Today was a day of two very contrasting halves…
It’s morning, and I arrive at Sala São Paulo to meet with the team there and find out a bit more about how the orchestra operates as an organisation, and specifically how the education dept. works.
I’m firstly taken on a tour of the building. The concert venue is absolutely stunning (i think I’ve mentioned this before). I find out from my tour guide (an education trainee) a little more about the history of the building. It was originally built as a train station and HQ for the coffee exporters. They would harvest the coffee beans in the west and transport them by train to Luz, the centre of the city. The station was much bigger than it needed to be in order to show off the wealth that the coffee giants had. In 1929, when Wall Street crashed, the USA importers couldn’t afford to buy in as much coffee and as a result the coffee giants became bankrupt and the station was abandoned. In the early 1990s, the state decided to begin to regenerate the area, with one of the projects being to turn the old station into a concert hall for the city. Today, the train station, Julio Prestes, at the back of the hall still operates.
The concert hall is home to both the culture secretariat and the Orquestra Symphonic Estado do São Paulo (OSESP). As well as being used by OSESP for their 37 season concerts per year and free Sunday morning concerts by other organisations and OSESP, Sala São Paulo is home to the orchestras academy – a training orchestra and choir for around 35 young people (20 orchestra and 15 choir) ranging in age from 18-27 years for the orchestra, and 18-35 years for the singers. The facilities here are absolutely amazing and would inspire even the most reluctant musician to practice their instrument (I say that as someone who did not enjoy practicing!)
There is something odd though about the positioning of this, for want of a better word, lavish concert venue in the centre of such a poverty stricken area. As I have mentioned before, the area is nicknamed ‘crackland’ due to the large number of drug users in the area. Every few metres in this area you stumble across another homeless person sleeping on the street. From my conversations, I believe there is no connection between the concert venue and the local community which, given the amount of outreach work our orchestras in the UK undertake, I find odd.
The afternoon takes a very different turn. We arrive at a Ceu- Rosa de China, in the middle of an area called Fazenda da Juta (Fazenda means farm….this area used to be a farm until it was built upon).
Here we meet the social assistant for the Ceu and a worker from a local community organisation called CCA. We are taken on a walk through the area to the CCA.
The area is a very deprived area. We arrive at the bottom of a set of steps and are told that at the top of these steps starts the favela. The reason Bianca from CCA is with us is because she is from the favela and in order to enter safely, we must have someone from the favela with us at all times.
We walk through the streets of the favela. Most are incredibly narrow- too narrow for cars. The houses are built on top of each other, next to each other, on any spare bit of ground they can find, it appears.
After around ten minutes of walking we arrive at the CCA. It is a small green coloured building from which we can hear lots of giggling, shouting and a little bit of drumming.
We head in and are welcomed with open arms. The guri programme at the Ceu works in partnership with CCA to ensure that children from the favela are engaged in the activity. They also have their own programme of arts here and today have a samba teacher in working with the children.
We head upstairs to the younger children. They are intrigued to hear about Scotland (they have never even heard of the country) and when I say that we get snow, they are very excited and ask me lots of questions such as ‘do you make snow angels like in the movies?’ and ‘what does snow feel like?’. They also ask about animals, asking if we have lions tigers and elephants. When I tell them only in the zoo/safari park, they seem disappointed. I then try to explain the wild animals that we do have, including foxes. None of the translators can think of the Brazilian word for fox so we end up explaining it as an orange coloured dog. This makes the children laugh and they’re quite confused…they must have an odd perception of Scotland with my descriptions of snow angels and orange dogs! They then turn to asking questions about the poverty in the UK- they ask if it is violent like in their community, if we have problems with guns and drugs and what the houses of people who are ‘poor’ look like. It is a line of questioning I wasn’t expecting from 6-8year olds but it’s indicitative of the issues they deal with in their lives on a daily basis. Assassination of young people is common here, and especially those young people who are black.
(below: some of the children, aged 6-12yrs)
After the exchange of questions, we are invited to have a further look around the rooms here. We’re taken into the library. Here there are various books for the children to read here and take home. There are also a number of empty desks. The centre manager tells us that they built the desks as they were planning to buy computers, but the money that was due for this has yet to come through.
We are taken downstairs to have some coffee and cake. The children are also all eating a snack. The centre feeds the children in order to encourage them to attend after or before school, rather than hanging around the streets of the favela.
After some delicious, freshly baked bolo de fuba (Corn meal cake) we leave the centre to go to the house of one the centre users, Fernanda. We arrive at her house…
Fernanda’s house is the window with the white shutter on the left of the photo above. To the right is her parents-in-laws’ house and above is her brother-in-laws. Fernanda lives here with her husband Eduardo and her four girls, aged between 2-12 years. She tells us how she’s so thankful to the centre for being there because it means she can go to work as she knows her children are safe. She works as a cleaner for houses nearer the centre, and her husband as a gardener with the same company. She often travels two hours to get to work, and the same to return home. She invites us into her house to show us around. There are three rooms: a kitchen, a bedroom and a third smaller empty room. To me, this room looks the same as the others but it doesn’t have a window. Therefore, they do not use the room yet due to a lack of ventilation. Fernanda tells us they recently moved here and she loves it because it is much bigger than her last house, which was only one room.
(Below: the kitchen -front door is directly ahead, bedroom is on the right)
(Below: the bedroom)
As much as I have prepared myself to see this level of poverty, I don’t think one can truly appreciate or understand it until you are right there experiencing it. It’s shocking when I think back to the luxury of the concert venue I was in this morning and the comfortable surroundings of my hotel and the affluent area it’s situated in, compared to the living situation here. However, as much as this is a poor standard of living to me, Fernanda and her daughter, who we also meet, are incredibly happy because it is bigger than their previous home.
We leave the favela and head back to the Ceu to reflect upon the day’s events and the important effect that programmes like guri and CCA have on the communities here.