Brazil’s Favela Residents Organise To Stop The Spread


Brazil’s Favela Residents Organise To Stop The Spread

Life may have slowed down in recent weeks, but it certainly hasn’t stopped yet in Paraisópolis, one of Sao Paulo’s biggest favelas.

Residents are still running errands, and motorbikes are still weaving through traffic on the narrow, busy streets. Some shops have closed – but many are very much open, despite a state-wide quarantine. When people here live hand-to-mouth, how do you tell them to shut up shop?

Covid-19 is seen by many in favelas as a rich person’s disease brought in from abroad, but as the virus spreads, they worry that the poor will suffer the most.

Gilson Rodrigues is standing on a football pitch in the middle of the favela, loudspeaker in hand. The president of Paraisópolis residents’ association, he’s training people to become so-called “street presidents” – volunteers who’ll ensure households understand hygiene measures and the need to stay indoors.

While the middle-class are now working from home and worrying about where to source alcohol gel, residents in Paraisópolis can’t afford such luxuries at all. One woman told me it cost 30 reais (£4.60; $5.70) for a small 50ml bottle. Impossible when you’re out of a job.

There are a few hundred people being trained up, all standing a couple of metres apart. They’re practising social distancing as much as they can in this densely populated part of town.

Flavia da Silva is one of the volunteers.

“We’ve got to learn how to prevent the worst from happening, so that when it eventually hits us, we are already half-way there,” she says. She worries though that people aren’t taking it seriously enough.

‘When the president says something stupid…’

Somebody from the residents’ association comes by and tells a group of older ladies who are sitting on a wall they should go home. One lady scoffs at the idea.

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Gilson tells me that one of his toughest tasks is debunking misinformation coming from Jair Bolsonaro. The president has been railing against drastic state-led measures to shut down the economy in an effort to curb the virus.

“When the president says something stupid, that coronavirus is just the sniffles or that people can get back to work, well the next day, people are out on the streets,” he says.

“Jair Bolsonaro will be partly responsible for any deaths here because he’s creating this situation. It’s as if the 13 million people who live in slums in Brazil don’t exist. There’s been no policy to look after the country’s favelas, we’re being left to fend for ourselves.”

The residents are planning ahead in other ways too. A shopkeeper opposite the football ground takes me to a courtyard behind the road. Under a canopy are two ambulances – he tells me residents have hired them, on standby for a surge in coronavirus cases.

Brazil’s Favela Residents Organise To Stop The Spread


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