In recent years, it has become harder and harder to associate the word favela—Brazil’s exclusive expression for slums—to positive news. Especially if we are talking about Rio de Janeiro, where the communities flourished with tourism during the World Cup and Olympics, yet subsequently tumbled into an economic and security crisis. Therefore, when we mention favelas, the first thing to come to mind is usually poverty or violence.
At The Brazilian Report we frequently highlight the positive experiences in Brazil’s favelas, where 12.3 million people live across the country and, against all odds, surprising and bold projects usually take place. In Rio de Janeiro, at Favela da Babilônia, a 3,800-person large community that sits behind Copacabana’s less famous neighbor Leme, a school aims to return from the end-of-term holidays at full capacity, by seizing the sunlight that shines on the hill all year.
After a budget cut from the municipal government and a Swedish NGO that has helped maintain Tia Percilia School for 25 years, local NGO Revolusolar decided to give an important contribution to keep the place alive and now make it environmentally sustainable. Last week, the organization installed 12 solar panels in the school that will generate almost 6,000 kWh per year.
“The sun is here for us every single day, so why not to use it to improve our lives? The project is an attempt to reopen the school definitively. This is our dream,” says Adalberto Almeida, founder of Revolusolar and an inhabitant of Babilônia for 18 years. Created in 1991 by the homonymous community leader, Tia Percília School offers free education for local youngsters, but is struggling to keep its doors open. Mr. Almeida says that energy costs used to reach over BRL 5,000 per year.
“By saving this money, we want to help the school hire teachers and restart daily classes,” he states. For now, Revolusolar also helps to occupy the school’s building, by giving kids classes about sustainability. But most of the rooms are still empty and waiting for teachers.
The school as “the place to be”
The project in Rio de Janeiro was inspired by two of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, set to tackle global challenges such as poverty and climate change by 2030. From the list of 17 goals, Revolusolar picked number 11, that aims to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” and number 12, that “ensures sustainable consumption and production patterns.”
Himself a solar panels technician, Adalberto Almeida has managed to partner with environment NGO Fundo Socioambiental CASA and with another two Brazilian companies to buy and install the devices. Local residents will be in charge of the panels’ maintenance, as they will be trained by Revolusolar for the task.
“Considering everything that the school represents for the community and the current moment it is going through, we decided that this was the place we needed to help,” says Mr. Almeida. Besides teaching kids at Tia Percília school, the technician and his NGO will start classes for women in the community to learn the necessary skills to work with solar energy and the core principles of sustainability.