Notes from the South on a Global Pandemic: Challenges and Resiliences

Updated: Apr 14

I would rather be writing a postcard on another subject related to Brazil and my work; I would rather be telling you about the beautiful reception by our networks of the selection call for the 10 artists who will take part of the residency-training that we initially proposed for May to July of 2020, in the context of the work of the Brazilian GlobalGRACE package (WP3), under the name of “Constructing Masculinities Otherwise”; I would rather speak about my excitement and enthusiasm to meet once again the other GlobalGRACE teams in the context of the proposed PCE in the Philippines. It turns out that all of our previous plans and actions were suspended in view of the pandemic of the new coronavirus on Earth, which started in China, which victimized thousands of Italians, and arrived in Brazil and changed our routine in a sweeping way over the last couple of weeks. I, in particular, received the arrival of the virus and its imperatives with great suspicion. It took me a few days to understand that, in fact, we would need to demobilize practically all of the work on site at the Observatório de Favelas. It is difficult to imagine our headquarters closed and with no forecast of reopening. We have a policy of not closing our doors, not even on days of police operations in Maré, days that normally bring to the fore the practices of a genocidal, irresponsible State that takes it upon itself to kill, having elected favelas and peripheries, and its residents, as targets of a policy public of (in)security. As soon as we made the decision that to interrupt the regular functioning of the three spaces that we occupy was the first way of responsibly facing the advancement of coronavirus in Brazil, we consolidated a communication campaign designed to produce quality and trustworthy information for residents of favelas and peripheries to connect better with the issue and have more inputs to act towards prevention. This action came about as a result of two diagnoses. The first concerns the fact that there are already numerous organizations, collectives, and people engaged in denouncing a wide range of expressions of inequality when it comes to the urgency of facing the coronavirus in favelas and peripheral territories. This urgent and necessary work publicly reinforces that it is, indeed, necessary to talk about the ways of predicting contamination, but that one cannot forget that many, many territories have lived without running water and basic sanitation for months (and years!); that without school, many children do not have access to food; that many self-employed workers who live in favelas cannot simply stop searching for their families' livelihoods and do the recommended physical distancing; that employers need to release domestic workers so that they can stop moving around the city and stay at home, with the peace of mind that they will continue to receive remuneration; that in many favelas and peripheries large families live in tiny and often insalubrious houses, etc. Unfortunately, it is still very important to report all of this so that it is not naturalized that the virus will spread less if people keep to regular hand washing (that can be replaced by alcohol gel – which I don't know about in the rest of the world, but here, it's expensive and scarce!), their houses sanitized and ventilated, and doing physical distancing. For all of these points are privileges around here. The second diagnosis that moved us towards our action was the conviction that inequality is also expressed in the way hegemonic communication is carried out and which languages ​​and narratives are privileged by it. Therefore, it is necessary, in our view, to adapt information to diverse audiences and territories, increasing the possibilities of the public to feel comfortable in contact with the contents and forms produced, and, moreover, imbricated in the action – subjects with sufficient inputs to be agents of what needs to be done at this time. In these ways, we began our journey that continues without a prescribed end date. Since March 19th, the campaign “Como se proteger do coronavírus” (“How to protect yourself from the coronavirus”) produced by us at the Observatório de Favelas has been on the air, with the aim of producing a simple communication campaign, with affect, especially for residents of favelas and peripheries to receive through their WhatsApp (the main social network of favelas and peripheries). How have we done this? A Working Group of about ten people meet with specialists every day to think about how to tackle the coronavirus from the perspective of, and for, favelas and peripheries and their residents. In dialogue with these people, we seek to look at this moment, its challenges and possibilities for overcoming them, starting from this territorial perspective of specific subjects, and, from there, we create content so that the information reaches them mainly by means of memes and audio messages. In these materials, we think about ways to live this time, given the limitations and potential of favela and peripheral territories, and look for alternatives so that, even in the face of so many adversities, the virus can be faced by the poorest of Brazil´s population. Since its inception, we have discussed thus far the following topics: “hand washing”, “necessary displacements”, “reasons for not leaving home”, “alternatives for home care”, “the elderly”, “children”, “food and nourishment”, and “mental health". Here, along with a certain degree of fear and despair of the coronavirus reaching the favelas and peripheries, we are driven by the capacity for collective creation of ways of raising awareness and coping and being relentless in the search for alternatives that guarantee possibilities for favela and peripheral residents to be protagonists in this process, and, also, for public strategies to demand a public policy, albeit latecoming and limited, to responsabilize the State for ways of assisting people and territories vulnerabilized by a series of institutional violences that structure our realities. Some campaign materials:


Access all of the materials produced here.

Written by Isabela Souza (isabela@observatoriodefavelas.org.br) Translation by Andréa Gill

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