Grassroot Media Making in the favelas
of Rio de Janeiro
Erik Martins– ‘Rocinha By Rocinha’ Tours
Hi everybody! My name is Erik Martins, I’m 30 years old and I work as a tour guide. I am an English and Portuguese teacher and I’m also cultural producer here. I have been doing tourism for my entire life! My first tour in Rocinha was when I was 17 years old, while I was studying English at the Escola de Música da Rocinha. My teacher knew a lot of foreigners and asked me to do a tour for a couple of her German friends. I did this tour in English and this is how I started! It was an informative tour and that was the first time I showed my house in Rocinha.
Erik's Covid-19 Story
We were just recovering from the 2018 financial crisis. I used to have between 40-50 tourists a month. But then, at the beginning of this year, I had an average of 10 tourists a month. With the pandemic, my tours have totally halted. We have to stop because residents and tourists were not feeling comfortable to do any kind of activities. I was employed in a hotel while also worked as a freelance English teacher and a tourist guide. When the pandemic arrived, I got fired from the hotel and now I struggle to get an unemployment insurance. It was a serious problem, because from mid-March on, there weren’t many jobs available. I didn’t have any classes and I couldn’t do any guide tours. I got sick, but I didn’t have any money to buy medicines. It was a very tough time!
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‘Rocinha By Rocinha’ Tours Cont’d
I wanted to work as an actor, but it was only a dream. I took some acting classes in a very famous project in Vidigal “Nós do Morro”. However, I realized that would be very hard to make money working as an actor in Brazil. For that reason, I decided to study tourism. I took a professional course on Tourism and Hotel Management, because when I did my first tour, I fell in love with this experience. I didn’t know how to start, and I was not thinking of working with tourism in the favelas. Even though I was born and raised in Rocinha, for me it was just the place where I grew up, so I didn’t expect or imagine working with tourism here. I wanted to be a tour guide, to be guiding in the spotlights in Rio, like the Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, the beaches of the South. But after my first favela tour, everything was different in my mind. So, I decided not only to study and dedicate myself to English and tourism, but specially to guide tourists into the universe of favelas because I wanted to be more meaningful and give meanings to my work.
With that in mind, I created my own company. It is called ‘Rocinha By Rocinha’. Although I have already worked in partnership before, today I work on my own. Since we are residents, we try to provide our clients with a genuinely experience in a favela with local people, but also with quality and information about tour origins, trajectories, our struggles, our culture and the dynamics of Favela of Rocinha. I worked as a tour guide in other tourists’ companies, but they are not run by people from the favelas and I didn’t like the way they worked.
Even before I created ‘Rocinha by Rocinha’ in 2013, I started to build the concept and prepared myself to the moment of accomplishment. I have great references from my past working experiences as a favela health assistant and as a researcher for the United Nations, when I studied how Rocinha was organized as community. I learned more about the economic and social issues we are facing, history and, of course, about my local experience as a resident. And that is what I try to input into my work as a tour guide here.
I started working with other guides from Rocinha. We did many tours, we made contact with many people from all over the globe. Our clients were mostly from Europe, specially from the north – like Denmark or Switzerland – but we also have a lot of English visitors. Last year we also had some Americans and people from Latin America visiting too.
Erik’s Covid -19 Story Cont’d
At the beginning of the pandemic, the community was very apprehensive. People were very afraid of the virus and a lot of people were fired. The level of unemployment inside the community raised a lot, and people were facing difficulties to pay their bills. Now, local shops are starting to reopen, and we see people wearing masks. I say that the biggest impact of the pandemics in Rocinha, in the community, was financial. Because, as you might wonder, a lot of people who work only in informal jobs has no access to social security or unemployment insurance. So, for them, it was even a bigger problem, especially because they have faced a lot of difficulties to access the government vouchers for the low-income population. Many received 1 or 2 installments. However, they have no longer received any money. Some are still under analysis today. And even those who have received the money are in risk of having that amount reduced by half. In case there is a second wave (although we haven’t even left the first one yet), I really don’t know what people are going to do if they close everything up again and get sick without money. Luckily, there are some social projects that distributed basic food kits and cleaning products inside the community. But, as I said, people had no money to pay their rent, to pay for natural gas, to pay other bills. So people in the community are facing a lot of financial difficulties.
At the moment, I am working on a field research to assess the impacts of COVID-19 here in Rocinha. It’s a week-long job only. However, it is an extra money that comes in to help me. I lived on a rented house with some friends of mine. But, due to the lack of resources, I had to return to my mother’s house, where I don’t pay rent. Thank God that at least I have this and that I could rely on her in that manner.
Look, I don’t really believe in victimism and welfare assistance. I see no benefit in that. But, for real, people and their reality of life here are REALLY different from what people outside, with all their prejudices and stereotypes, think! Especially Brazilians. Especially if they don’t live in favelas or on the periphery. Unemployment is a reality, underemployment is a reality. Bad remuneration, high cost of living, racism, lack of public policies in favour of the development of these locations. Anyway. Among all, the most frustrating thing for me is seeing young people as I was once, without having someone to invest in me. I have never left the country. But I read a lot. And thanks to my work with tourism, I know people from all over the world! There is much more investment out there in people with great potential. Today, my dream is to be seen by someone that wants to invest in one of my ideas. I’m not young anymore. But with some investment and dedication on my part and on other Rocinha leaders, we could do for the young people in our community what they did not do for me.