Being an adolescent in low-income communities in Rio
During his visit to Brazil, UNICEF Executive Director visited a low-income community in Rio and discussed with adolescents the challenges they face and their participation in the search for solutions.
Rio de Janeiro, November 4, 2011 – Seventeen year-old Flaviano da Silva Souza does not hide his enthusiasm as he talks about an important achievement: the implementation of a health unit in his community in the beginning of the year.
This victory was accomplished through joint efforts made by himself, other adolescents and adults who participate in the community’s Local Network, which is part of the Platform for Urban Centres. This UNICEF initiative is being carried out in the disadvantaged areas of Rio and São Paulo to reduce inequities that affect the lives of girls and boys.
Flaviano’s community is one of the 49 communities taking part in UNICEF’s initiative in Rio. In São Paulo, another 45 communities are also engaged in improving the living conditions of children and adolescents.
“As a start, in order to understand the reality of the health conditions of our community, we carried out a diagnosis and presented the findings to the local authorities and pointed out the unmet health needs of our population”, explained Flaviano. “I am really glad to know that my voice can make a difference in my community.”
These and other stories about the participation and the challenges faced by adolescents in low-income communities in Rio were presented last Friday, November 4th, during a visit by UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake; and representatives of the municipal and state governments, UN Habitat, and NGOs, as well as community leaders.
The meeting was held at Morro dos Prazeres, one of the low-income communities participating in the Platform for Urban Centres.
Upon his arrival at Morro dos Prazeres, Mr. Lake was welcomed by 18-year old Michael Gomes Correa, by 17 year-old Nayara Gonçalves Vieira, and by community leaders.
They showed Mr. Lake the office of the residents’ association and discussed its work over lunch while enjoying traditional dances and music performed by children.
After this event, the Executive Director, adolescents and participants discussed issues related to health, education and violence.
“With regard to education, there are several issues that worry us. The schools in the communities do not have appropriate infrastructure. Classrooms are small; there is a lack of supplies; there is no space for physical education activities or equipment, such as computers, to help us learn”, said Landerson Siqueira Soares, 19, a resident of Cidade de Deus (City of God), another Rio de Janeiro community that participates in the Platform for Urban Centres.
Thaíza Dandara da Silva, 17, who lives in a low-income community in district of Ilha do Governador, explained that one of the main problems that adolescents face is domestic violence, and that violence against women and against children in particular, was viewed by adults who use force “as a way to impose their power and discipline them”.
She also highlighted the violence caused by drug trafficking. “It is very difficult to live in communities where the drug traffic holds the power. In Rio de Janeiro, wherever drug traffickers take over, they set the rules. They close schools, prohibit people to walk on the streets, control peoples’ lives.”
Nayara Gonçalves Vieira, 17, a resident of the Borel community, said that many communities like hers have been pacified by an initiative of the local government.
“Some of the problems related to violence that existed where I live have already been solved, but the constant contact between the community and the police requires that police officers be prepared to help the community”, she explained. “And, to this end, we need more opportunities for participating in decision-making in order not to leave it all up to the police.”
During the meeting, the adolescents also talked about how they have been contributing to overcoming the problems that affect the lives of girls, boys and their families.
According to 17-year old Bruna Cristina Gentil dos Santos, one way for adolescents to participate is through the Local Networks that are part of the Platform for Urban Centres, supported by UNICEF.
“My local network has representatives from the health sector, social assistance, the community, the residents’ association and adolescents. We hold meetings and share ideas about how to improve health services, schools and the environment.”
Bruna explained that her community is preparing a petition to be delivered to the Municipal Secretariat of Health so that community health agents and the family health programme may start serving her community as well.
“In the meantime, we have been doing HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns ourselves, by sharing awareness-raising materials and distributing condoms”, said Bruna, who presented to Mr. Lake the communication materials adolescents prepared for the campaigns.
The UNICEF Executive Director asked the adolescents if they sometimes find opposition in relation to their initiatives and how they deal with this kind of reaction. Bruna explained: “It happens but we always try to show the positive side of the initiative, the benefits and importance of the prevention measures.”
“I am very impressed by the way you are looking for solutions. Listening to the challenges you face as adolescents, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that you, the adolescents, are the ones most able to find new solutions", said Mr. Lake.
Other participants also stressed the importance of dialogue with the adolescents. “We all know that famous statement by Saint Thomas: ‘I need to see to believe’. But, in the case of adolescents, it is the opposite. To believe in the adolescents is the first fundamental step to see results”, said Viviane Manso Castello Branco, Coordinator of Intersectorial Policies and Activities at the Municipal Secretariat of Health of Rio de Janeiro.
The dialogue between the Executive Director and the adolescents contributed to giving visibility to the community initiatives achieve concrete results to improve the lives of children and adolescents.