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When most outsiders look at Complexo Do Alemao, a sprawling favela in Rio de Janeiro, they see a hodgepodge of shacks in shambles, a community that is lacking. But Mariluce sees something different.

As she rides in the gondola that soars over the 14 communities that make up Complexo Do Alemão, Mariluce envisions the metal roofs, tightly packed together, as a series of feelings. She sees soft edges and overlapping lines. She feels the joy, lightness, struggle, and excitement radiating from each of them. Most of all, she feels color. And with these feelings in mind, she begins to paint.

“When I started painting, I couldn’t even draw a heart. But I would go up in the gondola, look down, and see an image of feelings that people were not able to see. So I started painting. My lines were not straight yet, but favelas are like that”

One day on her way to the gondola lift, Mariluce was approached by a young girl who asked her if she would teach her to paint. Mariluce held her hands to aid her brushstrokes until the girl felt comfortable painting on her own. The next day, Mariluce showed up to the gondola lift to find 20 young children, all eager to learn how to paint. Mariluce obliged, teaching them the only way she knew how: by putting all of their thoughts and feelings onto the page.

A German tourist noticed the gaggle of children and approached them, asking if she could buy one of the young artist’s work to take home as a memento of her trip to the favelas. Mariluce, with the painter’s permission, obliged. Soon, the German tourist messaged Mariluce a photo of the young artist’s masterpiece back in Germany. The exchange gave Mariluce an idea: She could continue to teach art to children in her community as a tool for empowerment, education, and self-expression.

So Mariluce and her husband founded The Favela Art Project. A few days every week, the two of them gather together groups of children from all around Complexo Do Alemão to teach them how to paint, supplementing their in-person classes with links to YouTube painting tutorials. To preserve data, she downloads the videos when she’s connected to WiFi, then screens them offline during lessons to help students master new painting techniques.

After they paint, Mariluce uses her Android (Go Edition) smartphone as a bridge between her students and tourists in the favela, photographing their art and posting it on social media to showcase the talent and creativity within the favelas. From her page, patrons from around the world can purchase the children’s art, yielding meaningful sums for their families. And then, crucially, Mariluce encourages everyone who buys one of her students’ paintings to post a picture with the piece, wherever they happen to be. She sees each of these pictures as an opportunity to teach her students about somewhere different, and a digital reminder that they have a meaningful connection with the world outside the favela.

“I wasn’t teaching them just how to paint, I was teaching them not to fight with the friend by their side, to obey parents and teachers, to be responsible with their possessions, their paint brushes.”

What began as an arts-specific initiative, soon transformed into a broader educational mission. She and her husband began helping her students’ families obtain paperwork for their children to attend full-time schools, then helped them register for the schools from their smartphones.

A photo of Mariluce. She sits at a table showcasing the colorful art of her students from the favelas.
Mariluce shows off the talent and creativity of people living in favelas across Brazil.

Since founding The Favela Art Project, Mariluce’s efforts have created educational opportunities for over 2,000 children. As long as people keep tuning in, Mariluce plans to continue using her online platform to forge connections with the outside world, to uplift and educate her community, and to share images of the beauty that she sees all around her.

How Mariluce does it.

Files by Google.

In her work with The Favela Art Project, Mariluce uses videos to supplement her painting lessons. She downloads the videos for offline viewing when she’s on WiFi to preserve data and avoid inevitable cell-service outages, then screens them for her students during lessons to help them master new painting techniques.

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