Cleaning up and speaking out

09 Jan 17

Ejamisleide lives on the banks of the Cangueiras Canal, a water source which once threatened her young family with disease and infection. But thanks to a Caritas Australia supported project, her life has been transformed.

For residents of the favela, Vila Flavia, a slum on the outskirts of São Paulo, a lack of recognition of their rights as slum dwellers made it difficult to access essential infrastructure, clean water and medical help.

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Ejamisleide with one of her sons. Photo: MDF Brazil.

Ejamisleide with one of her sons. Photo: MDF Brazil.

Ejamisleide and her four young children live alongside 550 other families in self-constructed housing beside the canal. Three million people live in bustling and densely populated favelas like the Vila Flavia, which is on the east side of São Paulo.

Better conditions

"In this house where I live I suffered a lot because of the bad smell coming from the stream," says Ejamisleide.

"The rats came from the stream every night into my home and destroyed everything in it, especially the food," she says, adding that catching Lassa Fever (which is caused by rodents) or the mosquito-borne Dengue Fever were an added fear.

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The canal at the start of the cleaning and development project. Photo: MDF Brazil.

The canal at the start of the cleaning and development project. Photo: MDF Brazil.

But Ejamisleide wasn’t alone. Many others in the favela were also trying to stem the unhygienic conditions caused by the dirty waters of the canal.

"Myself, and the local residents of the slum had constant headaches because of the foul smell coming from the canal."

With the support of Caritas Australia’s partner, Movimento de Defesa do Favelado (MDF), Ejamisleide and a number of other residents took a stand, advocating for better conditions by collaborating with the city council.

Since they’ve raised their voices, the Cangueiras Canal has undergone a major cleanup. As well as draining the canal’s waters so clean flowing water can return, protective fencing has also been installed.

With sewerage no longer being dumped in the canal, marine life can return and the transmission of disease has dramatically decreased.

This project gives new life to the region and enables families to dream of better lives.

MDF staff member

A positive future

These changes are very important to Ejamisleide. A cleaner environment and home means her family is much happier and her four sons can now concentrate on their studies. They are all hopeful for a positive future.

"Now with the canal and plumbing that is happening, there is no more stench, the rats are gone and the mosquitoes are fewer," says Ejamisleide.

"My family and I can eat and feel the taste of the food, not the stench of the canal, the headaches are gone and we are happier and healthier."

Ejamisleide stood up for the rights of her family and her community, and her voice is starting to change lives throughout São Paulo.

A big thank you to MDF and their partnership with the local government for raising the voices of a few and turning it into action. This is subsidiarity at its core. 

 Learn more about Caritas Australia's work in Brazil

 Subsidiarity, a core principle of Catholic Social Teaching, is at the centre of Caritas's approach to development

This story appears in CaritasNews Summer 2016.