Brazil’s favelas are translated as “slums” in English, but they’re really more comparable to U.S. public housing. Favelas are more than just a place to live–they’re often tight-knit communities inhabited by families who have lived there for generations. Nowhere is this more true than in Providencia, which at an age of over 100 years, is the oldest favela in Rio de Janeiro.
The paradox of Providencia and many of the hillside favelas is that they feature breathtaking views of the city below. In other urban areas, Providencia’s land would be considered prime real estate for the wealthy. But because Providencia is a favela–and not a wealthy enclave–it faces infrastructure challenges that aren’t as much of a problem as in the city below. (Though Rio in general has issues with dirty water, in the favelas, water quality is particularly unreliable.) It’s also dealing with gentrification due to its proximity to certain Olympic venues.
During a reporting trip to Brazil, I took a tour of Providencia with Theresa Williamson, the founder of Catalytic Communities, an NGO that supports the rights of favela-dewellers. Here is what we saw, in pictures.