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Vivencias das Manas - Project Partner Interview with founder Thais Alvarenga.

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I am Thais Alvarenga. I was born and raised in the Vila Kennedy favela, which is located in the western zone of Rio de Janeiro. Since 2012, I have been working as a photographer, an educator and a cultural mobiliser in the favela.

Together with other people, I am currently organising two projects: the Encontro das Manas (Sisters Meeting) and Imagens que Cria (Images that Create). Both these projects are headquartered in my family home, more precisely in the backyard, which we have named Quintal Cultural do Nego (Nego’s Cultural Backyard) in honour of my father, Nego, who died in 2020 of Covid-19.

How did you first come up with the idea of your projects?

These projects arose from the need to share knowledge with young people who don’t have access to certain subjects or to the creative process in certain aspects of art. Thinking about popular education and universal access, my work partner, Diana V., and I decided to begin providing experiences to the youngsters in Vila Kennedy, more precisely the area known as Manilha, which is where we work.

Tell us a little about these projects and your plans for their future.

The project began in 2015. At first, it was only a workshop for the creation of photographic images, but quickly expanded into meetings with the girls, where the diverse areas of the arts were broached in an educational manner. Today, I am developing Imagens que Cria, using the collection of my own photographs, and the post-pandemic plan is to offer the Imagens para Cria workshop to the local youngsters so we can create an image collection.

How many people do the projects reach?

In general, these projects reach about 50 people, directly and indirectly.

What is your proudest moment working on these projects?

My proudest moment was seeing the results, seeing that all the effort and dedication of all our collaborators are giving results, seeing children and young people engaged and interested in the achievements of these projects.

What is it like being a woman in a favela?

Being a woman in a favela means a lot of struggle. The reality for most favela women is a life of much effort, work and care. Care of the house, care of the children and care of the whole community. I like to say that, in the favela, every mother is the mother of all. Her care goes beyond her gate to the streets and her neighbours. Being a woman in a favela often means not having access to basic rights or to a job. Most entrepreneurs in a favela are women, women who reinvent themselves all the time to put food on their family’s table.

What are the main challenges, especially in relation to the education of young girls?

The greatest challenge is to show them another way to live well. There are different realities so the focus changes often, and many girls stray from the path because there is a lot of seduction on the outside and it is so easy. But our struggle, in the projects, is increasingly to share knowledge with all who participate in an affectionate and respectful way.

Do you have a role model? Tell us about them and why you admire them.

Yes, I do. My mother is a person whom I admire greatly. Her name is Eleni. She is one of the people who move the projects along and is responsible for part of the production. She has lived in Vila Kennedy all her life, was brought up in the Manilha area, and has worked since she was 12 in the houses of rich women, a reality totally different from hers. My mother was a child who worked hard, and this is a reality that I want to fight so that it doesn’t happen to the girls in the projects, even though some of them already have to work. I want to expand these projects so that, in the future, we can provide the support these girls need to seek another path.

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