If you have never been in a carioca slum before, and you still have some cultural resistance, you could not do better than to start by visiting the Morrinho Project in the Pereirão in the Laranjeiras neighbourhood in the southern and wealthy area of the city of Rio de Janeiro.
You will be welcomed by a three-dimensional blast of bright colours in all shapes and forms, which spread the love and positive vibrations of the group responsible for it.
International messages of hope and faith, inspirational phrases written, painted, carved and shaped on different kinds of recycled or raw materials.
Your emotions have been addressed; they want you to feel at home.
What you will find yourself staring at is a 450-square-metre model of the favela that has grown exponentially during the twenty-one years of its existence.
You will follow the cable car made from cans running to the Praça Americo Brum, in the Morro da Providencia, another favela in another part of the city.
Yes – because in the model you will find the micro-world of a Brazilian slum, as well as the macro-world represented, with many of its icons.
And a few lessons for the world to learn concerning openness and being non-judgemental.
A warm welcome will embrace you and it won’t leave you until you depart.
Your senses will be kidnapped and taken for a 360-degree ride and experience. At first you will see colours, then your gaze will land somewhere and get lost in the myriad of fine details and characters that populate the model.
Here it is allowed, and even suggested, to look inside the houses. This is not the ‘human zoo’ of another favela tour. Here you are invited to kindly put yourself in their shoes and walk the streets of their land so that you can find the humans and their lives, not just ideas and preconceptions.
You need to get lost in the little paths that will squeeze you between the houses made of bricks. Each brick is a house, and sometimes a whole three-floor building.
“This is an artistic and social revolution”, in the words of Cirlan, founder and director of the project.
I add that this is a proud shout of hope and love for life.
One of my favourite phrases of the installation, and motto of the projects is: “Eu trafico Arte”.
The phrase that means “I traffic Art”, makes a clear joke with the stigma that the favelas and their inhabitants carry within: that there are only drug gangs living there and the only activity is drug trafficking.
This place is a lively space of hope and creativity, proactive solutions, and self-empowerment, and it is all led by youth and grassroots solidarity, collective work and inspiring ideas.
If you decide to travel to Rio de Janeiro, you should add the Morrinho to your list of places to visit, because if you have only visited Copacabana and the Sugar Loft, you are missing out on the vibrant colours of real life, with its contradictions and its contagious sparkles of hope.