Live from Rio+20, Day Two: "Favelas and Protests"
This morning I ventured the opposite direction from Rio Centro where the UN Rio+20 negotiations are taking place, and travelled with colleagues to the Cachoeirinha (I was told it means “waterfall”) Favela in Rio de Janeiro. These shantytowns are quite common in Rio, well over one million strong, located within and around the city limits. This particular one has 37,000 residents. We made the trip to visit the BEMFAM reproductive health and family planning clinic there, and were treated to a gathering of youth already discussing the facts of life, and more, with a BEMFAM counselor. This is especially poignant because youth in Brazil, similar to youth worldwide, are key to the issues we are debating here at the UN Rio+20 meetings just a few miles away. The Brazilian youth demographic, and the world’s, is the largest ever in history—it’s called the “youth bulge”—and from favelas, to cities, suburbs and rural areas everywhere, they represent the decision makers for the world’s future at all levels.
Here at the BEMFAM clinic, an affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s array of family planning clinics worldwide, youth have weekly meetings and can come in daily if needed for their reproductive health needs. We entered to find about 25 adolescents sitting in a circle in very animated discussion about how they viewed sexuality, reproductive health, being young, their feelings and emotions about this period in their life. Through translators we learned so much from these adolescents and young adults, and once revealed I can’t help but feel how similar they are to our own youth. They cared about their friends, family, (how much their parents don’t know), going to college, getting jobs, raising families, school, and having fun. One glaring difference that emerged however is accessibility to many of their hopes and dreams—resources to come by any of their plans are scarce, and few will likely see college or even jobs from what they told us. This however did not make them dour or negative; they were bright, committed, compelling, cheerful, very well-spoken and passionate about all they relayed to us.