VIVA RIO! LONG LIVE OUR CITY
How do you turn a city of violence and fear into a place where people want to live? That was the challenge facing "Viva Rio", a campaign by people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who wanted to do something to tackle the violence that seemed to be taking over. They knew that in Rio one million inhabitants live in the slums - favelas - which climb up the hillsides. Orphan children live in poverty and danger on Rio's streets. Teenage gangs raid the beaches, mugging and stealing. Drugs and crime are big problems in Rio and the police reaction was to use even greater violence to stay in control.
"Viva Rio was born out of passion," says Walter Mattos, a young sports journalist who loves his city. "People were not expecting too much from Rio de Janeiro. Many wanted to move, to leave the city. Crime was increasing day by day and people were scared. I felt I could not continue to live in this city without doing something to change things."
Walter contacted business and religious leaders, trade unions, social organisations, and the daily newspapers. With their support all the inhabitants of Rio were invited to keep silent for two minutes and to wear something white as a sign of their option for peace. The idea took off, and on 17 December 1993 the city came to a halt for two minutes. Traffic stopped and people dressed in white stood still and silent.
Since that day hope has sprung up in the form of many new projects. "Citizens counters" in the favelas offer free legal advice and help in neighbourhood disputes, while "Balcao Sebrae" gives them support and training, and encourages recycling projects for paper and plastics which improve the neighbourhood.
Opportunities for young people are an important goal for Viva Rio because 80% of them never go to secondary school. In clubs and churches "2000 Community Teleschool" has set up 144 classrooms throughout the city, each with a television and a video recorder. By attending video courses young people can complete their primary education. In 1998 the first 3000 students over 18 were trained in the Volunteer Civil Service programme of daily classes and community work. The students conducted a traffic safety campaign because traffic accidents in Rio cause many deaths and injuries each year. "Neighbourhood Gardeners" is another project which involves teenagers from one favela in learning how to care for plants in the city's flowerbeds and squares.
Viva Rio has also tried to reduce violence by suggesting new methods of community policing, and encouraging people to give up the weapons they think they need for self defence on the streets. Viva Rio has shown that by working together ordinary people can improve living conditions for everybody, build trust and co-operation, and turn their city into a place with a hopeful future.
Look through your local newspaper and make a list of all the good news stories and a second list of all the bad news stories about your area.