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AfroReggae

Biography

Eve Belanger is from Canada, but as soon as she came to Brazil and particularly to Rio de Janeiro and observed the problems that young people face in the favelas, she wanted to contribute and help. She started being active in aiding the organization AfroReggae in order to prevent children from becoming involved with gangs.

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Institution

AfroReggae was founded on January 21st 1993 by José Junior with the mission of diminishing drug use, disease and crime in the favelas. In August of 1993 the Vigário Geral massacre occurred in the Vigário Geral favela of Rio de Janeiro. The police entered the favelas and 21 innocent people were killed. At this point, AfroReggae was already becoming known among the community and thus was in a position to make a difference by offering people, and especially children, alternatives to a life of crime. People were “awakened”. The group created a band with free workshops in order to keep children occupied and prevent them from becoming involved with drugs and gangs.

AfroReggae is present in Columbia and the U.K. The main funders of the organization in Brasil are: Petrobras, Natura and Banco Real. The organization tries to manage its funds independently.

AfroReggae has made a compromise with the favela leaders, not to interfere with what the gangs do, but indirectly try to influence the community in order to avoid the killings, the shootings, and the execution.

Report

Before visiting the Vigário Geral favela, Eve Belanger tried to give us an idea of the conditions that people living in this favela face.

First of all this particular favela is run by the “Red Command”, the biggest drug “company” in Rio de Janerio. Life for young people living in the favela is very difficult. The boys at approximately the age of 14 enter the crime circuits, looking for a father figure in the drug lords and a family in the gangs. The girls of the favelas, at approximately the same age, get pregnant in order to create the family they never had. This situation is a circle. The majority of the boys gets killed in gang wars (average life expectancy after you enter a gang is 2 years) so their children are left without a father, are eventually abandoned by their young mothers and thus, as their parents before them, they turn to crime, in search of a family.

Eve and a couple of her associates led us across a bridge, from the gas station where the minivan had dropped us off, to Vigário Geral. As we were crossing the bridge over the highway, they cautioned us not to take pictures without first asking their permission (this was part of their deal with the Red Command for allowing visitors to the favela). As we approached the other side of the bridge, to the left we could see a small open space filled with kids playing football. Eve led us to a small establishment where she had arranged for us to have lunch. Photos of other ‘favela tourists’ filled the walls of the restaurant, indicating that such visits to the notorious favela were common practice.

After lunch, Eve took us to see the new facilities that AfroReggae is building. Although still under construction, the structure was apparently different from the typical favela buildings, more developed and modern.

We then went to the current AfroReggae headquarters and watched as children of all ages arrived with various musical instruments (mostly drums) and started playing for us, eventually inviting us to join in. Soon enough it was time for us to leave. We went back the way we came, from the narrow bridge, only this time, the bridge was guarded by a ‘Red Soldier’ holding a rifle. This is how we would remember Vigário Geral.

by Valia Xanthopoulou Tsitsoni and Kiki Sideris

AfroReggae website

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