St Finbar's Glenbrook Parish

Project Compassion: Maristely’s story


A flower in the favelas

With your support, Maristely is working with the Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents (MDF) to change lives and improve living conditions across 40 favelas in São Paulo, Brazil.

Originally published in Catholic Outlook March 2014

Catholic Outlook March 2014 Project Compassion Story
Thanks to your support for Project Compassion communities like Maristely’s can enjoy a full life. Photo: Erin Johnson

Maristely lives in a favela (slum) in São Paulo, Brazil, with her family. Like Maristely, one in every seven people in the city of São Paulo lives in a favela.

Dark and cramped, favelas are filled with irregular, self-constructed houses. When Maristely was growing up, her family’s house, like many others, was made of cardboard and had no electricity, water or connected sewerage.

Favelas are often built on land that no one wants to live on due to threats of floods, landslides, or their proximity to roads and train lines. Many locals face discrimination from the wider population.

“Outside the favela, we are socially excluded. When people ask us where we live and we tell them, people look down on us,” Maristely said.

Thanks to your support for Project Compassion, communities like Maristely’s can enjoy a full life. Caritas Australia’s partner, the Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents (MDF), is changing lives across 40 favelas in São Paulo.

“The role of MDF is to work with families so they are aware that they can advocate for improvements where they live,” Maristely said.

MDF educators regularly visit favelas to engage with the local people and address the challenges of favela life.

Now a young leader with MDF’s Youth Empowerment Program, Maristely is working to promote peace, improve access to basic facilities and increase citizens’ awareness of their rights and dignity.

Through MDF, Maristely’s family, along with thousands of others, now has access to clean water, electricity and connected sewerage, leading to a reduction in respiratory and skin diseases, and better overall health.

Her family also has a certificate of home ownership which provides greater security for the household. Thanks to this legal protection, they can no longer be evicted.

Across the favelas, up to 70% of families experience violence in the home; MDF is working to decrease these levels, as well as youth and gang violence, and drug use among community members.

“In this community there was a lot of violence, especially against women and young people,” Maristely said. “When I was younger we could hardly leave the house. There were a lot of young people using drugs. We had to stop playing on the streets because there were police cars driving very fast. We were very scared.”

This culture of violence is closely linked to a lack of self-esteem. MDF attendees participate in sessions which address their identity, favela history, and the challenge of being counter cultural in a community affected by drugs, gangs, violence and unemployment.

This program is empowering people like Maristely to challenge prejudice and make their voices heard. The participants engage in media and social media workshops, radio and television interviews, peace rallies and environmental care.

The program promotes peace so young people can attain education and employment rather than joining local gangs.

“Being a part of MDF has given me awareness of my dignity as a person, and critical thinking,” Maristely said. “I have learnt a lot about the problems we have in our society.

“I know that to live in a favela is nothing to be ashamed of … because of my perseverance, I live in a better place and we are recognised for that.”

Your donation to Project Compassion will help Caritas Australia to end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity.

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