Paint the Favela

Day 18: Thursday, January 23rd

I was pumped for today, our service day painting a house in a favela. When the bus pulled up to a bright, colorful neighborhood of concrete houses and big trees, I was pretty sure we were not in a favela. I asked the president of the charity, and she confirmed that we were in an underprivileged neighborhood, not a mafia-run urban slum. This was probably for the best, since I’ve heard that favelas are extremely dangerous and even Brazilians who don’t live in them are advised against entering.

Colorful concrete walls.

Our group split in two, and my section was dropped off first at an unpainted house on a hillside. We shifted from job to job, sanding rusty windows, priming walls, painting trim, and staining wood. The experience reminded me a lot of my tenth grade service trip to Louisiana, where I worked with eight classmates to repair a house damaged in Hurricane Katrina for a displaced family. Today had the same sweaty, hot, determined, disorganized feel.
Devon contemplating the yellow wall.

The window I painted!

In the end, I’m not sure how much we helped the house. We weren’t skilled craftsmen, so our paint jobs were smudged at the edges and my sanding was subpar. More importantly, we lacked a central organization and nobody knew exactly what was going on, so I’m pretty sure a couple walls got primed twice. If we had been better prepared we could have been more efficient. In the end, we did accomplish our goal of the painting most of the house.



This house belonged to a family who had lived there for 33 years. Recently, the house’s foundation started to fail. The family couldn’t afford to remodel. If it weren’t for the housing charity, this family would have needed to move into a house in bad conditions. I got to meet the mother of the household and one of the children.

Two of the neighbor girls.

During our break, I also got to meet the neighborhood kids, who were swarming the top of the hill and playing with flimsy plastic-bag-and-string kites. The kite strings were incredibly long – you could barely make out the kite, it was so high in the sky. I watched one of the older boys chat with the other kids while nonchalantly twitching the sting of the kite up and down. He made it look effortless. When he noticed me watching, he offered me the string of the kite. I tried to imitate his movements, but within a minute the plastic bag was diving from its incredible height. The boy laughed and took the string from me, slowly nursing the kite back into the sky. I was amazed at how friendly and inclusive these kids were to a random girl intruding on their game, and I appreciated it more than they knew.

The neighborhood kids and the tree of fallen kites.

At the end of the day, I wandered down to the end of the block with Collin to look at the rest of the neighborhood. We passed a brick house filled with birds. There was a wicker cage holding a finch hanging from the street tree, and another cage visible through every window of the house. Birdsong washed over us. A woman poked out of the top window and waved.

The bird in the planter strip.

We were only allowed to go to the end of the street, but from there we could take in the hilly topography of the neighborhood, the smells of barbecuing meat, and the colorful clothing and food shops that filled many garages. In the distance, we could see the packed-in rooftops of an even poorer area. Collin and I agreed that this felt like the real Brazil we had expected. We wished we could have spent time living and eating in a neighborhood like this, or even just an afternoon exploring.

The unfinished construction projects and street dogs reminded me of where I lived in Ecuador.

The neighborhood.

Tonight we had dinner with our host families! My group was three sisters – all tall, beautiful Brazilians with long brown hair. They are similar ages to me and my sister. Debora is 20, Marina is 23, and Fernanda is 25. They all spoke good English, but we tried to use some Portuguese too. I loved how all three sisters were friends who banded together to host a student together. I want to make a good impression so they host more Buckeyes in the future.

Dinner was incredible. Waiters came around with pizzas of every flavor – four cheese, arugula, shrimp, broccoli, chicken, salmon, and more. I shouldn’t have eaten so many, so I could have saved room for the dessert pizzas! That’s right, chocolate pizzas, cinnamon banana, chocolate and strawberry, white chocolate mousse… holy moly, America is missing out on the dessert pizzas! We stayed out late and now I can’t wait for the homestay weekend.