Maristely, a flower in the favelas

Maristely, 18, lives in a favela (city slum) in São Paulo, Brazil. Caritas Australia’s partner Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents is working to improve living conditions within her community and other favelas in the city.

Being a part of MDF has given me awareness of my dignity ... I know that to live in a favela is nothing to be ashamed of."

Dark and cramped, favelas are groups of irregular, self-constructed houses 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 daily discrimination from the wider community.

When Maristely was growing up, her family’s house, like many others, was made of cardboard and had no electricity, water or connected sewerage.

Young favela leaders

Caritas Australia’s partner, the Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents (MDF), is changing lives across 40 favelas in São Paulo. MDF understands the difficulties of favela life such as dense population, limited space, a lack of available jobs, constant threat of eviction and widespread poverty.

Through MDF, Maristely’s family, along with thousands of others, now has access to clean water, electricity and connected sewerage. They also have a certificate of home ownership which provides greater security and means they can no longer be evicted.

Across the favelas, up to 70 percent of families experience violence in the home, and there is a dominant gang culture. 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 issues around drugs, gangs, violence and unemployment. The program promotes peace so young people can attain education and employment rather than join local gangs.

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

Maristely is a flower who has bloomed in the middle of the favelas.”
MDF Youth Empowerment Program Coordinator