Sustainable Favela Network 2nd Annual Meet-Up Strengthens Bonds and Charts Network’s Future

The Sustainable Favela Network (SFN) is a program of Catalytic Communities (CatComm) designed to build solidarity networks, bring visibility, and develop joint actions to support the expansion of community-based initiatives that strengthen environmental sustainability and social resilience in favelas across the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region. The program began with the 2012 film Favela as a Sustainable Model, followed in 2017 by the mapping of sustainability initiatives. In 2018, the program organized intimate on-site exchanges among eight of the oldest and most established organizations, followed by a full-day exchange that finally launched the network on November 10, 2018.

In 2019, the Sustainable Favela Network realized a second round of on-site exchanges—this time open to the public—in the communities of BabilôniaCamorimPavunaVila Kennedy and Manguinhos. The 2019 activities culminated with the Sustainable Favela Network’s second annual full-network meeting. In addition to featuring the initiatives that hosted the year’s five exchanges, the day invited the Network’s recently launched seven working groups (dedicated to Solar Energy, Solid Waste, Environmental Education, Water and Sewerage, Memory and Culture, Income Generation, and Gardens and Reforestation) to present their members and plans, and deepen their work by engaging new people. 

On a misty morning in the hills of Santa Teresa, 126 favela organizers and technical allies from across Rio de Janeiro came together for the Second Annual Meeting of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN). Among participants, 55% came from 48 different favela communities, with the other 45% primarily technical allies from across the city and beyond. The largest contingent came from Rio’s North Zone (37), followed closely by the West Zone (35), then South Zone (22). After numerous fruitful SFN exchanges hosted throughout 2019, the annual meeting offered a rare opportunity to bring the web of initiatives together in one place. Held on November 9 on the leafy grounds of the EcoCasa Silvestre with support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the day’s events gave network members the chance to reflect, engage, and connect, drawing on the experiences of groups across the city’s favelas.

Upon arrival, zero waste, maximum taste baked goods greeted attendees, prepared by internationally renowned favela chef Regina Tchelly and her Favela Orgânica team from the Babilônia favela in Rio’s South Zone. Upstairs, inspired by the SFN Solid Waste Working Group, event organizers had set up a swap table where participants could leave goods they no longer wanted and take whatever interested them; the SFN Income Generation Working Group had an artisanal craft area for network members to display and sell their sustainable products; and an anonymous table with paper and pens invited participants to share their hopes and fears in leading sustainability initiatives in their communities. 

Some members traded reusable water bottles, trinkets, and keepsakes. Others sold homemade soap and works of art. Still others posted notes to the activity boards, explaining they had almost given up because of “doubt from others” or “lack of support,” but had pushed on because they found “strength from [their] communities,” “support from where they least expected it,” and because of the SFN itself. “When we see the network growing, we know that we are not alone!” wrote one member.

Kicking off the day, the group paid homage to the late Miguel Silva de Moura (6/6/1955–6/25/2019), former president of the Luiz Carlos Prestes Residents’ Association in Cascadura, in Rio’s North Zone, who had been a key participant in the Network’s launch a year earlier. Now representing the Residents’ Association, Carlos Augusto and Gisele Profeta took the stage to honor the community leader and his 30 years of community service. “The main attitude of a leader is to leave a legacy, so that those who come later can continue carrying out that work, just as Mr. Miguel did,” said Profeta, adding he hoped to continue da Silva’s legacy, serving as a leader for today’s youth.

Highlighting the SFN exchanges of 2019, CatComm Institutional Director Roseli Franco launched the below video produced by filmmaker Luiza de Andrade. From April through October, the SFN had been hosted by network members at five full-day exchanges: RevoluSolar and Favela Orgânica in Babilônia, South Zone; the Quilombo do Camorim Cultural Association in Jacarepaguá, West Zone; the National Organized Graffiti Workshop Space (RONGO) in Pavuna, North Zone; the Kennedy Brothers Community Center (CCIK) and Environmental Agents in Vila Kennedy, West Zone; and Hadasha’s Workshop and the Green Roof Favela project in the Manguinhos and Parque Arará favelas, in Rio’s North Zone. The below video of these exchanges will shortly be subtitled in English.

Leaders of each of these host organizations had a chance to speak after the video screening, giving their views on the significance of the Network. Moved by the Sustainable Favela Network, André do Nascimento of RONGO said “the essence of the favela is what makes us dream and do more,” and reminded the crowd that we need to “make use of opportunities to showcase the things we know how to do.” For Adilson Almeida of the Quilombo do Camorim Cultural Association, the SFN is about “dealing with differences, having respect, and acting with care.” Verônica Gomes Martins da Silva, president of  CCIK, spoke of the need to value favela solutions and positive community aspects, which all too often get ignored by the media. Luis Cassiano of Green Roof Favela invited all to “green favelas from above, through green roofs: it brings life, food, beauty, and hope.” Finally, Regina Tchelly, spoke of self- and communal care. She invited all in the room to place their hands over their own hearts and then place them over someone else’s, reminding everyone to “think collaboratively, and to hold each others’ hands and knowledge.”

Though the video focused on the few initiatives that had hosted SFN exchanges in 2019, the network itself is made up of more than 150 projects across the region. In order to bring visibility and raise awareness, the SFN has worked to track and profile these sustainable ventures, mapping their presence in the city. Catalytic Communities board member and Pomona College professor, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes, has recently taken the lead on the mapping project. Speaking on Saturday, Douglass-Jaimes presented the prototype for the map’s latest update, featuring a smart-phone accessible version on the ArcGIS online platform hosted in partnership with Pomona College. Set to launch in June 2020, the new SFN map will allow users to search for network members by criteria and allow members to add institutional histories to their map profiles. The map’s original edition is available below. 

CatComm Communications and Development Coordinator Clara Ferraz then elaborated on how the SFN relates to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Accountable Institutions), emphasizing that without first attaining social justice (SDG 16(, sustainable development (SDG 11) is impossible to achieve. “As we work towards ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities,’ we must simultaneously address the underlying need for social justice,” said Ferraz. While the SDGs are laudable goals, she added, they also make broad generalizations and fail to account for grassroots realities. “With the diverse communities of Rio de Janeiro in mind, CatComm has thus proposed a set of localizing sustainable development goals, including Community Control and Autonomy, Direct Channels to Government, and Fair and Nuanced Media Representation.” A recently-launched special page designed to illustrate how CatComm’s activities including the SFN relate to the SDGs is available here.

The day then broke into a series of activities based on the SFN’s seven working groups and their proposals moving into 2020. The groups are dedicated to: Water and Sewerage, Environmental Education, Solar Energy, Income Generation, Gardens and Reforestation, Memory and Culture, and Solid Waste. In addition to keeping a dense rhythm of daily contact and information-sharing via WhatsApp, throughout 2019, group members met three times to brainstorm collective projects, strengthening the network itself as well as members’ respective communities. Now was the chance to share their work with the rest of the SFN.

Before breaking off for deepening exercises and discussions, working group representatives each presented the focus of their group’s work and the initiatives that compose each group. For the Solar Energy Working Group, Tereza Onã of Redes da Maré (Maré Development Networks) took the stage; for Water and Sewage, Consuelo dos Santos of RONGO and Leo Adler from the Environment in Movement Institute; for Memory and Culture, Thainã de Medeiros from the Evictions Museum; for Income Generation, Guilherme Hadasha of Hadasha’s Workshop; for Environmental Education, Iara Oliveira of Alfazendo; for Gardens and Reforestation, Gabi Fleury of Planta na Rua; and for Solid Waste, Ilaci Oliveira from Cooperativa Transvida.

On breaking off into deepening exercises and discussions, each working group set out to engage other SFN members with their subject. Some focused specifically on the most prevalent challenges faced regarding their group: in the Solar Energy group, Tereza Onã emphasized that in the favelas of
Complexo da Maré, she saw a lack of democratization in access to and interest in solar energy. The question, said Onã, was “how to ensure that the issue of solar energy enters into dialogue with these territories [the favelas].” Another group member, Alex França, of Engineers Without Borders, pointed out that the only group speaking about the social value of solar energy—and its benefits for favela residents—at a recent protest in Brasília against increased taxes on solar energy, was the cohort of SFN representatives present at the protest.

Simultaneously, the Water and Sewerage working group—which had previously asked SFN members to share images of untreated sewage as well as water sources from their communities—dedicated itself to hearing each participant on their views and experiences with these issues. Engineers experienced with localized ecological sewage technologies hope to map SFN member communities interested in testing these technologies in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Income Generation working group spoke of the need to generate financial resources, while also recognizing the value of knowledge and non-financial resources. The group plans to launch an online catalog in 2020 of products and services offered by SFN members.

The Memory and Culture working group delved into a deep discussion on the role of community museums in preserving memory. Memory, in turn, is essential to deepening the sense of belonging that leads community members to care for their neighborhoods. However, community museums are not only threatened by questions of financial sustainability, but popular museums such as the Maré Museum and Museu Casa do Pontal have also faced threats of eviction and removal. Removal, said Thainã de Medeiros, becomes a way of erasing community identity. “Ŵhen you create a museum, you are assembling a history, and when you do that, you’re disputing the accepted narrative,” said Medeiros. “Removing these museums means negating all of this.”

The Gardens and Reforestation group discussed the potential for conducting projects in conjunction with the Environmental Education and Solar Energy groups. Sharing their experiences in encouraging planting and reforestation in their own communities, members emphasized the need to engage community members and educate children on the need for green spaces. As a parting gift from the working group, many took saplings home with them.

Other groups developed interactive games. In the Solid Waste working group, Gustavo Cunha from Mundo Livres and Marcella Vieira from ReciclAção had participants pull each other’s organization names out of a hat, trading work histories and winning artisanal crafts made of reclaimed materials as they went along. The Environmental Education working group started with a game proposed by volunteers of the EcoRede project, based in City of God, challenging participants to keep a hula-hoop aloft, each using a single finger. Meant to provoke thought on collective action, participants began “to think of ourselves as a network.” Members of the SFN should “leave behind the I and focus on the We,” said Lidiane, a volunteer at EcoRede. “Only then will we be able to form bonds and share experiences!”

To conclude the day’s events, Catalytic Communities’ Executive Director Theresa Williamson presented preliminary results from the 2019 Sustainable Favela Network Update Survey. Williamson reminded all that the survey is still open and explained that the collected data will be used in the development of the new SFN map as well as in the planning of next year’s activities. Finally, participants decided that each working group will meet one final time in 2019 in order to define the group’s goals for 2020 as well as discuss how to organize future meetings. Before adjourning, the group thanked and wished a happy birthday to Alessandro Macedo, the event’s host at Ecocasa Silvestre.

For Mina Tingui, a volunteer with Green Roof Favela, the day could be summarized in one word: “integration.” Overall, the second annual meeting was a great success, strengthening the network and providing multiple opportunities for participants from diverse communities and initiatives across Rio de Janeiro to meet, share knowledge, and support one another.

Check out our full album of the day’s events (or click here):