Away from the sandy beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, on the hills and hiding between mountains are countless communities living in shanty towns, or ‘favelas’. There are over 600 favelas in Rio de Janeiro alone, with an estimated population of over 11 million people living in favelas across Brazil. This equates to around 6% of the total population. It is often the unseen side of Rio, however favela tours have become more popular amongst tourists. Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio and is said to house more than 200, 000 people. I visited Rocinha in 2014 and walked from top to bottom, in awe every step of the way.
The favelas promote a vicious cycle; without many other opportunities, children grow up to become part of the prominent drug trade, which closely links to the high level of violence in the favelas. Police have no control, as the drug lords rule the community. It is the ugly side of Brazil, brought on by the huge financial imbalance seen in the country. Statistics show that the top 10 per cent of the population earn 50 per cent of the country’s total income. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how more and more favelas have been popping up over the past few decades. However this is only one side of the story. Many people living in the favelas are thought to be happy, in spite of their hardships. As I walked through the main streets of Rocinha, I noticed numerous little businesses- if you blinked, you’d miss them. But inside were always smiling, friendly locals doing what they could to better their lives. Most were small family run businesses like barbers and cake shops; but it was especially great to see a recently built library which was part-funded by the profits of the favela tour I was on.
Children and teenagers often turn to football as a way of escaping the harsh reality of life in the favelas. Education levels are low, so lots of spare time leads to kicking a ball around on the unforgiving favela roads. But that’s the beauty of football; with nothing but the ball to kick, these kids are still having fun. They don’t know what it’s like to own a jersey with their favourite players name on the back, or have a pair of boots to play in. Most go barefoot. But they love the game, and that’s the most important thing. Football is the only HOPE for some of these children.
As the sun goes down and the floodlights are turned on, they continue to play. It’s 3am. Some of these kids don’t get fed at night, because either their parents are out dealing drugs or they simply don’t have the money for food. So the kids continue to kick the ball around. Football doesn’t judge these kids for not having fancy clothes and the newest iPhone. It only provides them with a simple, unbeatable HAPPINESS. Rich or poor, football is a game for everyone, and for these children it is everything. If International Football Exchange can enrich their lives through football in even the slightest way, that can only be a good thing. Every smile we put on a child’s face through one of your donations is a smile that wasn’t there yesterday.