Charles Siqueira, coordinator of the Premier Skills Esporte Seguro in Brazil
Community leader Charles Siqueira, coordinator of the Premier Skills Esporte Seguro or ‘Safe Sport’ project in Morro dos Prazeres, writes about his experience of working with young people in a Rio favela.
Morro dos Prazeres is one of the almost one thousand favelas that exist in Rio de Janeiro. I arrived there ten years ago, as a dancer and as a teacher. I wanted to teach youngsters who lived there from the moment I saw research highlighting the fact that young males living in the outskirts of big cities in Brazil were (and still are) the ones who killed and got killed the most. I decided I wanted to know more about that reality. I would have to face my own fear and prejudice to go deep into the core of the issue: how to avoid such a sad fate.
Since 2002, I witnessed the community, which was dominated by drug trafficking, fall into a deep depression. One morning in 2010, a landslide killed 32 people and injured 700 more. Curiously enough, from that point on, the situation in Morro dos Prazeres began to improve.
In only one year, the tragic event promoted a strong movement among the main local leadership groups. The establishment of a UPP or Peace Police Unit in the community, part of the government’s new security policy, began to increase hope. Now the community has widened its limits, and faces the future with a positive perspective, compatible with its grandness and beauty. Prazeres is the highest of all favelas in Rio and offers a privileged view of the city’s main tourism sights.
Although still fragile in terms of deeper interventions, such as social assistance, education and infrastructure, the current state strategy for favelas clears the way for other agents to act in order to improve people’s lives in the community, especially young people’s. Premier Skills Esporte Seguro (Safe Sport) is an example. I am the local coordinator of this project, which has been underway since December 2011 and is rapidly gaining a lot of space in Rio’s new reality.
The pilot Premier Skills Esporte Seguro project aims to create safe spaces for the physical and social development of youngsters between 12 and 18 years old. Some 200 youngsters, boys and girls, play football twice a week. Training is conducted by one civilian and two UPP policemen. The fact that there are policemen involved in the project is extremely innovative, and shows why this is such a successful endeavour. Those who were before seen as “enemies” are now tutors. Through football, a connection is made between a new generation and the police. The relationship gets stronger while new bonds are created: affection instead of weapons; good will instead of aversion. This happens on both sides.
Besides football, once a week the kids are divided in groups to develop ‘citizenship practices’. These are activities that connect those young people to the reality of their community, in order to transform it – for example, garbage removal, intervention and modification of collective spaces, the development of a communal garden, and mapping the area.
The focus is on the youngsters, but the community also gains from their efforts. Premier Skills Esporte Seguro reinforces a positive image of Morro dos Prazeres, and attracts goodwill towards that community. Since its launch, in the presence of the UK’s Deputy Prime Ministry, Nick Clegg, the community has been visited by several foreign ministers and diplomats.
Of those visits, the attitude of Sir Vernon Ellis, Chair of the British Council, stands out. His amazing disposition and appreciation of the community were notable, and he comfortably walked ahead everyone in the group, feeling at home where he was. This made me think of how far we can get if we unite our efforts.
A community that once was a no man’s land is now a place that can receive anyone, in spite of age, nationality or social background. All can fearlessly walk, valuing what used to be despised.
Charles Siqueira is coordinator of the Premier Skills Esporte Seguro or ‘Safe Sport’ project in Morro dos Prazeres, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.