The "Vila Velha" favela houses around 200 displaced families. The ground they occupy is alternately a garbage dump or an environmental reserve, depending on the government's current stance. Either way, only the most miserable would choose to make a home on these marshes. This little boy wordlessly appeared by my side and walked me through the slum, attached to my arm except for when he felt like showing off.
I was visiting with a group of American students. We were researching methods of implementing social justice in Brazil, which remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. We were visiting with EMAUS, which is a global network of organizations that combat social exclusion. Emaus workers have established an outpost in this favela, and have built a one-room schoolhouse and neighboring medical clinic with somewhat reliable electricity and water. In town, Emaus is also responsible for a large, weekly flea market where the community finds usual items like clothes and books, but also donated refrigerators, phones, laundry machines, and more that arrived broken but are fixed by on-site tinkerers. In this way, the labor, goods, and money all circulate back into the community.
Emaus survives largely in part of volunteer labor and donations. For information on Emaus in Fortaleza: http://emausvilavelha.blogspot.com.br/ For information on the global force of EMAUS, including how to donate and volunteer: http://emmaus-international.org