Lockdown Stories

Grassroot Media Making in the favelas
of Rio de Janeiro

Antônio Carlos Firmino

Antônio Carlos Firmino – Sankofa Museum: Memory and History from Rocinha

Hello! My name is Antônio Carlos Firmino and I’m resident of the Rocinha’s favela. I’m 53 years old. In 2008, I developed the Museum Sankofa: memories and histories from Rocinha. Tourists wanted to visit the museum, so we created a tour museum on the streets of Rocinha. We had a partnership with ASPA, a Spanish institute that sends visitors to Brazil who want to visit Rocinha . My narratives are based on what the favela of Rocinha really is, how this favela was constituted and where our culture came from. I used a book that was written in 1970 and released in 1983 by the professor Livia Sengala and Tânia Silva in collaboration with Antonio Oliveira, President of the Association called “Varal de Lembranças”. This book brought memories from old members of the community. Based on that book, I built my narrative, .I was able to collect memories from residents from the 60s and 70s about how this favela was emerged.

Antônio's Covid-19 Story

In the first weeks of the pandemic, people in the Favela da Rocinha were very concerned because we did not know what the coronavirus was. We didn’t know how to behave and how everyone would react in the country. We had no guidelines or protocols. Literally blindfolded, as they say. However, even for those who are blindfolded, there is some kind of protocol. But what left the Brazilian people more confused were the divergent statements by the municipal, state and federal government. In addition, there were the statements given by the minister of health who minimally guided us, by making statements every day. But this act was against the wishes of the federal government, which forced his resignation. After that, we had two more ministers: a doctor, who also remained for a month, and a military general, who was not a doctor, but followed the president’s orders. Thus, he was sworn in as minister of health.

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Antônio Carlos Firmino – Sankofa Museum: Memory and History from Rocinha

In 2004, we were part of ‘Ponto de Cultura’, a government program, and we provided a teaching training for Rocinha nursery teachers on the memory and history. ‘Ponto de Cultura’ is an active network that brought together 200 initiatives and where we discussed public policies, raise funds for our initiatives and raise awareness to these issues in order to put pressure to our governments to act. I’m also a consultant in the metropolitan area of Baixada Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro and I’m campaigning against youth violence in this area. I show how this genocide is intrinsically historic and how this is a process that damage our young people. I also teach online school classes about Rocinha’s history, its social cultural aspects and what is happening now during the pandemic in the favela.


At our museum, we present the memory and history of Rocinha’s favela, that once was the biggest favela in Latin America and now is the biggest favela of our state. We use a critical approach to talk about governments and how they neglected the population of the favelas. We also argue that our governments have denied our basic housing rights and citizens’ rights. In the press, favelas are portrayed as space of violence. But we show another viewpoint of our favela, a view talks about community empowerment and resilience.

In our tour, we talk about the rich historical context of Rocinha as part of Leblon, an upscale neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. Even though we mention the Royal Family in this site, we always discuss about ‘Quilombo das Camélias’, a place where slaves found refuge after they ran away from their masters and hide together to resist against slavery. This ‘Quilombo das Camélias’ was organised in Leblon, so our tour tells the history of Rio de Janeiro from the standpoint of these people. In our tours, we talk about who built this city and Brazil. The Brazilian ‘official’ history denies us, so by contextualising our tours, we acknowledge natives and enslaved people as part of our history and memories. We raise awareness of the myth of the racial democracy in Brazil and we discuss about the struggle of the indigenous and black enslaved people against the white people.

Antônio‘s Covid -19 Story 

Even in the first months of the beginning of social isolation due to COVID-19, I was going shopping in Rocinha. I saw some stores open and others closed. Some people said that the city administration was conducting inspections that led to the closure of establishments, keeping only the essential ones open. The city hall of Rio, after many comings and goings and having or not protocols, once they followed the logic of the federal government that we should not have social isolation, determined that the States and City Halls would take responsibilities for the pandemics, based on demands from specialists from medical field and other organs. But they acted on the determination of the Federal Supreme Court. Only then did the city act to create a minimum protocol that was already recommended by the competent authorities, such as mandatory use of masks and hand hygiene with soap and water.

Then more problems came. Favela residents have always had problems with water supplies. There were rare moments when we had regular supply in the favelas. But, as usual, it was the residents who solved their problems. Thus, efforts were made in association with civil society and companies in order to alleviate what previously caused so much suffering and that, now, has only expanded. But the least is being done. Just like our saying in the favela, “ pega a visão, é nós por nós mesmo ”, because governments only appear in elections and sometimes send police during calamities.

With the mandatory use of masks and gel alcohol, many people started to use them. This is also due to the donations and awareness campaigns carried out by the residents themselves. In mid-May, people started looking for work. Many were unemployed. And despite being able to socially isolate themselves, for some reasons, such as a small house, many people and little food and water to clean themselves, allied to the flexibility of rules given by the city hall, people stopped wearing masks. An interesting fact was that the residents’ association, together with the water supply company, installed sinks with water and soap in several parts of Rocinha. We must not forget that the numbers of infected and dead are high. People were even more sorry that the mayor, who has always been a religious person, allowed the placement of a CT scanner in a temple of his religion, as if there were not three health units in Rocinha with professionals and space for such a device.

We have been receiving international students since 2017. Even with social isolation, we maintained our support activities with collectives and NGOs that are partners to Sankofa. And those organizations that wished to donate to the museum had their donations transferred to our partnerships, since we don’t have space and 70% of our members are at high risk of contamination. Before the pandemic, we received architecture students and researchers. But I must say that, now, with the pandemic, all tour activities have stopped. People who depend on their work, such as guides, and who have no money saved are in a delicate situation, as they do not have enough resources to pay their bills or buy food. So, we at Sankofa and a group of guides came up with the idea of ​​a crowdfunding to raise money for these local guides. There are other initiatives with other groups, such as the distribution of basic food baskets.

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