Here's a strange story.
Sometime on the afternoon of June 12, 2000, Rio de Janeiro Bus 174 and its passengers were taken hostage by an unknown young man. Brandishing a gun, the man, dubbed "Sergio" by the police, held on to the bus for four and half traumatic hours. The police, in a series of epic mishandlings, allowed the media to get up close to the bus. Soon after he noticed the camera crews, "Sergio" uncovered his face and presented it to the world. As the media filmed the scene from every angle, frame by frame, events unfolded dramatically and tragically, watched by some 35 million Brazilians on live television. During the course of the hijacking "Sergio" made several references to events that shaped his life, such as the murders by police of street kids in a Rio square ("I was there").
Recently released on DVD, winner of more awards then I knew existed, director Jose Padilha's "Bus 174" weaves the events of that afternoon with the hidden history of the hijacker. "Sergio" turns out to be Sendro de Nascimento, a disenfranchised young street kid with a searingly brutal history. While media coverage during and after the tragic event was intense, very little focussed on who Sendro was and where he came from. Padilha tells Sendro's story and in doing so opens up a side of Brazil that many would prefer "to remain in the dark corners." The story of "Bus 174" is remarkable because in those few hours a young man living the ignored and invisible life of the archetypical Brazilian street kid suddenly and without warning stormed the Brazilian consciousness -- in the process raising some very tough questions.
It doesn't end there. This summer I met Dominic B., a Brit married to a Brazilian, who has lived in Brazil for the last decade. Dominic works with some of the street kids from "Bus 174" and "The City of God" teaching non-violent communication (NVC) in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
When I asked Dominic what inspired him to do this work, his reply was "Bus 174" (meaning the incident). Dominic, an actor by training, in early 2001 invited a group of fellow practitioners "to make known and available a concrete alternative to the monologue of violence." Within months the group had been invited by the Rio municipal government to facilitate meetings between the state police chief and residents associations in South Americas biggest gang-controlled shantytown.
From these beginnings grew The Lusaphone Project, "dedicated to the life serving transformation of personal relationships and social structures in communities ravished by violence in all Portuguese-language speaking countries. Starting in Brazil teams contribute to this mission by offering learnable skills in conscious compassion and the transformative power of empathic dialogue on systemic, social and interpersonal levels, inspiring ordinary people to create life-enriching and life sustaining relationships and organizations, often in extraordinary circumstances. In 18 months programs have been initiated in shantytowns, prisons, slums, army bases and schools in three of Brazils largest cities, offering on-going training to thousands of people subject to drug-gang controlled gun law. National and international training programs for the growing core team have been organized, and a network for continued training established."
While I understand what it means to facilitate, what amazed and so inspired me about Dominic's work is that he actually lives by his skills as a facilitator. In the conditions him and his colleagues work under, you can't really afford to make too many mistakes. The Lusaphone Project is looking for partners and supporters.
Here's some more information Dominic sent me on his programmes. If anyone wants to get in touch with him, feel free to drop me an email.
Brazilian Community Mediation programs
The pilot Community Mediation programs serve their communities, build experience for the teams and inspire trust. A coordinator connects communities with mutual learning potential, harvests local solutions for sharing between groups, provides on-going learning support and build skilled teams for the next stage. The overall objective is to maintain the depth and quality of our training and local initiatives while preparing for large-scale expansion.
Santa Marta Pilot Project
Santa Marta is one of several thousand illegal squatted shantytowns on Rio de Janeiros hillsides. Run by rival gangs and subject to repeated police raids these communities are home to several million people under an effective marshal law. The largest youth employers in the city are the shantytown based drug gangs. Most of those who enter this world do not change their occupation after 9 years of age. Most are also dead, on the run or in prison before they are 20. Substance abuse, street justice, summery executions and teenage pregnancy are the norm for these self-named soldiers. In March 2003 children in the community kindergarten requested English lessons and middle class, English speaking adolescents in a local elite school requested involvement in community peace work. This spawned a project in which teachers, adolescents and children work together to meet multiple learning needs around communication and partnership, based on community mediation and emotional literacy. This has now become the basis of a flexible, replicating model, in which divided populations work together to solve local problems, and then form teams to offer the same training to others. Students and teachers from both communities are now using their new skills to develop new projects in Santa Marta, and to offer our training in neighboring shantytowns.
Sao Vicente Prison Pilot Project
Many Brazilian prisons are run externally by the state but internally by rival gangs. Inmate take-overs are common, torture is standard practice, overcrowding is rife and violence commonplace. Following a two day training for local government workers in a neighboring city, the Sao Vicente prison complex requested the training of community mediators on the inside, including inmates, guards and administration. The state of Sao Paulo is evaluating the program for use in other units.
Fort Sao Joao Pilot Project
Groups of marginalized young men are offered a way out of shantytown drug gangs through sports training in military bases. The Fort So Joo has seen increasing levels of violence amongst the teenagers in their two-year program and requested Nonviolent Communication be an integral part of their curriculum. The Fort director is monitoring the program for the Eastern Military Command, and would like 80 community mediators training all 12,000 participants in several hundred bases.
Gol de Letra Pilot Project
The Gol de Letra program offers sports and leisure activities for shantytown children in a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Recently they have initiated a Community Agents training for those who have outgrown their base activities. Nonviolent Communication is offered as an integral part of curriculum. The Course Director would like to extend the work and a sister program in the city of Niteroi would like to offer community mediation in their Gol de Letra unit.
Cortico Pilot Project
"Corticos" are slum housing, where several families share rooms and other spaces in condemned inner city buildings or their ruins. In the center of Santos, a group of 6 teenagers have inspired their community to take action to stop the destruction of their homes for use as scrap metal yards and drawn up a plan for the rebuilding of their block.
They requested Nonviolent Communication skills in order to negotiate with the city council and unite their community round a common vision and plan of action. 60 people in their community have received our training, as have 30 members of the council department they negotiated with, the architects from whom they enlisted help and local NGOs and businesses inspired to support them. They are sharing the skills they have learnt with us with other groups of young people in So Paulo state. The Santos city council department now has on-going staff training with us and would like Nonviolent Communication integrated into 100% of its projects.
Wow. Fascinating and excellent. Thank you for posting this, Zaid.