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Putting Brazil's Favelas on the (Google) Map

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, October 20 2009

More than a million people live in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, those makeshift towns that ring Brazil's second largest city, where faveladors make up a full one-sixth of the population. You might have seen an inside look into Cidade de Deus, one of Rio's favelas, in the popular 2002 film "City of God." And that's probably the only peek into favela life you'll have ever seen, because the Brazilian press routinely ignores the existence of their many countrymen and countrywomen who live within the favelas' boundaries, other than to report on the violence that springs up there.

And so, some enterprising Brazilian reporters, most of whom are faveladors themselves, are making use of some of the simplest technologies we know -- palm-sized video cameras, laptops, and 100% open-source software in their computer labs -- to profile life in the favelas, and in that way make the case that residents have a role to play in Brazil's politics as their country rushes to embrace a role on the world stage. Viva Favela, highlighted at the recent State Department-affiliated Alliance of Youth Movements in Mexico City, is a web-based project that gathers together such multimedia reporting. One particular neat project: a Google Map that pinpoints each of Rio favelas on the geography of the city, tied to community-reported audio, video, and text on that particularly place. An upcoming Community Communication School is geared towards teaching even more favela residents how to use the web and other technologies to make their once invisible lives more difficult for the Brazilian establishment to ignore.

All of which means that the international press, in Rio for the 2016 Olympics, will have much less of an excuse for overlooking such a sizable chunk of the city's population.

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