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What if technology could undermine drug violence in Brazil?

A debate in Rio de Janeiro focuses on how access to information and technology among low-income youth might weaken the drug trade and empower young people in favelas.

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Folks from outside favelas usually don’t associate work with people who live in favelas. So much so that the first sentence uttered to the media or police in defense of a resident who’s just been shot dead by cops, as if to disprove the assumption, is often “Ele era trabalhador!” He was a worker.

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But Julio Ludemir, a writer who has long worked with favela youth, says that favela parents have traditionally exhorted their children to find jobs and make a living as soon as they’re able. In this post about passinho dancers whose creativity depends on Internet interactions, he explains that today, for the first time ever, many young favela residents have the luxury of dreaming and experimenting, as middle- and upper-class kids do.

There are 108,000 Lan houses, or cyber cafés in low-income neighborhoods, in all of Brazil, according to Eliane Costa, until recently responsible for culture grants at the Petrobras state oil giant. By contrast, National Book Foundation statistics for 2007 indicate a total of 5,110 libraries across the country.

It’s about the screen, mouse, and keyboard, stupid

Could it be that a growing number of favela youth are doing exactly what a growing number of middle- and upper-class young Brazilians are doing? In Rio, people with experience like that of Ludemir say favela youth are surprisingly tuned in.

Beá Meira is teaching coordinator at the Universidade das Quebradas, an arts and culture extension of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro targeted at low-income students. At last week’s Rio de Encontros debate on youth mobilization programs, organized by O Instituto and the Agência de Redes para Juventude at the Casa do Saber, she reported that these young people are conversant in a variety of media. ”They edit video, write poetry, take photographs– they see art as belonging to everyone, part of everyday existence. They don’t ask permission, they just do it,” she said.

“The favela, as [Agência Redes para Juventude creator and director] Marcus Faustini likes to say, is a place of power, originality, solutions,” remarked Eliane Costa during the same meeting. She’s now dedicated to a doctorate at the Sorbonne, on digital and peripheral culture.

“I never imagined I’d be working with a street-sweeper,” commented Vera Íris Paternostro, who directs a new Rio, São Paulo, and Brasília venture at TV Globo, in which 44 young people (selected from 12,500 candidates, no less) this year reported on their own low-income communities. The reporting resulted in 150 solutions to community complaints – and, says the tv executive, changed the way Globo reporters and editors think about their coverage.

Paternosto pointed out her street-sweeper/reporter in the Rio de Encontros audience, then stumbled over the name of a youth also present, “Petter MC” the “Rappórter.” Petter, who lives in the bedroom city of Nova Iguaçu, had his own blog before reporting for TV Globo. Now he’s on the staff of Esquenta, a popular Sunday afternoon Globo offering.

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