‘I have never believed in religion all my life but I believe in faith and I believe when we have nothing to give to someone, we can give him faith/hope’, Paulo told me this in his broken English, while we were walking through the streets of Rosa favela. I met Paulo in a party two weeks ago at a Brazilian colleague’s house. Paulo Mota and his wife are running an NGO called Restoration Ministries in Favelas for last 28 years, supporting kids, drug addicts, and prostitutes in around 10 Favelas in Sao Paulo. Paulo has single-handed raised money from different parts of world to have a sports camp for favela kids every weekend. Yes, of course sometimes volunteers from North America, mainly students, support these camps but Paulo is yet to see a wealthy Brazilian who can spend a single penny from his pocket for these have-nots. I requested him to make me visit one Favela and he agreed on one of the Sundays I had in Brazil.
I got few instructions from Paulo and William (one of the leaders of Volunteers of Restoration Ministries) before our car entered the community.
– Don’t take photographs without our permission.
– Your name is ‘Paula’ not Pooja
– If someone asks you anything, just nod your head and let us speak.
– Don’t look into the eyes of drug-dealers or any criminals.
As we entered the community, I could notice the aesthetic differences there and the places I have been staying in Sao Paulo. They don’t even have legal electricity so they steal it from the government and you can see millions of wires from a single power pole. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention, for sure.’
William signaled a few drug dealers standing on the other side of a sewage water-pool in Favela and they let our car come in. William was calling these Kids, drug dealers. They were hardly 17 to 20 years, wearing loose clothes but still I could see weapons popping out from their hoods. William told me that they get involved in drug trafficking since they are 10. ‘Each favela is famous for something other than drugs. ‘This Favela is famous for weapons, so if you want to take any military guns, machine guns, AK-47, rifles to India, you can buy from here,’ William teased me.
We parked our car near a small soccer ground, which Paulo and his organization had supported and started walking the narrow streets of favela. It was not different than any slum area of east Delhi or Dharavi in Mumbai. Paulo and William were telling me about poor education and public health in these Favelas. Suddenly, a girl in her mid-twenties, came running towards William and hugged him tightly. I could see her crying loudly and saying something in Portuguese. I wanted to talk to her but as instructed, I maintained distance. Suddenly, William beckoned us and we entered her tiny house. Paulo told me that she was one of the Drug lords’ girls when she was young. By young, he meant 13 to 16 years. These Favelas are run by mainly drug dealers and criminals, All the Sao Paulo favelas are run by a Criminal Gang known as PCC, Primeiro Comando da Capital and these criminals can choose any beautiful favela girl to have sex with them and these girls are known as Drug lords’ girls. It is a status symbol for these girls because somehow they are saved and protected under this title. This girl, Marini, was a Drug lords’ girl until she was 20. Then they abandoned her with her three daughters and a drug addiction which she has no control over. She wanted to kill herself and her daughters too. All of us joined our hands and prayed with/for Marini. William encouraged her for life and asked her to continue her rehab at a clinic nearby favela.
I became numb as we left Marini in her house. I asked Paulo why Police and government are not doing anything against drug dealers. Paulo told me that people in Favelas don’t believe in government/Police, moreover they have a reward for every policeman’ murder. For every murder, PCC gives 5000 Reais to any Favela person. According to Paulo, until now they have killed more than 100 policemen in this year. They don’t go to police, never. Whenever they have a dispute, they go to PCC. PCC can even kill the culprit based on the crime like rape and drug theft. One of the famous death sentences in this favela is called Microwave death sentence where PCC burns the culprit alive in rubber tyres.
Nobody touches the body until the ambulance or medical police comes, sometimes it takes 24 to 48 hours and until then dead body is there rotting, sometimes people cover it with newspapers. This happens to be one of the strongest laws in Brazil. Even someone is dead on the streets; they cannot take them to hospitals in private cars.
In these favelas, are also many talented artists, like rappers, guitarist and singers? Competent kids but without a possibility of showing it to the world, they can’t be educated because the teachers are afraid of them, they can choose either begging on the streets for food or candies or working for the criminals and drug-dealers. They always find the second option easier and go for a dreadful and short life.
But beyond all this despair what I could see in these Favelas is a hope for life. Every night they play music, they dance, trying to forget the son who was shot dead last week by a drug dealer or a daughter who is nothing less than a dead person, all dependent on drugs or prostitution. People like Paulo are trying to make a little difference in these lives. Like he said,’ even if you are not able to give anything ; give hope, give faith, in every or any way we can ..