The people of one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighbourhoods are hoping that a gold medal win by one of their own will help remove the stigma they face daily.
Rio’s ‘City of God’ favela – or shantytown – has already found fame through a novel, then a film, about its crime-ridden streets, but now its residents hope Rafaela Silva’s getting host country Brazil’s first gold medal will change perceptions.
Hoje o dia amanheceu dourado! 🏅🏽 https://t.co/8tOw6K2Arc— Rafaela Silva (@Rafaelasilvaa) August 9, 2016
When she won her judo match on the streets they shouted that the gold was for all of them, some rare good news about someone from the favelas.
Her father Luiz Carlos de Rosario Silva explained why there is so much pride in her achievement: “I think the community is happy because she doesn’t hide where she comes from, some people hide their roots but she doesn’t, she never forgets where she came from. Everybody here likes it that she takes the name ‘City of God’ there with her. She does not live in the Barra (a rich Rio neighbourhood), she lives here, and I always taught her never to forget where she comes from.”
The City of God: home of Brazil's first gold of the Games https://t.co/S3PsXS6cPi— The Guardian (@guardian) August 9, 2016
Where Rafaela was born and brought up is just a few kilometres from the Olympic Park, but a world away.
Amid the poverty and violence that overshadow life there, locals say they see her as an inspiration for everyone.
A friend of Rafaela’s Alan Ramos said: “Just two weeks ago I said to her, you are going for gold now, there’s no other way, it is gold, at home! We won.”
Messages of violence and hope
The walls near where he spoke are spray painted with messages from the drugs traffickers that control many favelas. One from the dominant gang Red Command reads, “You’re being watched”.
But Tatiane Maiara, a friend of Rafaela’s who used to compete in judo matches with her, said her victory also sends a message: “Transformation. Yesterday I was talking to some boys here and they said: ‘My mother has told me several times to give up Judo but I won’t because I want something better for my life’. So, in a community where we don’t have a lot of opportunities, and also where the children often are not very keen on studying, sport transforms lives.”
Rafaela is a local hero, and people took to the streets in the favela to celebrate her gold medal win, but shortly afterwards they had to take cover from a gun battle between drug dealers and police, a reminder of the crime and other social problems that are an everyday part of life in ‘City of God’.