Favela Playground - Rio de Janeiro
(click to enlarge)
Bette, the 50 tires and her magic cell phone

Community in Action video:


Pavao/Pavaozinho is a favela - a community that has been built over the last 100 years by poor, hard-working Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro) on impossibly steep volcanic rock right behind the famous upscale neighborhood of Ipanema.

Places like this are typically thought of as crime-ridden slums which breed social disintegration, poverty and drugs. However, they can also harbor an extraordinary sense of social cohesion and community that is dangerously stressed at times but can also be resilient enough to enable the people to not only survive, but to thrive.

I found this to be especially true in a little corner of Pavao/Pavaozinho where I was invited by a small NGO to organize a community-built play area on one of the last remaining flat plots of ground on the hill. The lot was generously donated for the kids in the neighborhood by Andre, whose family laid claim to the land very early in the favela's history and built a "compound" of modest houses where he and other relatives now lived. There was only one stipulation - leave 3 meters in the back for a "barzinho" that he wants to build some day.

In addition to Andre, the cast of characters include:

GABRIEL grew up about 50 steps up the hill from the playground site, taught himself enough English for him to make a living guiding tourist through the favela which led to jobs with tour companies. He then started his own NGO raising money so that he can teach English passing on skills to younger members of the community.

VALDIR is Gabriel's neighbor. He is an artist and skilled handyman who takes it upon himself to beautify the neighborhood with funky street lamps and murals while also passing his artistic skills to local youth so that they too can earn a living. His building skills and encouragement were invaluable in getting the playground built on time, recruiting neighbors to work with us into the evenings.

ZAK is an American businessman who founded Community in Action (www.communityinaction.org), the NGO that sponsored the project. He raises funds back home and, with his Brazillian born wife, oversees programs that help hundreds of folks in many favelas all over Rio with the help of volunteers like the college students from the U.S. who worked on the playground.

DYLAN works for Community in Action in Rio. He guided me through the logistics of gathering materials and getting it up the hill, and more importantly, introduced me to the amazing people in the Pavao community.

JIMMY JOLLEY traveled underdeveloped corners of the world showing up in villages proclaiming, "who wants to build a playground?" Then he and the village kids gathered old tires and wood and got to work. He believed that every child had the right to play and dedicated his life to making that possible by teaching communities how to make low cost play places themselves. Here is his manual, which was the inspiration for our design. Go forth and build!