The Children of Complexo do Alemão


By Ben Stokke

 

The past two weeks I have spent time in Complexo do Alemao helping to run an exhibition for the community living in the largest complex of favelas in Rio de Janiero.  I have worked alongside a wonderful team of professionals and students in various fields to make and run this exhibition. The goal: get people thinking about their urban environment and what changes or developments might be in line with their thinking, dreams, or spatial desires.

It is no surprise that the largest group of participants in this exhibition and series of workshops have been the children living in Complexo. Their eyes glow at the sight of colored pencils, pastels, and markers. I say something like (in a very American Portuguese accent)  ”Draw, write, sketch, sing, talk about an idea that you have for the street or open spaces along this street where we are currently standing.” They always smile at me in a way that says, “you are a funny gringo!” And then they draw, write, laugh, play for a few minutes.

Children are always interested in what I am doing and what Barraco55 is doing in the complex.  They visit our exhibition space sometimes for hours playing, drawing, running, or searching youtube videos on my computer. At times this becomes an annoyance when I am trying to have a discussion with an architect, designer, professor, student, professional, or community member that visits the exhibition. But, this annoyance is my problem and quickly dissipates after the realization that these kids simply have no alternative or infrastructure to do these kinds of activities in a space near to where they live.

What does it mean when children begin to have access to studio spaces or facilities with digital connections, markers, paper, speakers, drums, and equipment that enable them to use their wise brains in productive ways? We are living in a time where my 5 year old nephew is fluent in Apple iOS and my father doesn’t have email. Children today can obtain more information and utilize digital technology because they were born in a culture already invested in digital technology and information. They are much more intelligent than my generation or past generations.

In their drawings they write things like, “love, peace, tranquility” Their noble desires and aspirations have not yet been tarnished by brutal realities associated with favela life such as oppression, murder, and poverty.

This week I witnessed a woman being loaded into a van down the street from where I was working with children in our exhibition space. The 70 year woman was shot in her valiant effort to save a child who was in the line of fire. The UPP, the drug dealers, the criminals, the government, will never contaminate the spirit and hope of the innocent communidade. I think  Arlinda Beserra Dalva de Assis knew this when she stepped in front of that child. Things are changing in Alemao. Always for the better or for the worse: that will be largely be the work of these annoying kiddos. I just hope they can maintain their untarnished and incredibly hopeful energy moving forward in a life that will assuredly be cluttered with adversity.

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