We are welcomed to Diveneia favela by the community featured in CAFOD’s new and highly recommended connect 2 Brazil scheme. Parishes who take part in connect 2 Brazil can exchange messages and support with the community. Diveneia is a well-established favela where, after 30 years of struggle and campaigning, concrete buildings have replaced wooden ones and where, in 2007, with the support of CAFOD partner MDF, the community lobbied the government to build 216 apartments and 58 small houses within the favela. We are welcomed into the house of the inspirational Maria Theodore, grandmother and community leader, who has lived in the community for nearly 40 years and who founded the successful community crèche.
We are also joined by the incredible Teresinha, who is responsible for the community healthy eating programme called Bread and Art. Teresinha is literally one of most energised women I have ever met. She is the person who has prepared our lovely lunch and is joined by other women Zeza, Maristely and Argentina, who lead us in an uplifting grace before we eat:
O luz do Senhor que vem sobre a terra, inunda o meu ser, permanence em nós.
May the light of the Lord which shines on the earth fill my soul and stay with us.
We are then invited to join a circle. Everyone stands in a circle holding hands. Then, everyone steps forward into the circle and says “we welcome you”. Everyone steps backwards and says “we give you space”. And everyone walks round in a circle and says “we walk together”.
We feel so welcome and special. This community are energised and have a great spirit grounded in their faith and the struggle for justice.
It is a joy to listen to 16 year old Maristely, who is Maria’s granddaughter . She is a youth leader and leads confirmation classes at the local church in the favela, which is based above the crèche which her Grandmother Maria founded. Maristely recently led a campaign in the community involving over 1,000 other young people against the huge rise in the price of bus fares. She has also been active in the campaign against the exorbitant electricity prices being charged by the Electropaulo company.
It is so uplifting to be with these women, who continue to face huge challenges in their lives in the favela. They are active in MDF, inspired by their faith and still fighting for justice. This is such a contrast to the atmosphere of a few hours ago and the neighbouring favela of Maria Cursi. The life of 16 year old Deborah in Diveneia seems so different to that of 16 year old Lucas.
We have great fun visiting the creche and the Bread and Art sessions and handing over postcard messages from schools in England and Wales. We join the children in singing and dancing. The women seem to know everyone in the community. Perhaps all have been through the crèche and catechism classes at the church.
As we leave the church and lock the door behind us there is a large group of teenagers making lots of noise and shouting nextdoor. I avoid eye contact, but as we walk up the hill ask our MDF friend Zeza what was going on next to the crèche? She whispers “they are some of the drug dealers”
Such is the fragility of life in the favelas, with these young drug dealers next to the church and crèche, where the amazing women from connect 2 Brazil volunteer and live.