Youth Torn Between Gangs and the Government

Stories by Monte Reel, Washington Post Foreign Service | Photos by Fred Alves for The Washington Post


Brazil Portrait 1
Edilson Ferreira de Oliveira guides his daughter down a stairway in Rocinha.

When he steps out of the house, Edilson Ferreira de Oliveira reaches down to grab his 3-year-old daughter's hand. They begin walking over the winding sidewalks to a relative's house.

"I know this woman who moved here four months ago, and if she walks too far, she needs help finding her way home," he says, managing to smile and sound serious at the same time.

He has raised three daughters in this favela, and he says he's constantly trying to help them hone their senses of direction, in every sense of the term. The oldest is 11, and he encourages her to practice judo. If she lives a clean life, he tells her, she may make it to the Pan-American Games. Another daughter is 7, and he dreams that she'll become a great dancer. He recently enrolled her in classes.

"Every day I go to work and see so many girls lost in life, hanging around in bad company," he says. "I think of my daughters every time I see them. I always try to make sure my girls have something to do, something to keep them busy when they're not in school so that I always know where they are."

His 3-year-old hasn't picked her passion yet, but he's confident she will soon. He wants her to grow up with the same moral compass he believes he has implanted in his other daughters. He likes to tell people that his oldest daughter is learning to steer clear of trouble on her own -- she will immediately walk away from any crowd if someone lights a joint, he says.

As he and his youngest continue walking, a man sitting on a step near the sidewalk lights a joint. The smoker is eye-level with the little girl, who is approaching with her hand still firmly inside her father's. Just after the man exhales, the girl waddles through a dissipating mist of smoke.

It's hard to raise girls here, Oliveira says. But it's easier than raising boys. He had a son. His name was Gean, and he was shot dead when he was 13 years old during a police raid.

Oliveira holds onto his daughters hand, and they walk on. Next Story »

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