We’re on our way to the outskirts of São Paulo. Luciano is zigzagging his way through the heavy traffic. We met him a few weeks ago, when he told us about the NGO he works for – ‘Um Teto Para Meu Pais’. “It means ‘a roof for my country’, and we build houses in the favela for the poorest of the poor,” Luciano says. “A favela, by the way, is kind of a shantytown. Most of the people here don’t even have the very basics of the Maslov pyramid – safe shelter.”
After more than an hour, we leave the main road, take a few turns and find ourselves at the entrance of the Tonnato favela. Here we’ll help build a house with other ‘Um Teto’ volunteers. We leave the car at the edge of the favela and continue our trip on foot. We turn left and right and left again and find ourselves in a labyrinth of little streets and alleys.
“In total there are almost 1.000 volunteers working this weekend in six different favelas building 100 houses,” Luciano tells us with a clear sense of pride in his voice. We turn left again, followed by a sharp right. I’m starting to wonder whether Luciano knows where he’s going.
Then we enter a random street and see a group of young people, all with the same T-shirt. “Most of the volunteers are students, with different backgrounds and different nationalities. The one thing they all have in common is the drive and the will to change things,” Luciano says. “We need a team of eight people to build one house in one weekend. Let me introduce them to you.”
Our group is building for Marcia and her three kids. We start by removing the old cardboard house and digging four holes for the four poles that will serve as the foundation for the house. We talk to Marcia in our best Portuguese and try to get her story. “The moment we have a house where my children are safe, I can start working more and generate a better income and my children could go to school,” Marcia says with a smile on her face. “Maybe I could have my own little lunchroom, in front of the house. One of the things I do best is cook.”
The digging is done. Now we have to wait for the truck with the materials: the wooden poles, the prefab walls, windows and doors. And, of course, the prefab ‘teto’.
“We’ve already been waiting for over two hours… and still the truck with materials hasn’t turned up,” Henrique, one of the crew members, says. “Let’s have lunch. Marcia has prepared chicken, rice and beans for us.”
During lunch it starts raining. It’s gentle to start with, but then gets more intense. The holes for the foundation are filling with water. “Where is that %$^!*%. truck?!?” one of the volunteers shouts.
We see Luciano approaching. He’s talking on the phone, not looking very happy. “The truck is stuck in the mud. It won’t be here before dark, I’m afraid,” he says looking at Marcia. “Of course we have tomorrow, but we need two days to finish the house. Maybe we can do the walls and roof tomorrow and come back next week for the windows and door. I’m so sorry, Marcia.”
Marcia, who is carrying her one-year-old baby in her arms, has a worried look on her face. “If God wants it this way, then that’s okay with me,” she replies.
“It’s getting dark,” Luciano says. “Let’s try to be back here tomorrow morning before sunrise. That will give us an extra hour.” In the pouring rain we walk towards the local school where we will spend the night. “Poor Marcia,” I’m thinking.
The next morning we walk the same route in the opposite direction. It is still dark, but the rain has stopped. Last night was fun. Somebody brought a guitar. There was music and laughter, but now nobody is laughing. It will be a long day and we won’t be able to finish Marcia’s house. She and the kids will have to spend another week without a warm shelter.
As we enter the street, we see the truck has already arrived. As we come closer we see other ‘Teto volunteers’ have started to unload the truck. As soon as they see us, one of them walks towards us. “Hi,” he says. “We’re from the other favela. We heard you had some problems so we’re here to help you. If we start right away, with six extra people, we should be able to finish the house today.”
It’s 6 p.m. as we place the house’s final piece – the door. All the volunteers are gathered together in the small, 3×4-metre house. It is time for the inauguration. I take my camera and look through the lens at Marcia. I see tears in her eyes. Then I turn my camera to the volunteers. They are crying too. Luciano takes the official papers out of his back pocket, ready to hand the house over to Marcia. He looks at the volunteers, at the kids, and then at Marcia. He hands her the document and says: “Welcome to your house.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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