Brazil's favela life gives raw reminder of reality
Poor communities fighting for lives in the shadow of multi-billion dollar World Cup
Published 09/07/2014 | 02:30
This wonderful adventure, which has taken in São Paulo, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, glorious stadia, manic crowds and beautiful football, took on an altogether richer texture this week in the favela slums of Rio.
After some initial email contact, I spent time with Conor Hartnett, a Cork charity worker and rabid hurling fan, in the Vasco da Gama favela, north of the Maracana.
Conor works with a local man, Carlao, to provide football training for the locals kids outside of school hours. When they would otherwise be at a loose end, the kids are fed, taught about respect and tutored on the intricate glories of football.
As favelas go, Vasco is in reasonably good shape. And still the poverty is overpowering. I saw a neighbouring school, where Conor and others had fallen ill scrubbing faeces off the wall, following a recent flood.
Around a third of favelas lack proper sanitation; floods mean bad news. Elsewhere, there were dark rooms, the size of a standard Irish sitting room, where families of six and seven try to eke out some sort of life.
I was invited back to watch Brazil-Colombia on the Friday night. Half a dozen cafes surround Vasco's concrete five-a-side pitch. Plastic chairs were set out around the screens. The pitch was floodlit and played on all night. Music bounced throughout the game. All the while, the Vasco people were coming and going, hugging and high-fiving, screaming and laughing.
Conor from Cork is a beloved character. Our chat about Jimmy Barry-Murphy or Rio life or the football was regularly interrupted by one of the kids or one of their parents. He grinned: "You can see why I love it here".
The kids are a mix of mischief and sensitivity. At one point Conor said: "I want you to meet this little man". A shy boy of five or six was beckoned over. He stuck out his hand to shake, all the while looking at the ground before heading away. "He's autistic," said Conor. "The other kids don't understand and they pick on him a fair bit. His father isn't much better. It's not easy for him".
The people of the favelas were not massively involved in the protests we've seen in Brazil. As Conor said, most of them can't afford to travel down to the centre of Rio.
Carlao, close to 40, has never seen Sugar Loaf mountain or been near Christ the Redeemer. There isn't much anger, more a resigned understanding that this is just how it is. In the context of an $11bn World Cup, it has made for some stark thinking. If you want to make a donation to Conor's charity, just Google 'Fight for a Favela Part 2'. Or send him an email to say well done. He's doing brilliant things.