Rocinha Hits Back With Facts

Living in Rocinha as a gringo, (foreigner), I never felt uncomfortable, the love, embrace and inclusion that I received from the community was something I never felt amongst my fellow countrymen and friends back home in the UK.

Roof top view of the favela da Rocinha from the Rocinha Guesthouse

Photo: Mohamed Soudy

Rocinha, the largest favela (slum) in South America, maybe not in land size but sheer density of people with an estimated population of 250,000.

This infamous favela has a violently portrayed image and brutal reputation for crime by the media.

The media also often portrays the place to be a dangerous jungle creating a stereotype that favelados, (favela residents), and favelas were hotspots for crime, drugs and all of Brazils social problems.

As the World Cup approaches, unfortunately the negative media spotlight has once again returned to the favela.

However, this time it's not the usual suspects in the Brazilian media, but a UK media company that has perceived the place to be a war zone and indirectly warning tourists not to go.

But in reality the situation in Rocinha is not as black and white as the media portrayed, as I got to find out during my time spent living in Rocinha.

Rocinha is a mixed, vibrant, tight and proud community. The favela has a history of cultural diversity where everybody dwells side by side with no discrimination.

The majority of residents are hardworking, honest and are employed in hotels, restaurants, civil services and public sector jobs.

There was never a dull moment living in Rocinha. The busy, lively streets and alleyways gave the place its own personality and identity, and the residents have a great way of smiling despite the hardship being faced on a daily basis.

The social integration within the community, constant party atmosphere and human contact, substituted the big TV's, games consoles and other materialistic objects that fulfills our western world. This is something that can only be seen to be believed.

Living in Rocinha as a gringo, (foreigner), I never felt uncomfortable, the love, embrace and inclusion that I received from the community was something I never felt amongst my fellow countrymen and friends back home in the UK.

Rocinha, functions like a city within a city and has amenities that any thriving neighborhood would relish.

Even prior pacification, ATM machines, Banks, 24 hour Pharmacies, Clinics, Supermarkets and bus services were already there.

However these images were never shown to the rest of the country to dispel the stereotype generated of favelas.

Crimes being committed inside Rocinha were and still are very rare occurrences and are frowned on by the community.

Experiences in Brazil taught me that I was much safer inside the favela then I was outside in Copacabana or Lappa, a popular party spot for tourists.

An incident was mentioned during the articles attack on the community of a German tourist being shot in Rocinha in May 2013.

This incident was true, however, not in the way it was portrayed in the story of him "being shot for walking without a guide".

The fact was the tourist was shot because he was taking pictures of drug traffickers and not for merely taking a stroll in the favelas as was reported.

While not justified, taking pictures of traffickers anywhere in the world will end you in a pickle, would the outcome been any different if it would of happened on a London estate or the projects in Los Angeles?.

In fact, the usual anti-social behavior that is witnessed in the western world outside pubs and on our doorsteps regimentally every weekend, is strictly forbidden within the favela.

The respect of residents and the community was and still is something that's non-negotiable in Rocinha.

Offences such as stealing, raping or murder are strictly denounced and prior pacification was dealt with severe punishment for the offender.

Residents suffer from bad living conditions, many still live without the most basic services expected in the 21st century due to decades of state neglect and not because the residents cant be bothered.

Favela kids protesting for better sanitation, education and social improvements

Photo: Mohamed Soudy

Despite this, the community has a great way of pulling together and providing these services for themselves and taking pride in keeping their favela as clean as possible considering the harsh conditions they live under.

Since state intervention, there have been some positive changes in sanitation but it still needs to be improved.

Rocinha has a number of social and NGO projects in the community, residents create most of them with no government help.

Spin Rocinha, is a free DJ School created and coordinated by resident and favela tour guide, DJ Zezinho.

Dj Dembore assisting student at Dj school Spin Rocinha

Photo: Mohamed Soudy

During my time there I witnessed the hard work, money and time dedicated to start this project.

Zezinho started the project in August 2011. He sacrificed his bedroom and turned it into a studio for the students.

Other separate programs include the "Two Brothers Foundation", a project that offers free English classes to adults and kids.

While "Green My Favela", is a project that encourages and helps residents turn empty spaces into mini farms and gardens to grow plants and food.

American Volunteer Kay Lee Thomas gives insight on social project in Rocinha

By Mohamed Soudy

Rocinha is a unique place that has its problems like anywhere else in the world, but to deem it as a crime and drug haven is an insult to the overwhelmingly hard working residents of the favela and represents the exact stereotype the people and community has suffered for decades.

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