Saving Kids from Drug Trafficking in Rio's Favela Shanty-towns

Rio de Janeiro is known for its pretty beaches, carnaval excitement and sultry lifestyle. But for millions of Rio's residents that reside in the favela shanty-towns, life is a daily challenge as inhabitants struggle to earn a living and provide for their families.

For children here, there exists another challenge: staying alive. Lured by the glamour of gym shoes, money, status and girls, local kids are being wooed into the drug trade, sometimes as young as 8 years old. With only 4 hours of school per day, kids are left out on the street, often with nothing to do but get involved in the alluring drug trade. 12 year-old with a .357s are an all-too-common sight on these streets, as kids lack positive role-models to encourage them along a more healthy, wholesome path. The violence of the drug trade, coupled with the heavy hand and quick triggers of the local police, has created a situation in which "an entire generation of impoverished Brazilian youth is being decimated."

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Luckily, in many of these favela communities, there is hope. Local community centers provide these kids with a safe haven while teaching them skills and providing them with the stimuli needed to keep them off the dangerous streets. With high rates of malnutrition and broken homes, it is essential to these kids' development to provide them with a place where they can go after school to learn, play and eat nutritious food.

In an effort to provide safe haven for more of these children, Cause & Affect has supported two of these successful projects.

1) Terra Encantada is a neighborhood in the Jardim America favela located in the Northern Zone of Rio and home to about 5,000 inhabitants. When a Dutch organization IBISS arrived to help a decade ago, they asked the parents and kids what was their most important request. The answer was unanimous: a soccer field where the kids could play futebol, exercise and get off the dusty, dangerous streets. In the years since, a soccer coach has been hired to give formal lessons and a team created that competes with other local favelas. With their minds focused on soccer, these kids look up to their coaches and the project staff. A few of the kids told me about friends of theirs that took the other path; all too often, the friends died violent deaths once they became involved with the drug gangs.

Upon our visit, C&A could see the field had fallen into disrepair. Due to years of wear and tear, coupled with heavy rains, much of the field had washed away and had been inundated with frequent flooding. Seeing a direct way to assist, we swooped into action, first hiring workers to clean out the clogged drainage pipes. We then contracted a huge truckload of sand to be delivered to provide that powdery-soft field the kids enjoy. Next we bought new soccer balls and nets for the goals. Beyond these cosmetic improvements though, we wanted to find a way to increase the access to this field. Much to the delight of the project directors (and the kids), we decided to install four strong lamps to allow the kids to play at night. Now, thanks to the $1,500 C&A invested to improve this field, hundreds of kids can stay off the streets and instead play well into the night in a safe, wholesome environment.

2) Cinco Bocas, located in the Braz de Pina neighborhood, is infamous for its drug wars and homicides, often at the hand of the local police. But a percussion project here is changing the lives of many of these kids. The local community center here, founded by locals and supported in part by IBISS as well, provides day care to over a hundred kids. In addition, many of the adolescents in the program take part in an amazing drumming project. They are trained in the rich art of Brazilian percussion and as this video shows, they are incredibly skilled! They have toured in Holland a few times, which gives these kids a real boost of confidence and inspires them to devote their lives to this project. As the video shows, these kids know that their lives have been transformed - it is powerful to see firsthand!

Cause & Affect loves this project but When we watched the older kids playing with their incredibly genuine smiles, we could see the younger ones looking on in awe. It was clear that these positive role models needed to be encouraged to pass along their skills and wisdom to the younger kids. We asked the Director why more younger kids weren't involved and she replied, "There is one simple answer: we can not afford the drums needed to teach them." Acting upon this need, we compiled a "wish list" and headed to the instrument store to purchase the $1,500 needed to expand the project to 50 additional kids. We delivered the drums, set up the classes and for $30 per kid, young lives are being spared from the violence of the drug trade.

Mission accomplished. As the video illustrates, 5o of the younger kids are now a part of the project and the teenagers are very enthused to act as teachers and role models for this "new generation of Brazilian drummers."

As one 18 year-old told me, "We have been so lucky to have this life-changing opportunity. Now we can give back by teaching the little kids."

So simple, so true. Once again, Cause & Affect's micro-philanthropy model proves its efficiency. We do the background research, make field visits, choose a project to assist, find the most effective way to make a difference and then act quickly to purchase the supplies or contract the service needed to directly impact peoples' lives. FIND A CAUSE & AFFECT A CHANGE - this is the C&A mantra and once again, we see it's success.

SPECIAL THANKS TO LYONS TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL IN LA GRANGE, IL! BY CHOOSING CAUSE & AFFECT AS THEIR CHARITY OF THE YEAR, THEY WERE ABLE TO RAISE OVER $3,500 TO SUPPORT THESE PROJECTS! WELL DONE! GO LIONS! (C&A is looking for more schools to participate in the program.)

Copyright © 2009 Cause & Affect Foundation