Casa Weekly

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sad News: Casa break-in

Dear Friends,

Unfortunately this time I'm writing with sad news to share: on Tuesday night, January 17th, the Casa was broken into here in Rio and our 7 computers for community access were destroyed. Two were taken outright, the other 5 were taken apart for pieces, gutted from the inside. Monitors remained standing, and keyboards, mouses, etc. But the actual hard drives were decimated.

The good news is no one was hurt, and the central computer where the contents of all our community groups and staff work is stored was in our upstairs office untouched. I have since brought that computer home, while we figure out next steps.

The truth is we knew security in the neighborhood where the Casa is located had been quickly deteriorating, with several break-ins in the recent past. The Catholic Church thought it was doing the neighborhood a favor by evacuating an entire block of residents to gut the houses and build a school, but in so doing they created a space of urban decay, a nighttime desert awaiting crime.

We had discussed as a staff what to do about this. We had decided we were ready to move to a more permanent location, and so our plan in 2006 was to develop partnerships with city government and local businesses to establish a permanent location with new equipment and more security.

We are now debating what to do next. Any suggestions from the Onet community would be warmly appreciated. Here are some of our concerns:

  1. We do not want to be long without working computers for the community leaders who depend on this space and these computers for their outreach and communications efforts.
  2. We do not want to be at risk again.
  3. We believe it is time to move to a more permanent location.
  4. We would like to involve other NGOs in the new space, creating a joint Casa that supports NGO and community initiatives throughout the city.
We are sending a letter to our local partners in Rio looking for short-term support with computer donations/loans, security, and leads on spaces.

We would LOVE your ideas!!! How can we transform this situation!?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

CIACAC gets a bank account

I arrived back at the Casa last week after nearly three months away and was greeted with the smiling face of Neuza Nascimento, a community leader I often talk about during visits across the US and elsewhere in the world.

Some six years ago Neuza began her community program A Look Onto Other Things, when her then nine year-old son came to her one weekend asking to go to a baile funk, the infamous ´funk balls´ -- parties in the favelas (Rio´s squatter communities) organized by the drug traffickers and involving illicit activities including drugs, sex, and violence. Shocked at her son´s early request, Neuza asked him ´why would you want to go to a funk ball?´ to which her son answered, intelligently, ´well, what else do you recommend I do around here, mom?´

Neuza gave it some thought and, realizing there were essentially no leisure activities in her community, Parada de Lucas, for her son to participate in, she offerred to take him and some friends for a field trip that weekend. The boys put on their school uniforms to get on the bus for free, and Neuza took them out the following morning...

And her life hasn´t been the same since.

A week later the boys were back for more: ´Tia, Tia! Take us again!´

Now, six years later, Neuza´s fledgling field trips program has grown to a regular activity for 60-100 children from her community, counting on other mothers to lend a hand, local businesses to provide meals, and city facilities to provide free tickets to events ranging from the Planetarium and the Circus to the Theatre and the park.

A couple of years ago Neuza walked into the Casa on a typical day, frustrated that her project was not moving forward, that she was having trouble getting investors for her community iniatitive.

As a result of that visit to the Casa, Neuza met Moreno, the head of the Happy Ending project, another community initiative that works with youth in a Rio community by that name. Moreno overheard Neuza talking about giving up on her community initiative, and came over to hear more. Inspired by all Neuza had accomplished to that point, and upset at the roadblocks she was suffering, Moreno insisted Neuza meet a contact of his at a local foundation called FASE, someone he insisted would be as impressed as he had been by Neuza, and want to help her.

Before we knew it, Neuza had met with an official at FASE, together with Moreno, who had agreed to provide her with the start-up capital she needed: approximately US$500 to legalize her community efforts so as to be able to apply for formal funding.

Now, what was new when I returned to the Casa last week and sat down to catch up with Neuza? A sad and frustrating story awaited me, one that left me in awe of both how our work can be used to support community efforts, and a clear illustration of the sad world we are working to change...

Following FASE´s support to Neuza´s organization, CIACAC, in late 2003, Neuza spent much of 2004 and some of 2005 tackling the Brazilian bureaucracy and establishing CIACAC as a legal organization. Then, in the second half of 2005 she had spent month after month paying visits to the bank in order to open CIACAC´s bank account. Only with its account would the organization be able to (finally!) receive donations.

After all these months of hurdles, reaching this final step, Neuza was told why it was taking so long. Officials at the bank turned to her and said ´We´re sorry, but the address you have given us is in the favela. We must pay a site visit in order to open accounts at our bank, and we are not going to visit the address you have given us. For it is in the favela

Neuza, flabergasted, did not know what to say. She said ´but I can confirm that this project really exists without you having to visit it... there is a web site where our work is described!´ Neuza then gave the bank official the website address:, CatComm´s Portuguese site address, and pointed them to her project. ´Oh, OK!´ the officials said, before scurrying off to check the address, confirm the project, and print out the relevant information.

CIACAC´s bank account was opened, after months of attempts, on this very afternoon.