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June 12, 2014

Joy of World Cup Evades Sao Paulo Shantytown

by Nicolas Pinault

The World Cup kicks off on June 12 in San Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city. The huge metropolis is focused on the big event, but residents of a local favela (shantytown) do not feel like the party is theirs.

Not far from these upscale buildings, kids in Moinho play soccer every day.  Here, the noisy World Cup festivities do not carry much of an echo.

With no toilets or running water, kids here learn early how to survive.  In Moinho, there is no sign of the billions of dollars invested by the Brazilian government to organize the Cup.  

"I do not feel anything for this Cup.  Brazil spent money for the event, not for education.  It is not fair.  They invested billions of dollars for the World Cup but nothing for health or education," said Gerson Ribeiro, a favela resident.

The few who have TV in their homes will be watching the World Cup games. This Cup is a real paradox for the people of Moinho,  so close yet so far away.

The favela has been here for decades.  The city of San Paulo wants to expel its residents from the site.  But they fight back.  Alessandra Cunha grew up in Moinho.  Today, she works with kids to help them stay out of trouble.

"There are people here who have needs, who have to be taken care of.  It's not just a space," she said. "You have people living without water, electricity or toilets.  Some people do not even have a toilet inside their home right in downtown Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Latin America!"

On the football field, kids keep playing.  In this country where football is king, every kid dreams about being a professional and leaving poverty behind.  Josuel Santana, 20, still believes he can escape life in the favela.
 
"To me, football is like a second life," he said. "Football is like marriage.  I need to be faithful.   I’ll play anytime, anywhere.   My knee hurts, but I never stop playing.  I always dream about being a professional."

In the World Cup's shadow, such dreams are priceless.  To the beat of Samba music, kids in Moinho always smile.   It's worth all the trophies in the World.