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“The eyes of the world are on Brazil” is an expression often used to represent the popularity of the country and its appearances in the media, for reasons such as the World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games of 2016. The country’s image in regards to violence and poverty is still really strong, and the government is trying to prepare for these big upcoming events. Rio de Janeiro is the city where are lot of the events will take place, and what is often emphasized is the contrast between nature and the city. There is another contrast, the one between the upscale neighborhoods and the favelas, or slums of the city.
Because of the favelas’ factors, which involve a highly populated area with the poorest people of the city living on top of the Rio de Janeiro Mountains, for many years it has been the perfect place for drug dealers and criminals to hide themselves. The police has had a lot of trouble trying to get inside, and the government is trying to change this reality through “pacification” actions. Many favelas have already gone through this process and nowadays provide a safer life and better infrastructure. But this is not the case with the Maré Complex, formed by 16 slums and located between the main access routes to the city. More than 130,000 people live there. This makes up to 2.3% of the total population of Rio de Janeiro.
One big problem has to do with children and the youth of the community. They don’t see opportunities outside of the favela and crime is for them a chance to get some money or status inside the community. As the government still hasn’t brought the pacification process to the Maré Complex, one good initiative offering good possibilities for its inhabitants is created by non-governmental organizationsn such as CEASM (Centro de Estudos e Ações Solidárias da Maré, in english: Centre for Studies and Solidarity Actions of Maré). This NGO is focused on contributing to the value of the slums and poor communities as an expression of the plurality of the city, changing ideas and guiding public policy. Since 1998 the NGO offers support courses helping young people get into the public universities. Entrance is based on a highly competitive test that usually favors people who can afford a good basic education.
These days, CEASM offers 14 different projects involving education and cultural emphasis. The population faces low self esteem issues, and many people think that there is no way out of the violence. CEASM wants to change this.
It already offers a library, computer rooms, journalism rooms and classrooms. Everything was built with the support of donations and community help. CEASM has about 100 volunteers, both paid and unpaid. Lourenço Cezar da Silva (pictured above) is the oldest brother of five siblings, and was one of the first students who was able to get into one of the most competitive universities of Brazil: PUC-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro).
The economic support is based on donations and funding, but in the past year help has been cut for different reasons. The NGO is facing many problems to keep offering a better chance to the community. The CEASM volunteers usually try to apply to get some help from the government but say that lately many has been direct to culture and not to education.. He started as a student of the support course for university applications and today is proud and eager to help others starting out like he did.
Of course, the eyes of the world cannot easily see everything that happens in the daily life of poor communities in the big city of Rio de Janeiro, but maybe looking inside it will make it possible to change from the outside, instead of trying to hide the problems. CEASM and the Maré Community Complex need help in order to change from inside; it needs eyes to look where it matters. The number of young people who cannot benefit from the services is increasing, and consequently, so is the number of them who engage in crime and violence.