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Mr Bongo and the Rio Breaks Favela Surf Club

In November, 2012 I flew to Brazil for 2 weeks. During that time I had the opportunity to meet up with Rogerio, the founder of the Favela Surf Club in Rio de Janeiro. Those of you who have seen the film Rio Breaks will have heard of the Surf Club, and for those that haven’t I strongly recommend you check its inspiring story here. The Surf Club is a project very close to my heart, and also something that has touched many of those who have seen the film.

I met Rogerio and as you may expect, we first went surfing. Our location was Aproador, which was suprisingly cold for that time of year (down to El Nino currents in the area). Rogerio then took me up to see the project in the Cantagalo favela. I was stunned at how much the place had changed since I last came, this used to be the favela that supplied all the drugs to Copacabana.

The last year has seen the implementation of the much needed favela pacification programme in Rio. The local government has built an elevator linking the back of Ipanema with the roof beginning of the favela. They have also constructed a giant walk-way. This connects the two communities and as a further positive output the two communities are mixing a lot more. The 'favelados' can get to work in a 10th of the time, and they have built a new metro station at the bottom.

We were able to walk through areas that were previously impossible to walk through. It wasn’t all perfect, but there was a palpable decrease in tension in the area. We were walking relatively stress free in an area where previously you had needed permission to go to certain parts, there were crack addicts everywhere, and it wasn’t uncommon to witness kids with Kalashnikovs floating around.

Once you have climbed through the ram shackle temporary housing of the hillside part of the favela at its summit is a giant old hotel that has been converted into the Espaco Crianca Esperanca (Child Hope Centre). This place is massive and it’s got a taekwondo area and football pitch, but most of it has been converted into a school. The local government bought the land and gave it to the community.

Inside the centre, the Favelas Surf Club has around 15 rooms. The club had money donated to it by local talk show host celebrity Luciano Huck. It supplies boards for the local kids who have good school attendance, it pays for competition costs, it has 5 rooms for making new and repairing old boards, a samba group, a football club, and a small crèche.

I was looking for a new project to invest our Street Angels UK funds as the project in Salvador that we supported for many years has sadly had to close down due to lack of funds.  Having seen Favela Surf Clube in action and having talked to Rogerio, I decided that this project should become the main recipient of our funds. Rogerio was overjoyed and said that all monies received will be used to expand all the programmes they have. I hope this is the start of a long-standing partnership and that we can all make a difference for the people of the favela through the Surf Club.

David 'Mr Bongo'