Brazil 2014 Week 4: The Village of New Hope

Week 4:  We started the week by watching the film “City of God” with some of the TETO directors…. perhaps it wasn’t the best decision! Once we’d got over the nightmares, we got down to another week’s work.


Let theRE be light….?





In a meeting with TETO’s legal director, we heard about the difficulties surrounding TETO helping families in the favelas with basic services, like electricity. There is rarely a formal electricity infrastructure, so the communities often use illegal connections (called “gato”). The favela Vila Nova Esperança (you’ll hear about it later!) has been around for about 60 years and is only just managing to get an official electricity supply!  When we first visited the community the lights in the houses were flickering constantly and we heard complaints of broken fridges which simply couldn’t cope with the varying supply. The families we spoke to were looking forward to being able to pay for their legal (and hopefully therefore more constant) supply.

In many communities, the residents wire up their houses themselves, which can sometimes be quite dangerous if people are inexperienced- I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to wire up an entire house safely! When we visited Anita Garibaldi, there had been 2 electrical fires on one street in the past week. It’s difficult for TETO to help with situation without running in to legal problems. If TETO help the family to wire the house, could they be seen to be encouraging them to steal the electricity? Or could TETO be blamed for an electrical fire? The more we get to know about TETO, the more we understand the complexities of the world in which they work.

This week we also learnt about TETO Brazil undertaking an ambitious project with a community in the state of Parana. In this particular community the land is legal, so TETO may be able to help build more permanent housing there-  “progressive” housing, which would be designed to last about 15 or 20 years. This is a very new area for TETO Brazil, and the project is in its very early stages- but we’re excited to try and help them get it off the ground!


Plastic fantastic

Plastic fantastic

On Thursday Becky and Karolina got up before the crack of dawn to visit to the University Of São Paulo’s “Semana de Engineria Civil” (“Civil Engineering week”)- a programme of talks and activities organised by a group of students, which EcoHouse will hopefully take part in next year! They met lecturer and researcher Javier Mazariegos Pablos, who has a number of patents for developing innovative, sustainable building materials. A lot of his work involves reusing waste materials. For example, he showed the team his replacement for cement wall tiles- a plastic board, about a centimetre thick, made from a mixture of a waste plastic, vegetable resin and coconut fibres! This sounded more like a snack to me, but apparently it was a durable, UV and water resistant material.

Vila Nova Esparança- Village of New Hope

After pestering TETO volunteers to help us translate the words for 5 different types of toilet and me getting really confused with how to make the questions work in a fancy online programme, we finally got to start doing our surveys! One aim of the survey is to understand the technical problems with the houses- does the roof leak? Are there holes in the walls? (We hope not!) We also want to gain a better understanding of the people and communities we’re building for- what do the families want to change about their house? Do they have access to computers?


The view from the top of Vila

We kicked off the questions at the hill-top community of Vila Nova Esparança (or “Village of New Hope”). The first thing that strikes you about Vila is the amazing view over the surrounding nature reserve and the city. We’re told by Lucas, Vila’s TETO coordinator, that watching the sunset from the top of the favela is stunning.

We surveyed a couple of families in Vila, including two living in 2011 EcoHouse builds complete with drainage and bottle lights. The houses seemed to be holding up well- a job well done by our EcoHouse ancestors! You’ll hear more about the surveys in week the week 5 blog!

We briefly met Lia, Vila’s community leader, who was very busy with the various other activities going on in the community that Sunday! Vila is a particularly well organised and comparatively safe community, and there are quite a few different organisations working with them, as well as TETO- unlike other communities, there’s a fair amount about Vila Nova you can check out online and they’ve just won an award for their great work on their vegetable garden. One of their projects is with the IDIN (International Development Innovation Network) and MIT University, in which they’ve set up an “innovation centre” with a full time member of staff! The centre is a workshop with construction equipment, materials and a computer, available for anyone in the community to use. They had a couple of their creations out on display, including a greenhouse made of bottle lights, a surprisingly comfortable wooden chair and a solar water heater.

Sleepy time

Sleepy time

By the end of the week we were sun beaten and exhausted, our heads buzzing with the stories from the houses we’d surveyed and ideas to make them better. We slobbed in front of the TV, and, as is now tradition, Izhan and Becky fell asleep on the sofa…. 

That’s it for now from the Brazil team! Over and out.