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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 16:09 GMT
Rio shanty town becomes tour spot

By Steve Kingstone
BBC correspondent in Brazil

Newlyweds Brian and Liz Kilcoyne, who toured the favela during their honeymoon
Liz Kilcoyne overcame initial reservations about the tour
Newlyweds Liz and Brian Kilcoyne are enjoying a honeymoon with a difference.

They've come to Rocinha, the largest favela (or shanty town) in Rio de Janeiro.

It is home to 150,000 people, many of whom live in extreme poverty.

"We came to Brazil to see more than just the shiny, rich side of the country," Liz said. "We wanted to see something real as well."

The couple are taking part in the Rocinha Tourism Workshop, which promises visitors a "unique insight into the largest slum in Latin America".

It's unique because local children act as the tour guides.

Proceeds from the workshop are reinvested into the community.

Response to begging

The favela tours were the brainchild of Rejane Reis, a former air hostess.

Rejane Reis who runs the Rocinha Tourism Workshop
Tourists want to come here, so we welcome them... what they see is not poverty - but development
Rejane Reis
"When I first brought visitors to Rocinha the kids would follow me and beg. I told them they would only get money if they worked for it, by showing visitors around," she said.

Now Rejane holds classes for local youngsters.

They learn basic English, geography and the practical skills required to work as a guide.

The children are paid the equivalent of $1.60 every time they attend a lesson, and double that when they help out with a tour.

"It's really great," Ana Carolina, 12, said with a grin.

"I love showing people around."

Hard slog

Ten-year-old Bruno agrees. "The foreigners are always interesting," he said.

10-year-old Bruno, a local boy who works as a tour guide
Not all of the tourists can keep up with Bruno
"But some of them are old and not able to cope with the tour. It takes two hours and a lot of it is uphill."

The physical demands of the tour are not the only thing that might deter potential visitors.

Recently, Rio's favelas have seen an upsurge in violent crime, much of it drug-related.

Illegal guns are commonplace, and shootings are a daily occurrence.

But the head of the city's Tourist Police, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Braga, played down the risks.

"If foreigners go on an organised tour they should be fine, especially in Rocinha, which is the safest of the favelas," he said.

But he warns that tourists should never wander into favelas unaccompanied.

Local crafts

As Liz and Brian continue the tour, their presence is signalled to local people by the bright yellow t-shirts of their young guides.

Natalia (14, left) and Ana Carolina (12, right), who work as guides
Bright yellow t-shirts identify the guides
The couple are introduced to shopkeepers and encouraged to buy handicrafts produced in Rocinha.

From time to time they are told it is not safe to take photographs.

But security was not the newlyweds' main concern in coming to the favela.

Instead, they were worried about the ethics of this type of tourism. "At first I thought it sounded a bit voyeuristic and I worried about whether I should do the tour," Liz admitted.

"Then I found out that our money would go towards local projects. So we are assisting the community."

The tour ends with a visit to an infants school, funded by the Rocinha Tourism Workshop.

Boisterous Brazilian children eagerly pose for photographs.

The organiser of the project, Rejane Reis, is in no doubt as to its value.

"Tourists want to come here, so we welcome them. And what they see is not poverty - but development."

Rio party trip ends in bloodbath
02 Nov 03 |  Americas
Brazil moves to tighten gun laws
24 Oct 03 |  Americas
'Elite' police to fight Rio gangs
09 May 03 |  Americas
Rio 'worse than a war zone'
09 Sep 02 |  Americas
On the Rio beat
11 May 01 |  Correspondent


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