The New Faces of the Favela

In the run up to the 2014 World Cup, Brazil is occupying the slums and opening new perspectives through sport, education and culture. Increasing numbers of NGOs and companies are getting involved in the favelas – and young people have an opportunity to show that they can be so much more than just members of a drug gang or employees of the rich.


For Suélen’s parents, the police were the enemy. Her mother was a drug addict, her father a dealer. Now Suélen is in a police station in the Morro da Providência favela in Rio de Janeiro fighting with rather than against the police. Together with police officer Flávio Teixeira, the 16-year-old teaches children and young people jiu-jitsu, a martial art and system of unarmed self-defence.

The window looks out on a sea of haphazard red brick houses crouching close together on the mountain behind Rio de Janeiro’s central train station. The jiu-jitsu room is white and empty except for the blue-green mats where two dozen children and youths in white outfits wrestle one another. Suélen watches two seven-year-old girls try their hand in a duel, rolling over each other on the mats. She explains the proper steps, encourages and comforts them.

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