Archive for January, 2012

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” ~Confucius

The Favelas of Rio De Janeiro are safe. I have witnessed or heard of countless stories of armed robberies here in Rio De Janeiro. All of them occurred in the established parts of the city, such as Copacabana or Lapa. I have never once witnessed or heard a story of an individual being robbed in a favela. Every time I go out for drinks in Lapa, I hide my money in my shoe and I rarely take out my cell phone. This is not paranoia. Twice, I have been the victim of an attempted robbery. When I return to the favela I take that put that money back in my wallet and I use my phone, carefree. Yet every news article I read portrays the favela as a dangerous place where one must watch their step. Every tourist I overhear describes the favela as a mythical and dangerous no-man’s land. I now understand that these myths are exactly that: myths.

My favorite part about bringing people to play paintball in the favela of Santa Marta is that I don’t need to lecture them in how the favela is safe. They see it for themselves. They experience the safety and warmth of these communities through interacting with the community members who come and watch. Previous perceptions of what these places are like, disappear, only to be replaced by the understanding that comes from doing.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to host 28 of the new exchange students from my former university, PUC, at our paintball field. For the vast majority of these students, it was their first time stepping into a favela. It is a true perk of my job to see all these young minds developing a perception of a place that is so far from that they receive from the news and even universities. One of the students even wrote this status update on his Facebook:

“Today was incredible!!!!!! We got out of class at 1 and then I ran home to grab my gear and change. I then headed off to the Botafogo metro station to meet my friends and head up there. My friends ended up choosing a new meeting point and went up without me but it was all good, life is good 🙂 I went to Santa Marta (the 1st pacified favela) but had to go up to meet my friends by myself. I walked up the favela by myself and it was really sketch. I asked this group of guys where to go and they each kept giving me different directions and saying how there was better than the other friends. I was sure they were setting me up to get robbed so my eyes were everywhere on my head… I kept walking and got really lost and stopped again to ask for directions and again, got the same type of response. “They are for sure setting me up.” I thought to myself as I walked deeper and deeper into this favela. About 15 min had passed and I found myself at this large netted place with all of my friends yelling, “Broc!” I made it!!!! Favela paintball!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $R25 to play for unlimited time with 50 paintballs and $R8 for every 50 paintballs after that ($1-$R1.8 so it was really cheap). The place was dope, super low-key but insanely cool! There was a cave and all kinds of great things. I can’t even explain how cool this place was. We are definitely going back to do it again. We left and went back down to Botafogo and had a few beers. I love Brasil.”

Of course the favelas were not always this safe. If you read Michael Wolff’s most recent blog post,, you will hear incredible stories of the violence and gang warfare that was endemic to Santa Marta, where our paintball field is located. Luckily, Santa Marta has escaped this past and is now a safe and vibrant community where children can finally walk around without fear of being struck by a stray bullet.


Favela Hipster

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” – Wayne Dyer

I always knew that Favela Paintball would be a controversial issue. Many people reject the idea of bringing paintball guns into a place that had so recently been plagued by armed gangs. Many people believe that we are running around the streets playing paintball without any rules or regulations, imitating the drug wars of previous years. In truth, Off The Track Rio is actually a part of the community. My business partner, Andre Nascimento, grew up in a very dangerous favela in the northern parts of the city and moved to Santa Marta 10 years ago when he married his wife, Angelica. They now live in a one bedroom apartment with their two children. Andre’s passion is paintball and he decided to bring that to his community. Favela Paintball has nothing to do with imitating gang wars or reminding people of the specter of violence that once haunted them. In fact, most of the people who have played at our field have been people from the community, all of whom play at a steep discount. I have never once, in the many conversations I have had with the residents of Santa Marta, heard any whisper of resentment or dissatisfaction with Favela Paintball. The arguments that I have heard against Favela Paintball, that it is disrespectful to residents and that it is culturally insensitive, have actually come from people living outside the favela, many of whom have never visited the favela.

The amount of ignorance (an ignorance that I once held) that I have encountered when discussing the favela has been astounding. The experience of the favela is essential to really knowing what a favela truly is. One must actually go and really feel the favela, its vibrant sounds and pungent smells, in order to understand what these unique places really mean. The reports you hear on the news or the articles you read in papers that describe the favela with words such as shanty town or slum, give the impression that all residents of the favela are miserable and constantly looking to escape. This is simply not true. The ignorance of those who have never visited a favela is understandable due to the fact that knowledge of the favelas is usually disseminated by news agencies, institutions that have an incentive to portray poorer neighborhoods as dangerous and wild. There is a certain type of ignorance, however, that I find inexcusable: willful ignorance.

I was unfortunate enough to experience this ignorance face-to-face yesterday. For the past couple weeks, I have been going to the many hostels here in Rio to invite everyone who works at the hostel to play for free in order to actually experience what we are doing, in hopes that they might pass on their enthusiasm to their guests. Yesterday, I visited a hostel here in Rio. I was explaining to a receptionist, his third day on the job, what we were doing and he was very enthusiastic about the idea. I turned to the receptionist who was training him and asked if he was free this Thursday to come play for free.

He responded with a stern retort in Portuguese: “Honestly, I don’t agree with the idea of playing paintball in a favela. Politically, I don’t find it morally acceptable.”

Always interested in another view-point, I asked, as friendly as possible, “Why don’t you agree with Favela Paintball? I promise you that it is not what you think.”

He angrily replied: “Eu não quero discutir isso mais!” (I do not want to talk about this anymore).

I relented, realizing that my presence was not welcome anymore and went on my way.

After leaving, I could not shake the feeling that somehow I had handled the situation poorly. If only there was some way to show him how what we are doing is not only educational and fun for travelers, but can be positive for the community living there, the people who I assume that he thought he was standing up for by his moral indignation. In reality, there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He had taken the moral high ground and that was it. His mind was an impenetrable steel box. My only hope is that the person he was training will come this thursday for our free game and come back with stories about how awesome Favela Paintball actually is.

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What happens when you get injured or sick in a favela that has no road access? How can you get immediate medical care if there is no hospital or emergency room in the favela? These questions has been one of the main obstacles facing residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas ever since the first migrants starting setting up their shacks on the steep hillsides of this amazing city.

Last week I experienced what is a daily reality for the residents of the favela of Santa Marta when my friend sprained his ankle playing paintball in the favela. My friend, Jay, had been in a motorcycle accident several months prior to the game and as he was running to evade a determined paintball, he tripped and awoke the older wound. He could not walk on the injured leg and I could tell from the look on his face that he needed immediate medical assistance. I quickly sized up our options. The favela of Santa Marta is spread out over a hill with a very steep incline and the favela lacks a road. Our paintball field sits about half way up the entire favela. Everything must be either carried, by hand, up the byzantine alley ways that extend throughout the favela or taken on an excruciatingly slow elevator that runs along the opposite side from where our paintball field is. The elevator was not an option because we would have to go up hill to reach it. Our only option was to put Jay on my back and walk down the stairs all the way to the plaza where we could hail a taxi, which could take him to the hospital. That is what we did. Our walk down the favela provided great entertainment to the people of Santa Marta as they watched one large and blond foreigner attempt to give a piggy back ride to another foreigner. I took Jay to the hospital which was a couple miles away where he received customarily slow treatment from the Brazilian emergency room.

Proper infrastructure is incredibly important to a community’s development and prosperity. Most of the people living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro do not have access to a utility that most of us in the west take for granted. My friend and I are two health young men and we could handle the descent. Imagine if it was instead an old grandmother suffering from a heart attack or stroke. She would have no chance to get the medical assistance that is needed. It was a humbling experience to get a small taste of what it means to live in the favela.