By Jon Martin Cullell
Sao Paulo, Jul 16 (EFE).- In barely 18 months, residents of the Boca do Sapo favela on the outskirts of this Brazilian metropolis have gone from trudging down often mud-filled streets in the dark to enjoying high-speed WiFi thanks to the efforts of a coalition of NGOs and businesses.
Boca do Sapo even has a new name: Favela dos Sonhos (Favela of Dreams).
The changes have surprised the roughly 200 mainly Afro-Brazilian families who live in the neighborhood on the west side of Sao Paulo.
“I won’t stay here another day.” That encapsulates what Pauliana Leite, 36, thought four years ago after arriving in Boca do Sapo from the northeastern state of Bahia.
“The Uber driver who brought us was afraid to come here,” she recalls. “I was very angry with my partner for having brought us here.”
Leite never made good on her threat to go back to Bahia and has seen the community transformed, with paved roads, solar-powered streetlights, and colorful murals with positive messages such as “Never give up on your dreams.”
Remaking Boca do Sapo has been the focus of a pilot project pursued by several NGOs and firms under the coordination of the group Gerando Falcoes (Raising Falcons).
The goal was to lift residents out of poverty within two years with an investment of 6.5 million reais ($1.3 million/1.2 million euros).
The first steps involved contacts with municipal authorities and the electric company to connect the favela to the power grid and the installation of micro water-treatment plants to handle the raw sewage that was formerly dumped into the creek running through the community.
Some wooden dwellings were replaced with sturdier structures made from recycled materials, while cement was laid over dirt floors.
“When it rained and the creek rose, we had to put the children on the bed because the ground was left covered with mud,” Leite says outside the family’s home.
Along with the material improvements, Gerando Falcoes has provided residents with training in how to start small businesses and has reached out to employers in a bid to overcome their reluctance to hire people from Boca do Sapo.
Since the start of the initiative, according to Gerando Falcoes, 125 residents have found jobs and 80 others have gone into business for themselves.
Pamela Costa collects discarded items and sells them to a recycling start-up associated with the project.
But the 31-year-old is even more excited about the electric outlets in her new home. “Before we had no light or we had to use a ‘gato’ (illegal connection).”
Costa is also happy about finally having a postal code, which means she can have cooking gas delivered to her front door instead of having to lug it back from the depot.
Gerando Falcoes hopes to bring its “multidimensional” approach to bear on the conditions that have seen the number of favelas in Brazil increase by 40 percent over the last 12 years to 11,403.
Those marginalized neighborhoods are home to 16 million people.
“There is also a necessity that the state do its part. We don’t want to replace public institutions,” says Nina Rentel of Gerando Falcoes.