Published on Monday, January 19, 2009

The Ethics and Sustainability of Favela Tourism

As tourism increasingly invades favela life, can these Brazilian slums maintain what makes their culture so special?

Among Brazilians, the impoverished slums known as favelas are associated with violence, crime and unsightliness. But foreign tourists see something different: a place where free-spirited people display an elusive, oft-imitated culture of colorful music, vibrant art and unusual fashion sense. To outsiders, favelas and the people who call them home act as a reminder of an almost childlike, uninhibited lust for life. The favela phenomenon has led to a growing tourism segment, with favela residents leading foreign tourists through the slums of Rio de Janeiro, allowing busloads of Europeans and Americans to photograph and videotape a life entirely unlike their own.

But is favela tourism sustainable? And furthermore, is it ethical?
Favela Tourism Workshop FavelaTourismWorkshophas been running a favela tour in Rocinha, the biggest slum in South America and one of more than 800 in Rio alone, since 1991. Favela residents are trained as guides, helping them to learn English, and instilling in them a sense of neighborhood pride, according to the Workshop-ªs official Web site. The cost of the walking tours is put toward a local school, and toward creating other work opportunities within the favela.

The act of walking through a less fortunate neighborhood and subsequently reaping benefits -" whether a smile from a poor child, a story to tell friends back home, a new collection of eye-catching photographs, or inspiration for an artistic endeavor -" makes the idea of favela tourism disturbing to some.

As a Harvard University graduate student studying Romance Languages and Literatures, Viviane Mahieux experienced Brazilian favela tourism firsthand, and wrote about the episode for Re Vista, the Harvard Review of Latin America HarvardReviewofLatinAmerica. Upon seeing a brochure describing the tours as -¬---Informative and surprising, not voyeuristic at all,-¬~ Mahieux was dumbfounded. -¬---It was ridiculous, I felt, to deny voyeurism while presenting a picture of tourists photographing a community from afar,-¬~ she wrote.

Mahieux also explains why sustainable tourism seems an unlikely, if impossible feat in favelas, which -¬---would need to remain poor and officially dangerous for tourists in order to be worth visiting.-¬~ As tourism gains a stronger foothold in favelas, how long will it be before money and foreign influence change the edgy, sometimes dangerous culture? Will tourism remain a feasible, desirable option if favelas become economically stable?

Joao Vergara is a volunteer with the Morrinho Project, which began as a community-based tourism organization in Pereirao, a Rio favela, in August 2007. Vergara recounted what he sees as the benefits of favela tourism in an article for Tourism Concern TourismConcern, emphasizing that local elected leaders and shopkeepers were consulted while the Morrinho Project was being created, and that foreign tourists stay in local hostels and hotels during their visits. Additionally, favela residents are trained to be tour guides and taught to make various handicrafts, enabling them to generate their own income. A recycling program has also been implemented in Pereirao, and community projects are underway to fund a hospital, a school and childcare for local families. Vergara hopes -¬---that by 2012, the Pereirao community will be recognized as a community that has achieved sustainable development through tourism.-¬~

For the time being, favela tourism companies and those who choose to partake in favela tours can only hope that the most unique and crucial aspects of favela culture will not only be sustained, but will thrive under tourism-ªs influence.

The Christian Science Monitor CSMonitor interviewed several ex-patriots who have relocated to Brazilian favelas, offering insight into life there. Former violinmaker Max Eichhorn left Germany for Rocinha in 2000, and describes his new home as Tuscany-like in the freedom it provides.

-¬---I go to the plaza and discuss things with people. I know everyone by name,-¬~ Eichhorn said.
If favelas indeed provide an old-world sense of reverence for culture, enlightened discussion and joie de vivre, then perhaps tourism and the injection of new people and ideas is the best way to ensure favelas-ª survival. On top of a pulsating culture, there is a sense of loyalty that seems to hold these neighborhoods together, binding residents despite the hardships they face in their daily lives. This sort of teamwork, mutual respect, and local pride could be precisely what is needed from tourism companies and visitors to ensure that favelas grow in a positive, sustainable way.

By Sarah Amandolare

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  • favela tours

    Hello,'¨'¨My name is Zezinho and I live in the favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am a proud resident here in my comunity.'¨'¨ I understand people's opinon about favela/slum tours.'¨'¨ I offer a diferent perspective. I welcome "tours" but only if done with a person who lives in the comunity. The majority of the tour operators do not live nor are not from the favela. '¨'¨I think it is the time that we who live in these comunities need do something. It is true that some tour companies do glamorize the negative things (drugs, trafickers) in the comunity. This is something that make me upset. Becase there is so much more to favelas than this. I know about all of this because I see the tour guides make their tours. '¨'¨ Favelas deserve to be seen and to be heard. There is so much prejudice against these comunities. There is much culture that comes from favelas. When a foreigner comes to our comunity, this help legitimize us as people, like everybody else. It is only that we are poor. When you come for a visit, it is then people from the outside can see the realities of life there. '¨'¨ People always focus on the negative becase that is what the media promotes, drugs, violence, only this. But for we who live there exists so much more. '¨'¨ Most of the tours have this one "sanitized" route that they take every visitor. Some of us who live here in Rocinha are changing that. We are welcoming people to come for a visit with one of us. We know everything about this comunity and want share the truth but at the same time, want people to enjoy themselves when they come here. I like to bring people to visit my family and see how I live. When you come here, I also learn about you. '¨'¨ I respect people who may think this as exploitation but the diference is, we live here and are making changes to benefit OUR comunity. Our goal is to build a comunity center for Arts and Culture. And through our "tours", people have the oportunity to also stay in the comunity. Many people return to volunteer, which we welcome. '¨'¨ If you want more information on how we are changing the perspectives of our comunity, please email me: [email protected] '¨'¨ Thank You,'¨ Zezinho'¨ "Proud favela resident"'¨Zezinho

    By Zezinho da Silva, Tuesday, September 1, 2009

  • How Big is the Impact of Favela Tourism?

    Favela tourism has been around for more than 20 years and slumtours are not exclusive to Brazil. Before we start discussing the Ethics and Sustainability of Favela Tourism, I would like to know how big of an economic impact it has on a favela (and note that favela tourism only happens in a few selected ones). As many people in favelas have jobs and the favelas communities also get investments from NGOs and the government, I would say that it is not favela tourism contribution is probably small. If favela culture changes, this will not be because of tourism, but because of socio-economic progress in general.

    By Ariane Janer, Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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