Brazil 2014 Week 1: Pets, panels and “pillow cheese”

Olá from Brazil- our first blog post is finally up! We’ve had a busy two weeks here in São Paulo; here’s the story of the first!

finding our feet

After a long flight, the team arrived in Brazil on Tuesday 5th of August and headed straight to the TETO office for a meeting with Denis Pacheco, the director of construction for TETO Brazil. Despite stumbling our way through our first meeting, speaking a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and English (Sporglish?), we were already getting a much clearer idea of how EcoHouse can help most effectively here in Brazil. We all agreed that making the house last longer was a big priority. Admittedly, there were a few confusing moments- when discussing the wooden foundations of the house, our ideas about the piles got lost in translation, and I managed to convince Denis I had haemorrhoids (thanks google translate!). Imaginary health problems aside, in our first few meetings we found out a lot of useful information!

Wooden piles are used as foundations for the TETO houses- “pilotes” in Portuguese, or “pillow cheese” as Jonny likes to call them. These piles start to rot very quickly, so Izhan has been researching various methods of coating the piles to protect them. We hope to be able to test these out soon!

mezzanine design

The EcoHouse-TETO redesign with the mezzanine floor was due to be built this summer for the first time in Brazil, but has been delayed until October. We’re all really disappointed not to be building the mezzanine house this summer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it! The design currently costs TETO 4000 Brazilian Reals to build (about £1000), a price which has to be slashed by 1000 Reals before the design can be built on a large scale. We’ve been looking into the manufacturing and materials to try and reduce the cost.

meeting the communities: esmerelda and snowflake

At the weekend we had our first glimpse of the favelas. On Saturday morning we arrived bright and early at Anita Garibaldi, a favela in Guarulhos on the outskirts of São Paulo. We walked through the quiet streets in our TETO shirts- our new shirts were significantly cleaner than the ones sported by the other volunteers… an indicator of what was to come! Though there were only a few people about, most people we passed recognised the familiar logo- one woman said “It’s the boys with the houses!”. I began to understand the scale of TETO’s work and the strength of their relationship with the entire favela, not just those for whom they build houses.

We spent the day carrying the house materials around the favela to the plots where the houses were to be built the following weekend. It was hard work, especially given that many of the plots could only be accessed by crossing thin, makeshift bridges over streams of sewage. At the end of the day, we were rewarded with a hearty meal of rice and beans, cooked by Fia, one of the people receiving a TETO house. Fia’s house, like many of her neighbours, is made from thin wooden boards nailed together, a concreted floor and a corrugated tin roof. Inside there is one room for the whole family, partly partitioned off in places with makeshift walls. Her children introduced us to their cat, Esmerelda, and their pet mouse, Snowflake, who had found a way to peacefully coexist.

On Sunday we visited the favela Jardim Marivilha, moving the panels in the baking heat. The streets were buzzing! The favela’s samba group practised next to the TETO truck as we hauled off the panels. Brazilian Funk music blared from cars with huge speaker systems installed in the boot, and endless fireworks were let off in celebration of the football final being played on their pitch that afternoon. Working together with the families, we dragged panels through tiny alleyways, trying to negotiate our way around sharp corners and understand shouts of “pare!” and “vai!”.

Clockwise from top right: At Jardim Marivilha (JM) TETO volunteers unload panels; The football final at JM; The EcoHouse team take a break to eat avocado, guava and mango ice lollies

The lack of sanitation in the favelas was, for us, one of the most saddening things to see. Open sewage flows down the same streets in which the children play, often bare foot. TETO carry out surveys of families interested in working with them to receive a house. 14% of those surveyed said that their houses regularly flood with sewage when it rains*. We hope to play a small part in helping TETO to improve these conditions.

Look out for more blogs from the Brazil team over the next few days! Over and out.

– Roberta Wilkinson

*This statistic was originally misquoted as 18%. Corrected on 04/08/2014.