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The view from Mangueira: a snapshot of Brazil’s ‘Favelas’

Brian Wright O’Connor | 10/10/2013, 6 a.m.
Members of a youth soccer team in the Mangueira favela in Rio de Janeiro greet a visitor to their practice field. (Left to right) Marcelo da Silva Salles, Lucas Lopes Custodio, Isaac Lopes, Wellington Carolos, Bruno Nascimento and George Pereira. Photo courtesy of Erint Images

In an apparent concession to rising resentment, homicide investigators earlier this month charged 10 police officers with torture and murder in the disappearance of a Rocinha construction worker, a father of six whose family said he had no connection to drug trafficking.

In the “City of God” favela, where the foundation helps fund a computer training center, residents have voiced similar complaints about police impunity.

Though the boys on the Mangueira team appreciate their opportunity, it is unclear what long-term impact their training will have. One of the coaches describes a recent team trip animated by the sounds of “baile funk” playing from a boom-box — with lyrics exhorting violence against police as the bus rolled by a knot of pacification officers on a street corner.

“The boys stuck their hands out of the windows and aimed their index fingers at the cops,” he says. “And pulled the trigger.”

Philippe Houdard, an entrepreneur who sunk a decade of earnings from telecommunications work in Latin America into the Developing Minds Foundation, knows the odds are stacked against him. “But we can’t afford to sit back,” he says. “Too many generations have already been lost.”

Back on the soccer field, Marcelo and his teammates finish their warm ups. Cleats in day-glo colors flash in the dust as the boys settle into a scrimmage. A long ball from the outside back is headed from a central midfielder to an attacker already starting his run. He collects the ball at his feet, swerves around a defender and blasts a curling shot from the top of the box.

Marcelo propels his body right. Parallel to the ground, he parries the shot with an outstretched hand, pushing it just outside the chipped goal post. The game goes on.