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Trustee Q&A with Patrick Gibbs

All of the trustees have their own unique reasons for being involved in The Favela Foundation – what were yours?

In 2014 I lived in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela, working as the co-ordinator for an NGO that primarily provided English classes to children in the local neighbourhood. During that time, I came across some of the most inspirational people and the strongest sense of community I have ever encountered. The mother-daughter team that set up a day-care creche for hundreds of children whose parents work in the city. The local boy who loved graffiti and became one of Brazil’s most recognised graffiti artists, commissioned globally for exhibitions, who now has his own free art school for young people in the community. The family who moved from north-east Brazil to Rocinha, where they built their own home and dozens more for the community and established a small property empire that has enabled the next generation to receive a good education. Their children are now working as engineers, project managers and energy consultants.

This experience motivated me to want to set up The Favela Foundation and luckily there were three other people with similar experiences who felt the same – it was after we met up back in the UK that the charity was born.

How would you describe a favela to someone who has never visited one?

The word favela has no direct translation into English and is often mistakenly replaced with slum or shanty town, which associates them with stigmatising stereotypes of poverty, squalor, drugs, violence and crime. The reality is that some are highly functioning neighbourhoods determined to preserve their vibrant way of life and continue developing in their own extraordinary ways. Less than 1% of favela residents in Rio are involved in drug trafficking, which means that over 99% of people living in favelas are honest, hardworking individuals simply looking for opportunity.

Another misconception about favelas is that people believe that those who live there would escape if they could. What struck me most while I was living in Rocinha is that education is not seen as a means to escape the favela, but as a way of contributing to the community. Most people I have met who have achieved success have chosen to remain in the favela and want to give back to their community because, no matter the challenges, it is their home.

There is a word in Portuguese that I love, and I think it sums up so much about favelas and the people who live in them – Gambiarra. There is no literal translation for this word, but it essentially means ‘if it’s broken, we’ll figure out a way to fix it’. I think this says a lot about the resourcefulness, intuition and resilience of people living in favelas.

What motivates you now in your work?

The amazing efforts and achievements of people on the ground.

It’s hard work running a charity in your spare time – all five trustees have full-time jobs – but every time I see the outcomes of our partners’ work it gives me the energy and drive to keep pushing ourselves to do more. The best part is that they are continually innovating, listening to their community, and figuring out the most relevant ways to support and empower young people. Often when we talk to our partners about how we might adapt our strategy to achieve better outcomes, we find out that they have already had similar or better ideas themselves.

What are your hopes for the future?

Right now, Brazil is going through a difficult period in the country’s history with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as deep economic and social challenges. But challenging times are often good opportunities for change. There is a perception that favelas are problems to be solved – I see it very differently. Favelas should be harnessed as the unrestrained entrepreneurial and cultural hubs that they are, rather than controlled or policed. I hope that Brazil will start to recognise the unique and positive potential of favelas – the innovative thinking, determination, and resourcefulness that is everywhere within these communities. The Favela Foundation has a greater advocacy role to play in focusing more international attention on the incredible communities we support, as well as the challenges they face. I have learnt and continue to learn so much from favela communities and am so proud to be a part of supporting them achieving their goals.

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