The Julio Otoni Community, in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro has existed since 1950 when a settlement of north-eastern Brazilians migrated to the area in search of work. Since then it has grown to a community of approx. 2000 people living in basic conditions in the heart of a one of Rio’s most picturesque residential communities. During the ‘s, the Julio Otoni community saw a rapid and uncontrolable expansion with the influx of many more inhabitants, more homes erected made from inferior materials, often in precarious locations and at the end of the ‘s the arrival of an organised criminal drug-trafficking group.
These groups started to dominate the area and involve the inhabitants in illegal activities in exchange for help and the provision of services that the State does not to provide. This process affects primarily the youth and adolescents who are easy prey for these groups not only due to their parents having to spend most of their time in their workplace, but also due to the lack of occupational alternatives available in the community. The result was a community living in constant fear and apprehension, intimidated by the growth of this parallel power and dramatic rise of violence and possession of fire-arms, transforming this once peaceful community into another one of Rio’s sad statistics.
In , due to donations a creche was built offering day care to children in the community. The creche continues to exist today but has been the subject of severe neglect and decline and is in the process of being reformed under the initiative of The Julio Otoni Project – Creche Caçula.
In 2002 a group of community residents formed a residents association AMJO (Associação de Moradores da Júlio Otoni) to try and improve the standard of living in the favela and prevent further violence and criminal activity. In 2004 together with the AMJO, the NGOs REDEH and CEMINA became involved in the community, starting with the purchase of a area / building of sq. meters in the community with the idea to create a community centre to develop activities aimed at transforming the community and in particular in offering alternatives to the youth of the community such as artcrafting through recycling:
- Provision of skill training courses for young and unemployed women, especially practical skills such as sewing,
- Provision of computer training for youth and adolescents,
- Promotion of cultural activities that can involve youth such as dance, “capoeira”, music, etc.
- Promotion of interchanges between members of the community for the discussion of their problems and potential solutions, their system of values, their future perspectives and the construction of their full citizenship.
The center was inaugurated on September th, 2004 with the participation of many inhabitants of the community, especially children, and representatives of non-governmental organizations. One of the first needs identified was the provision of literacy classes for illiterate adults in the community. A six-month course was organized and adults were enrolled and successfully completed the course. In July 2005, the first Colônia de Férias (Holiday Activity Scheme) took place with the assistance of international volunteers from the NGO i-to-i (ww.i-to-i.com). The community centre received some much needed renovation and a computer centre was established with donated computer equipment. Attendance far exceeded expectations with over children attending on a daily basis taking part in activiites such as dance workshops, art activities, excursions and sports activities. At the end of the two week programme it was clear that this had such a positive impact on the community that an ongoing programme was required and a partnership was formed with Instituto Pólen, a voluntary organisation that had been successful in creating similar programs in
a nearby favela community Prazeres since 2002 and Jinga, a UK social enterprise started by past volunteers at the Julio Otoni Project that contributes funds to the project and mobilization of other resources.
This program has been a huge success over the last two years with over children in regular attendance participating in activities such as Capoeira, English Language, Computing, Radio, Arts and Crafts, Excursions and more as well as regular Colônia de Férias taking place in the holidays (watch the video from the 2008 Colônia de Férias here).
Since 2004, the Julio Otoni community has undergone much positive change demonstrating the effect that these inspirational programs have had on the residents and youth of the community and their ability to change the path of their future. As a result there are now key areas of ongoing development within The Julio Otoni Project, all of them are implemented in partnership with individuals and organizations:
- Community Development and Citizenship
- Projects for Children and Youth
- Women’s Development