Alan’s neighbourhood, Complexo do Alemao (The German’s complex) began in the 1950s, when people began setting up informal houses to be close to a local leather factory. The neighbourhood grew quickly, and now comprises 15 different communities with 70,000 official residents (although true figures are likely much higher).
It is now one of Rio de Janeiro’s most deprived favelas. 40% of its residents live on less than half a minimum wage (US$128) a month, almost 1 in 10 households have four or more people per bedroom, and almost 1 in 12 people over the age of 15 is illiterate.
Because of its central location and difficult access, Complexo do Alemão has long been a key point for the drug wars that have affected Rio de Janeiro since the 1980s. It has seen decades of extreme violence.
When the government announced a plan to pacify Rio’s favelas in 2008, there was hope that the situation would improve. In 2010, amazing footage of drug dealers escaping Complexo do Alemao through the forests was broadcast nationwide, and people started to believe that real change was possible.
Sadly, Complexo do Alemao was the beginning of the end for the pacification police. They never truly got control of the sprawling favela, one of the biggest in Rio. In 2015, there were shootouts on 100 consecutive days in the favela and last year residents reported 259 shootouts in the area, with some of them lasting many hours.
The rate of police killings in Complexo do Alemao is higher than the murder rate for most ENTIRE countries. By any measurement or definition, the area is a war zone.
Whether involved directly in the armed conflict or not this is a situation that affects all the residents, old and young. Their lives are affected and restricted in multiple ways and they run the risk of injury or death every day, even when taking refuge in their own homes.
Perhaps even more important than this however, is that young people in the community are starved of opportunities. That is why initiatives like Abraço Campeão can make such a huge difference.