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ten years

Between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2005 I lived and worked in São Paulo and so coming back to Brazil is a homecoming of sorts for me. I have a real history here – there are people and places that I know and that know me.

São Paulo is one of the world’s biggest cities and it can be hard not to reach out for a string of cliched generalities to describe it. But when you’re talking about a city of over twenty million inhabitants in a country which has one of the biggest inequalities of income distribution in the world it is probably best just to stick to talking about what you know and the part of Brazil I know best is Eldorado.

Eldorado is a community on the southern outskirts of the city, on the very edge of the D of São Paulo’s ABCD peripheries. While the official city of São Paulo ends with the Metro lines and is home to a mere 10 million people or so the crazily dense urban sprawl doesn’t stop there. There is A is for Santo André, B for São Bernardo, C for São Caetano and D for Diadema. Diadema means crown and Eldorado, the fabled golden city of myth, is its hinterland, a double irony that is probably not lost on the community’s inhabitants.


… is one of the densest urban populations in the world and lacks most basic services.

My work in Eldorado between 2001 and 2005 was with children and teenagers and so coming back ten years later I am pretty sure that at least some things will have changed considerably. I am particularly keen to catch up with a group of twelve young people who took part in a photographic project I ran in 2004 called Searching for Eldorado. I manage to contact about half of the participants of this project and meet with three of them but in the course of my search I run into quite a few other familiar faces.

Dayana was one of the participants of Searching for Eldorado and she accompanied me to Porto Alegre to show photos from the project at the 2005 World Social Forum. I am super happy to discover that, in 2014, Dayana has graduated from university with a teaching degree and is working for a development NGO in central São Paulo. She also has two years of project work for UNICEF on her CV.

In 2004, Dayana told parts of her story here.

Welder was another participant of Searching for Eldorado. He meets me for afternoon tea with his four year old daughter.

Welder, with his sister, in 2004, taking photos for the project.

Tamires, another Searching for Eldorado participant, is now a professional dancer for a São Paulo contemporary dance company and has toured internationally. She is also a committed black rights activist.

Tamires, with her mother, in 2004.

Nicole wasn’t part of Searching for Eldorado but she spent a lot of time at ACER and I knew her well. She is now a mother of two young boys. Nicole works in central São Paulo but she manages to invest a day or two of her time helping me to track down some of the young people that I used to work with at ACER.

Nicole, in 2004, on a trip to the beach with a group of girls.

Emmelyn didn’t take part in the photo project either but she is very dear to my heart. She and Nicole spend a day escorting me around the community to visit people.

Emmelyn, in 2003, trying to ward off photos with a pair of scissors during a sewing workshop I ran.

Cris, with her four month old son.

Visiting the girls. Left to right: Emmelyn, Nicole, me, Cris and baby.

Sandra is another young woman whose welfare is very important to me. Sandra’s family has grown since I last visited.

Patrick, Sandra’s oldest at eleven years old, with the latest addition to the family.

Sandra, with Patrick, in 2003.

Tutu and Poca in 2014…

… and Tutu, playing gangster, in 2003. I’m pleased to see this boy still alive.

Some things change and some things stay the same. ACER (that would be CARF, Children at Risk Foundation, in English), the NGO where I used to work, has changed premises but the new building is only half a block from the old one.

Familiar faces. Left to right: Bettinho, Chulapa and Jonathan. Bettinho teaches African drumming and Afro-Brazilian culture, Chulapa is a capoeira master and youth worker, Jonathan is one of ACER’s founders and the current director. All have been working with ACER since before I first arrived in Brazil in 2001.

Chulapa and Jonathan in 2004.

Ordalina is my Brazilian mother – actually, Ordalina is probably everyone’s mother. She works in Eldorado at another NGO with historical links to ACER.

I thought my appearance would be a surprise to Ordanlina but when I arrive to visit her it is no coincidence that she is sporting an Australia t-shirt.

Ordalina is autodidactic artist and at around 70 years old still a tireless educator of the community’s young. She shows me the work of some of her students.

ACER’s mission is to promote community well-being by attending to the well-being of its children. Its programmes break entrenched inter-generational cycles of violence using a range of creative methods to model and teach new more positive ways of interacting.

In a community riven by entrenched violence and facing myriad social problems, fun and games…

…are a serious business…

…and their…


… is to model and teach more positive ways of relating.

Capoeira is traditional Brazilian combination of dance, acrobatics and martial art with roots in Brazil’s African slave communities. At ACER it is another way of encouraging positive social interactions.

Eldorado lacks basic facilities such as a public pool. ACER’s family support programme offers regular events that give people access to resources would be otherwise inaccessible to them – in this case a day out at a country house that is usually hired out for weddings and similar events.

When I see this girl with her sad-eyed baby for some reason I couldn’t help wondering if the young mother…

…is this girl that I photographed in 2003, sporting her incidental halo.

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