside to the big city of Rio. As most of them have neither work nor money, they ended up living in one of these slum areas. People who live  in favelas are called, moradores da favela ("inhabitants of favela").

It's a gruesome walk if your house is located at the top. Since the location of these favelas are on steeply hills, getting to the top would not only take a lot of time but also a bit tiring. But perhaps only to someone who has been there for the first time, like me. ;) But I guess for people who have lived here for years, walking and taking the steps everyday is already a form of daily exercise! :D

These days, Brazilian government have provided the communities with either cable cars or elevator rides. Thank goodness!

For many, many years, they didn't have access to clean water & electricity. I have learned the value of water at an early age, when we had to pitch a pail, on our own before taking a bath. Having water coming from a tap is already a luxury for me! I also know what it feels like to have no electricity because growing up, we experienced constant blackouts almost on a daily basis in the time of President Ramos. Now that I'm an adult and have great access to them, I freak out when I don't have both. These basic necessities are of great value for me and knowing that other people in other parts of the world were deprived from these, is very heartbreaking.

Thankfully now, not only do they have access to water and electricity but also to internet and cable TVs. Awesome!

Yes, drug traffickers may have lived here but it's not a basis of stereotyping that all people who live in favelas are bad people. We need to understand that these people were deprived with their rights since their great grandfathers and grandmothers. They had a very hard life to begin with, but that doesn't mean that they all resorted to evil things. Most people here also have decent jobs and the children are going to school. In fact, I have the chance to talk to a young girl there, whose family owns a small store (think Sari-Sari store), who speaks very fluent English and who wanted to become a doctor-- in Cuba! Isn't that admirable? Sadly, there's still a stigma that is associated with people living in favelas, that leads to having a difficulty in finding good jobs.

Since 2008, the Brazilian government have "pacified" 264 favelas out of 1,300, around Rio de Janeiro with the presence of a police force called, Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora or UPP. In English translation, Pacifying Police Units whose task is to create a safer environment to these communities, also in the hope of eradicating the drug problems.

To stop poverty in these communities, many NGOs have established their small organization offices within the favelas. We met a musician who has dedicated his life in teaching children in Santa Marta with music and how to play musical instruments. He never gets paid for doing this, but his selfless actions in the community has transpired to inspire children to be better, that they even join and win major musical competitions around the country! Very inspiring indeed!

Aside from music, children are also being provided to learn computer skills, English/Spanish language, and of course, football! It's not bad to dream of being the next Neymar Jr. after all! ;)

There are 11.4 million Brazilians that live in favelas around the country. That's a huge number indeed, but it is inspiring to learn that most of these people have managed to improve their lives although they live in favelas. Just take the example of the founder/owner of Favela Santa Marta Tour, Thiago. He might have become a little bit "better" in life, in terms of financial aspect, but he has remained humble and it has become his advocacy to promote only positive views about favelas in Brazil.

And I could only wish the same things as well! :)

Favelas have not only attracted ordinary people/tourists but also famous personalities around the world. For Santa Marta favela alone, it's the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson!

He has made this community famous through his "They Don't Care About Us" music video!

Other famous personalities that have visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro were; President Barack Obama, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Will Smith, and my favorite is of course, Pope Francis during the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio!

The last out take I have from this and the best lesson I've learned, not only on this tour but also in my own life experience, is that, even if your community may not be as beautiful or as pleasant as it is, you need to believe and persevere that great things will come your way. The people we met and have talked with in Santa Marta Favela were true testaments of one of my favorite quotes, from the movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower: "We can't choose where we come from. But we can choose where we go from there."

Yes, we can always do something and defeat poverty, and this I know for sure is true--- through education! If you persevere and do better in school and educating yourself to become better, believe me, you will fly higher than your dreams! I knew a lot of successful people and success stories that came from humble beginnings, poor backgrounds, and sh*tty neighborhoods. All they did was study very, very hard, that they were granted with scholarships or philanthropic help from people who believed in them, and eventually became graduates and was able to find better jobs, and have better lives now--- a far cry from where they came from! :)

Poverty is not an excuse to be stuck and lazy and just settle for that. It should be a driving force and motivation to succeed! 

No BUTs and no IFs! And of course, leave the rest to God!

Is this something would you like to experience in your travels?