Community-led initiative harnesses power of social media to provide emergency aid in Rio’s favelas during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Zahrah Latif
HAVANA TIMES – Favelagrafia was born in 2016 to document life in Rio’s favelas in photographs, tackling the stereotypical view of guns, drugs and gangs with the unique perspective of nine photographers living in nine different favelas, who see talent, creativity and beauty in their midst. Four years and two editions later, the Favelagrafia team has united their efforts once again, and harnessed the power of social media, to collect and distribute donations to those most in need during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Morro do Borel, Morro do Fogueteiro and Favela Santa Marta are some of the communities that these photographers have already helped, and they are mobilizing to provide aid in Providência, Babilônia, Mineira and some parts of Complexo do Alemão.
With a local’s insight into the families who have been most affected by the lockdown, each photographer maps the most vulnerable within their community and puts them on a list to receive donated goods. The call goes out on Favelagrafia’s social media pages as well as their own.
Saulo Nicolai, one of the photographers who has been with the project since the very beginning, says, “many favelas have become even more vulnerable with the extended quarantine period, with a high risk of the disease spreading and residents suffering from hunger because they have been laid off or aren’t able to work right now.”
A freelancer himself, Nicolai has put his own economic uncertainty aside to focus on helping those who are being hit the hardest by the current lockdown. “I felt the need to use the potential of our Instagram account to mobilise followers to help those who are more vulnerable during this global crisis. People of all social standings, from all over the world, are collaborating.”
Food and personal hygiene items are distributed at different points throughout the city, adapting the distribution process to each individual community, as some are more difficult to access than others.
For example, packages had to be delivered door-to-door in Borel, while spaces have been facilitated by local players who have joined these efforts such as the Botafogo Methodist Church, where chairs were set up in the yard at a reasonable distance from one another, in keeping with social distancing recommendation. Each package is wiped down with disinfectant before being handed to the recipient, whose name is crossed off the list. The operation is systematic and everyone plays a specific and important role. They have helped more than 300 families to date in three favelas.
Vanda, a resident in the Morro do Borel favela, and her family are one of these families to have benefitted from this emergency aid. With three children at home (one doing an internship, another one studying and another one unemployed), she continues to work and says “I have to go, there’s no way I can stay at home.” She also says that that they have been suffering great water shortages in the area.
In a country where gang members had decreed a curfew in favelas to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before the president declared a national lockdown, this extraordinary initiative and the way it has been mobilised by those at the bottom of the social pyramid for their community is testament to the strong will and perseverance of those living in Brazil’s favelas.
If only at the end of all of this, those living in their gated condominiums languishing in boredom during quarantine, remember how time and time again, their neighbours on the morro rise to the occasion and face adversity with everything they have.
To follow Favelagrafia’s work or to make a donation, please visit: https://www.instagram.com/favelagrafia