• Parada de Lucas - the favella where no one wants to go

    It was because of the amazing work of a lady called Nauza Nascimento that led us to visit one of Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous favelas, located in the northern most part of the city.

    A community where visitors don't go, we had been warned, enter without them knowing and you'll be shot. Questions asked later.

    Over a million people who call Rio home live below the poverty line. One in five resides in a favela, or slum. These communities are infamous for powerful drug lords and brutal gang warfare.

    Parada de Lucas is no different – it’s an impoverished community under the control of heavily armed gang members, and young people here are at constant risk of becoming involved in the drugs trade. You see groups of teenagers hanging around on street corners - their guns almost as big as them in some cases.

    Neuza explained to us about the frightening loss of innocence in the area, with the chances of a young boy joining a gang in Parada de Lucas being incredibly high. They start at age 8 as ‘formigas’ - running errands. After they have ‘proven’ themselves, they will get a walkie talkie and a gun and will be put on watch in some of the most dangerous areas, most prone to attack from other factions. Many die at this early stage.

    It was because of this that community resident and mother, Neuza, became worried about the lack of opportunities for her son and his friends.

    Neuza decided to tackle this head on because she wanted to show the kids that there was an alternative, a different way of living.

    Showing incredible bravery in the face of such a challenge and with no funding or outside help, Neuza built CIACAC from the ground up - literally. She had turned what was once her tiny, one roomed home into the project’s base and built upwards to create an even tinier home for herself and her family above.

    Yet whilst the space may be small (about 5m squared) – hundreds of young people have been through the project’s doors since it began 10 years ago.

    CIACAC acts as a hub offering skills classes in English, Spanish, dance, guitar and IT as well as taking the youngsters on cultural trips. And as a huge sign of its success, only 7 of the 900 children who have participated in CIACAC’s projects have gone onto be gang members. Incredible.

    Exposure to foreign cultures, the discovery of new skills and the chance to improve self-esteem is proven to work in this environment.

    To give us more of an understanding to the lives of the people who live here, Neuza walked us around the community – home to some 34,000 people.

    One of the first things you notice is the smell. Much of the waste produced is pumped into open sewers without treatment.

    People live in fragile looking concrete or wooden shacks and looking at them, you wonder how on earth they stay up. On each corner it’s hard not to look at the men and boys with their big guns and every so often a flash car drives past slowly, and you know it’s one of the traffickers doing their rounds.

    The ‘Little Learners’ Project

    We'll be working with Neuza to implement ‘Little Learners Brazil’ providing extra tuition to the young people at the project. That extra boost will come with ‘School in a Bag’ kits for every child. These contain everything a child needs for school, from pencils and rulers to school books and maths sets.

    Development and mental stimulation are the order to the day for these kids. There is life outside their immediate community, and we want them to dare to dream about other possibilities for a life they could lead.

    It is the biggest aim of the project, and to support this, we’ll be linking up kids at CIACAC with those back home in the UK and in other parts of the world. We live in a global village, and believe that children all around the world should have the opportunity to learn and grow together.

    Through Skype and Google Hangouts, they’ll be able to take part in educational activities with opportunities to chat, sing or dance together. We took part in the weekly guitar club which we beamed to kids at a school back in the UK.

    CIACAC is an integral part of the community and Neuza is a massive driving force for the young people of Parada de Lucas. She kept going, and she keeps going.

    We are completely in awe of this incredible lady and so excited to be a part of CIACAC's future.

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