One of the main skills a journalist must have is curiosity, and it is necessary to keep it alive. I have been to many favelas and police stations. I also have heard many politicians promise they would solve the main social issue of our country, the favelas. In recent years, covering economics as a reporter, I have been far from this universe. I keep writing about social and economic development, but spend too much time in offices rather than getting my boots dirty in the reality of favela streets, where people are waiting for politicians’ empty words to turn into a shelter, bread, education and work.
Investigating the disappropriation of favelas with my contaRio- colleague Stefanie Dodt, I felt like a stranger to my own town. We spent a whole day in Vila Autódromo, a favela that faces removal due to the construction works for the Olympic Park in Jacarepaguá. That is where I discovered a totally different side of this issue.
We visited homes, listened to people, witnessed laughter, had a mango ice cream and probably the best goiaba juice of my life. When I saw those uncolored houses from the outside, I thought nothing could be more of an improvement than moving to a popular condominium. Being inside, I realized that nothing is better than your own house, no matter how small or poor it is.
Patrícia, one of the residents, told us that her family of six lives in only one room, and she smiled. Life is hard here, but you can be happy. She also told us about the neighbours’ solidarity, the struggles to build small houses, the ordinary happiness of her children that go to school, hoping for a better future. And how is life going to be in an apartment of three bedrooms, offered by the City Hall? Until now, it is nothing more than a promise.
The bottom line is that there is no conclusion about the removal of favelas. At least there is no easy solution. Every case is different. What seems to be good for one, might not be good for someone else. If we live in a society where people are supposed to have the same rights, it is necessary to have the right to choose. “I will shoot everybody that tries to take me out of here”, an eight year-old boy yelled at me, right from across the street. What could I answer? I just asked him not to grow up with hatred in his heart.
Working for contaRio was great. I had the opportunity to refresh my curiosity and to remember that there are rights that need to be respected, in favelas as much as throughout the rest of the city. Telling the story of those residents was an emotional experience that left me thinking. And it was the first time I could tell a story using images and the voices of my subjects. It opened up broader technical possibilities to do what I chose for life: telling other people’s stories.
Alexandre Rodrigues, 37, reporter for the magazine Exame, Rio de Janeiro