Forget the BBC’s glossy view of the latest world super power and take a closer look at the people who are being left behind and forgotten.
Our story started just a few days ago whilst eating out at a local restaurant in Freguesia do O, Sao Paulo. Often after Rose finishes work in the evening we take a walk after a long day to get some fresh air and a bite to eat. On Friday as we approached our regular eating place we were as very often, approached by someone asking for food. This very often includes young children begging for food or money or both. I admit that I am always reluctant to give cash as you can never be sure it’s not being used to feed a drug or alcohol habit, even when the money is being begged by children. It’s very common here to be approached by children who are quite obviously living on the streets here in Sao Paulo and Rose and I always help by going back into the restaurant and getting the person food. It never feels enough, but its better than walking past and doing nothing.
This latest incident on Friday prompted us to ask further details because, as we approached the door of the restaurant we noticed a woman holding a baby and clearly upset and crying. We asked woman if we could help and what was the matter. She told us that she had five children, no husband now and no food or gas to feed her children. Rose and I listened as she told us her horrifying problems.
We gave her a little food and some money but this time asked where she lived. We wrote her address on a slip of paper and vowed to find her over the weekend to try and help her. Today (Sunday 25th November) and after a long bus journey and a two hour walk through favella after favella with Rose getting more and more worried about our safety, we finally found her and her family living in a damp home-made shed on a hillside favella.
Favellas are notoriously dangerous. Rose told me that what ever happens don’t speak in English because it might cause a problem with our safety. So as we climbed the hill walking through narrow and quite clearly poverty stricken streets in the warm rain, we seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into areas that were making us feel insecure and worried about what we were about to find.
The area was packed with people drinking in small home based bars with excessively loud music and dozens of helmetless young motoboys riding up and down the streets. I felt like everyone was checking me out, as obviously looking European with pale skin and grey hair. After asking people at least a dozen times if they new the address or the woman called Deborah. We were unsure if we would ever find her. A rational numbering system of houses had clearly passed people by and probably because people just numbered their houses at will. As you walk along the streets you see numbers in the thousands then all of a sudden return to single digits then back to triple digit numbers. I thought we might have to give up and go home but Rose seemed confident she could eventually find her. So we persevered. After about two hours we finally asked a young girl sitting in a doorway listening to brasilian funk music,but we got the same answer from her as all the other people we asked until a little face appeared from behind her when a little boy, probably no more that 6 years old and he said he knew the woman and in fact I hadnt realised at the time that it was his mum we were looking for. He then led us through a maze of allyways and muddy passages lined with home made, make-shift houses and shacks. Finally leading us to the woman we were looking for “Deborah” The mother of what turned out to be six children and not five and living in pathetic conditions. Conditions much worse than Rose and I had expected.
As an Englishman I was shocked and upset at what I was seeing and smelling as Deborah invited us in to her humble home made shed. She cried with sheer joy that we had made the effort to find her as promised on the previous Friday night. I might add at this point that Rose and I had carried two heavy backpacks of food, having stopped at a local supermarket before we left home. Once Deborah had wiped her eyes of tears on her dirty dress she watched as we emptied our bags of basics and a few luxuries. The kids eyes were lighting up and the yoghurts were soon being consumed by the two year old baby. Rose then called the local gas supplier and ordered a gas bottle so the family could cook again. As we talked to Deborah in her makeshift excuse of a kitchen, the 6 kids appeared one by one and were all lovely and pleased to meet us.
As Rose chatted to tearfull Deborah hardly holding back her own tears, I looked around in shock at the conditions the family were living in. I stood there feeling that I must do something to help this family but as I stood in the excuse of a doorway and looked out over the surounding hillsides all I could see was literally tens of thousands of what can only be described as houses built on top of houses and houses that were just home made sheds squeezed in between where a small space had once been. I began to realise that Brasils problem seemed impossible. Just how can you rehouse so many people in a city with no space to build. Sao Paulo is as packed together as you could possible imagine. It looked an impossible task. Not only that, as I stood there I began to realise that these kids had no chance in life.
We stayed for about an hour and chatted to the family and before we left, Rose suggested that the two older daughters might benefit from learning English in our school. Which might later contribute to them getting a job. Deborah had two daughters of about 14 and 15 years of age and when Rose suggested it to their mother she broke into tears and when the daughter was told of the plan she too covered her eyes and began to cry and tell Rose that it had been her dream to be able to speak English but impossible, having no means to enroll in a school.
After an hour of very emotional chat Deborah and her daughter accompanied Rose and led us safely out of the favella and to a bus stop. Both hugged us and thanked us for what we had done and we vowed to return before Christmas. This family will have no chance of experiencing Christmas in the way we all take for granted. Having said that I did notice that, poking out from behind the calor gas bottle was a scruffy specimen of a Christmas tree standing about eighteen inches tall. Rose had already asked about the excuse of a tree and Deborah explained that she found it in a skip up on the road. We will return in a few weeks hopefully to try and help the family to have some sort of Christmas.
So why appart from the obvious have I decided to write this article? Well quite simply because whilst here in Brasil I have had the luxury of having BBC HD and BBC World News supplied at extra cost through our internet supplier. Week after week Rose and I sit there watching news articles and documentaries about the latest addition to “World Of Super Powers” Brasil and its amazing economic growth. Yes its true, Brasil is all thats advertised and more, but it has a dark side. Apart from the corruption, the drug problems etc. it has social problems that seem impossible to solve. Today has opened my eyes. You hear about favellas in these BBC documentaries but you dont realise just what it means untill you get up there and see it for yourself. The BBC can’t continue to show Brasil in its glossy light without being much more ballanced and objective. In the UK we have relied in the past on the BBC for its objective and honest portrayal; of issues. It must show this side of Brasil’s socially forgotten people to highlight just what is happening under the covers of the gloss. Put quite simply, how can Brasil be described as a Super Power and aspire to being accepted into the “First World” when it cant support it’s socially vunerable people. Children are everyones responsibility. That responsiblity isnt being met when children are hungry and have to beg for food on the streets. When a mother of six has to stand outside a resturant asking for help in tears.
I have two messages.
The first is to the BBC. Get your facts right and open your eyes. Look at whats really happening here in Brasil and be more ballanced in your reporting
The second is to Brasil. Look after your vunerable. Don’t stand by and watch your children live and beg on the streets. You can do something about this you just need to open your eyes and then speak out. In a democracy you can change things. If you dont speak out nothing changes and your vunerable continue to suffer.