Rede Jovem (translated form Portuguese to “Youth Net”) is a Brazilian organization that is mapping Rio de Janeiro’s favelas through GPS-equipped mobile phones, wielded by young Cariocas. In the words of executive coordinator of the program”The main goal was to mark public interest spots on a map and show places like schools and institutions and hospitals and restaurants. We wanted to spread the news about what slums do have, so all the people can get to know that the slum is not just a place for violence and marginality and robbery.” Five major favelas are being mapped through this program: Complexo Alemão, Cidade de Deus, Pavão-Pavãozinho, Santa Marta and Complexo da Maré.
The project is an initiative from the NGO Comunitas. Running costs are extremely low due to the nature of the project. They asked five young women “wiki-reporters” (17-25) to participate and log the data for the maps. These woman were trained by leaders behind the project and as incentive they offered the woman who logged the most information a scholarship to study communication or journalism at a private university.
So far, much of these communities have been mapped through this initiative. The project is currently trying to expand by creating a mobile app for anyone to use. In this way, they will use crowdsourcing to compile more GPS information and map more favelas. The maps provide useful information about services available in specific favelas and also give a greater sense of legitimacy to residents, who call the favelas home. By asking for volunteers who live in these communities to do the mapping, they are taking advantage of local knowledge. The favelas, by nature, are informal and difficult to map. I know from experience, that for anyone not familiar with a particular favela, the streets can be mazes; almost impossible to navigate.
I am extremely impressed with the program. In a way, it is empowering residents by giving their communities legitimacy. By mapping the favelas, this organization is putting out a message saying that like the bairros (neighborhoods) of Rio, the favelas are legitimate spaces in the city. This project also makes development of infrastructure within these communities more possible. For now the costs are low. Connecting with residents with mobile phone could be difficult, as many residents have limited resources, but there do exist a number of favela residents who do possess this technology. After my time living in Rio and experiencing life in the favelas (I spent time in two of those being mapped) I am excited to see how this program progresses.