On The Road With Jolkona in South America: Rio And Its Favelas

Note from the editor: this post was written from South America by stalwart Jolkona volunteer, Pavan Potaraju.

Background of Favelas

In 1970’s, there were around 300 favelas in Rio. That number had increased by 25% in 2010. The favelas were home to drug dealers, mainly handling Marijuana and Cocaine. Shootouts between traffickers and police resulted in murder rates in excess of 40 per 100,000 residents. Through their presence, actions, and political connections, the traffickers engendered an atmosphere of dependence, promising “protection” and ensuring that the critical segments of the local population would remain “safe”, despite continuing high levels of violence. Previously, it had been impossible for any tourist or a local not living in the favelas to enter without the help from a favela resident.


About 2 years ago, the government introduced the pacification project. This was aimed at cleansing the favelas and liberating hundreds of residents. By the end of 2011, authorities say 59 favelas will have benefited from the fledgling pacification units, freeing an estimated 210,000 people from the rule of Rio’s gangs. This could be a direct result of the soccer world cup and Olympics coming to Brazil in the next 5 years.

NGOs Emerging

With community conditions improving in the favelas, multiple NGOs have come to the area to provide further respite. One such NGO is Community in Action, founded by Zak Pastor. It is located in the largest favela communities: Complexo do Alemão.

On the Road

As part of visiting some of our partners in Latin America, our first stop was at Rio de Janeiro. We met with the founder of the Community in Action, Zak Pastor. Zak took us to the headquarters of Community in Action in Complexo do Alemão. The favela was completely taken over by the police; their presence visible in the streets. We visited a school, sports complex and another NGO in the area which works with Community in Action. The main focus here was to help residents work toward personal growth and transition from abject poverty to employment.  Specifically, they provide cultural and vocational classes to facilitate this transition. They also have a volunteer programs for those who want to work and live in Rio.

How you can help

I never imagined visiting a favela would be possible. Now having been there, I understand how critical a role organizations such as Community in Action play in transforming these areas. Every donation goes a long way in helping the residents transition from abject poverty to employment. Donations can be made at

Want more on the South America trip? Adnan Mahmud and Nancy Xu are also blogging about their experiences with the team. Follow Adnan here. Follow Nancy here. Keep up to date with us also on Facebook.





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  1. Pingback/Trackback
    May 23, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Jolkona Blog » Blog Archive » 3 Countries,5 Non-Profit Partners: Jolkona Volunteers Head to Southeast Asia!

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