RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Rosalina Santos Moura found herself without a husband and in need of a new home.
After 17 years of marriage to a mason, her relationship ended, beginning a problem: How was the 46-year-old maid going to finish building her house that was only halfway completed in the Chapéu Mangueira favela in Southern Rio de Janeiro?
Moura rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
A year ago, she and her eldest son, Guilherme, 26, enrolled in the masonry course offered by the Rio Sustainable City Project. Created by the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), the project is sponsored by 12 companies and supported by the Rio de Janeiro state and municipal governments.
After the course, Moura, Guilherme and their neighbors, who also took part in the project, completed construction on the house’s walls. They’re preparing to install a window and start painting.
“I didn’t take the course to change my career – I took it to take care of my home,” says Moura, who has also helped her neighbors by participating in the CEBDS Saturday morning task force, which carries out projects to improve the community.
The Rio Sustainable City Project was launched in May 2011 in Chapéu Mangueira and neighboring Morro da Babilônia. The two favelas were occupied by police in 2009 and have a total of 6,000 residents and 1,300 households.
The project is part of a larger initiative, known as A World of Sustainable Cities, which was launched in 2010 by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The results from the Rio version are being presented at a series of forums at Rio+20.
The CEBDS works in seven areas: housing, agriculture, waste, infrastructure, schools, entrepreneurship and tourism.
The Improved Sustainable Housing initiative offered training courses for masons, electricians, locksmiths and plumbers. Following classes, the 187 students took part in 12 joint task forces.
The group’s focus is not limited to housing. Community spaces, such as the Galpão das Artes (Arts Warehouse) and the Dona Marcela Child Development municipal daycare center, also have benefitted.
“When they arrived here at the Galpão das Artes, I immediately told them that I didn’t just want cosmetic work, because this is more than a work space … a place where people come together,” says Maria Augusta do Nascimento e Silva, a 74-year-old artisan from Paraiba who has lived in Chapéu Mangueira for the past 57 years.
Dozens of women from Chapéu Mangueira and Babilônia convene there to create art and sell their wares at a bazaar. Nascimento e Silva, who is a retired maid, manages the warehouse.
“I like how it turned out,” says Nascimento e Silva, pointing to the new tiles, countertops and sinks.
Backyard and rooftop gardens
The project also is taking off in other directions, as the Organic Urban Agriculture Initiative is training 20 residents in the maintenance of backyard and rooftop gardens.
On the rooftop of the residence of retired bus driver João Baptista da Silva, 55, there is a seed bed, space for potted plants and three other large beds where he is planting fruits and vegetables. Silva is also going to receive an earthworm culture so he can carry out his own composting.
“I told him he can plant anything, except mini onions!” jokes his wife, Sônia Maria Ferreira da Costa, 52.
Nine months ago, Costa slipped on a mini onion in a grocery store in Copacabana. She fractured her tibia and dislocated her knee. Since then, it has been difficult for her to get around the favela, which is filled with steep slopes and stairways.
“I’ve put on 10 kilograms (22 pounds) since I had the operation on my knee,” Costa says. “The only thing I want to eat now is salad, and I’ll have the ingredients on my own roof.”
The idea is to open an organic market in partnership with the owners of the project’s other gardens, selling the excess produce to generate income.
Asphalt made from recycled tires
Through the Community Waste Management initiative, two residents were trained in the maintenance of a large scale composting machine, installed in Chapéu Mangueira and used to treat the community’s waste.
The Green Urban Infrastructure initiative includes paving community access roads with a kind of asphalt made from 33,000 kilograms (72,752 pounds) of pellets from recycled tires.
The Home and School Sustainability initiative has carried out activities, talks and workshops at local schools.
The Local Entrepreneurial Development and Community Tourism initiatives are still in the planning stages.
“Even before the favelas were occupied by the police, there was Chapéu Tour, which offered tourists a chance to see the community,” says Valdinei Medina, 31, who runs the Favela Inn Hostel with his six brothers. “After the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) was installed, the number of tourists increased dramatically. The project is creating a map of the communities’ needs in these specific areas.”
The hostel, which has a building featuring tiles made from recycled milk boxes and walls constructed from plastic bottles and bamboo collected within the community, will receive assistance from the Local Entrepreneurial Development and Community Tourism initiatives.
“Even the decorations at Favela Inn are made by artisans from the pacified communities,” says manager Cristiane da Silva Oliveira, 40, who is married to one of the Medina brothers, Vágner.
The initiatives are a hit with tourists, including Spanish student Joana Sisternas, a 24-year-old who chose to spend three months at Favela Inn.
“I’m going to do a project on Chapéu Mangueira for my Master’s in Sociology, and being able to live here changes everything because I understand the viewpoint of the residents,” says Sisternas, who studies at L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), in Paris.
All of these initiatives are aimed at transforming the community’s infrastructure, says Mariana Meirelles, CEBDS’ vice president.
“Police occupation alone isn’t enough,” she says. “You have to improve the infrastructure and have the residents take part in the transformation. They need to understand that they’re responsible for the community.”
Meirelles says the goal is for the model to be replicated in favelas nationwide.
“The plan is to go to Belo Horizonte after we finish the cycle at Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira at the end of 2012,” she adds.