A strong ocean breeze blows from the west on the Guarujá Bay. The sky is blue and the temperature rises to the summer standard of 38ºC. Dressed in their uniforms, with their blue neckerchiefs, the Scouts Group São Jorge is gathered at the house of Monte Tabor, waiting for the Brazilian flag to be raised.
Silence takes over. The only sound to be heard is the flapping of the tissue against the wind. As it reaches the top of the mast they shout "Sempre alerta!" (Always prepared!) the groups motto.
During the month of November I was on assignment in Belém do Pará to produce a body of work on the social project of the São Jorge Scouts. The group is composed of over 30 young boys and girls, from the age 5 to 18, that live in a context of risk in the "Favela do Cubatão", a complex of wooden houses built on sticks over the flooding meadows that cut through the neighbourhood of Cruzeiro coming from the Guarujá Bay.
The history of the Favela do Cubatão relates to the rapid urban and social development that occurred in the district of Belém in response to the pulse of immigration from the rural areas affected by the extreme drought that hit the northeastern part of the country during of the nineteen-sixties. Immigrants searching for job opportunities in the growing city of Belém began to occupy land along river meadows and waterways, building houses on wooden stakes above the flooding areas of the Guaruja Bay. In the district of Icoaraci, this process was particularly relevant in the area of Tabocal leading to the growth of the favelas of Cubatão, Paracuri and Tenoné, that gradually became areas of social segregation and hubs for drug trafficking, prostitution and crime.
Like many other towns in Brazil, the neighbourhood of Cruzeiro in now a place of high social contrasts as it is composed of a population with a higher standard of living, better homes and high-rise condos with great views over the bay, sharing ground with the "Favela do Cubatão" where people survive without sanitation or resources and in a context of violence connected with robbery, prostitution, and drug trafficking.
Families living in the favela work low payed jobs, selling wood and charcoal for fire, beverages, collecting paper and tin to sell by the weight, earning them no more than 3€ a day. Children that go to school have only half a day of class, during either the morning or afternoon, and are left on their own or to the care of neighbours for the remaining hours of the day.
“Whenever I got to work I have to leave my children. I am afraid they might fall and drown in the water. During the night nobody leaves home out of fear. Police comes in here shooting.”
In 2011, the Catholic Community “Seeds of the Word” arrived in Belém with the mission to open its doors to the social reality of the area and keep a close relationship with the local population through regular visits to Cubatão. In 2013, the Scouts Group São Jorge was founded with the objective of providing an opportunity for the young population to grow and relate in an atmosphere of peace and develop the necessary tools for them to be the change they want to see in the world. The Project follows the ideals of catholic scouting and is based in a pedagogy that builds a strong personality rooted in the example of Christ and keen on living the ideals of the faith and human solidarity.
Through this project the values and social skills learned are transposed to their day-to-day life, to their families and schools and, at the end of the day, these young boys and girls are able to build relationships based on friendship, love, with a sense of belonging rooted on personal stability and a real sense of security that opposes the social environment in which they live.