The children of Rio’s favelas

[words and photographs by Mark Eveleigh]

Young men are sitting at a table by the dusty roadside. A bag is on the table but the flap is open and it is easy for the inquisitive eye to pick out the packages of white powder inside. I know that an inquisitive eye is not welcome here however so I quickly look the other way – but not before I notice a pistol lying in full view by the bag.

I have come here to cover the work of a French-Moroccan artist who is giving children an opportunity to escape from the tensions of life here by painting the breezeblock walls of one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas. I am well aware that without her my passage into Villa Pinheiro would not extend much further.

Under other circumstances this would be a war-zone but peace is normally preserved by the fact that the police simply refuse to set foot here. Apart from sporadic fire-fights, the drug gangs prefer to maintain an uneasy truce that allows them to get on with “business”. With the police and army moving in on the favelas with what they are calling “pacifying actions”, tensions here are higher than ever.

As I spend the afternoon photographing the kids and helping them paint, I realise that the lurid splashes on the bullet-pocked walls represent rare moments of colour in their young lives.

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