One of my best friends in Rocinha is Lino dos Santos Filho. He is a 63 years old retired guy who was born and raised in Rocinha. He is one of the changemakers in the comunity.
So, the story goes back some years ago he was teaching art to the kids in the Valao, which is one of the poorer areas of the favela. His goal was through art and expression that children could find an outlet from all the negative things in their life.
One day while walking outside the favela, he saw a building on fire and heard some noises. He went to check it out and there was a person inside this building who could not get out. So, Lino went in the building and dragged the guy out. Another person who came a little later was able to call for the ambulance to take the injured guy to the hospital. Lino left thinking that his job was done. Some years later the person who happened to be a doctor, who he saved was able to get in contact with Lino and they exchanged letters.
After a while, sad news came to Lino that the doctor had passed away. The family of the doctor came looking for Lino to thank him for his good deed. They eventually met and the family bought a house for Lino outside of the favela in Jacarepagua, which is about one hour bus ride from Rocinha. Lino lives in Jacarepagua but every day, except Sunday he is in Rocinha. From 10 in the morning to 10 at night his life is Rocinha! I thought I was the only one who loves Rocinha..
To this day “Tio” Lino is still teaching his art classes to the kids in the Valao. He has “saved” about 60 kids from joining the drug gangs or a life of negativity. People in the Valao respect Tio Lino and for some he is like a father figure.
To me, this guy is one of the real heros of the neighborhood. About 3 days a week, after my work, I go to his art studio to help out. I do not go to teach, but just to be there if any of the kids need help. The other day, one kid just wanted me to walk him home. No problem, what many of these kids need is just somebody who will listen to them and not judge.
Recently the kids are always asking about my tattoos. Understood that kids are curios about what they mean. So, now they all want tattoos. Of course they can not have a real tattoo until they are 18, so now the popular thing is they have my paint a design on them. And I do! It is in water color paints so their parents do not get angry with me. They are happy as I am able to do a small thing that means so much to them.
When I have visitors, I bring them by the studio to show the influence he has in creating a positive environment for the kids. Outsiders need to know that people like Tio Lino exist in favelas.
The other day I saw Tio scold a kid who was carrying a toy gun. He would not let that kid enter his art studio with that toy. I saw him point at that kid and say “you can not come in here with that!” The boy looked confused and went on his way. Later Tio explained to me that kids in favelas need to learn that seeing armed men in the comunity is not normal and should not be accepted like it is. On the wall of the studio his saying is “Troque uma arma por um pincel” which means “Exchange a gun for a paintbrush”.
In febuary a documentry filmaker is coming to Rocinha to film about my life here in Rocinha, but I have decided that I do not want this film to be about me but people in the favela, like Tio Lino who are making a difference! I have a list of about 15 people in the comunity who I know very well who are really making an impact here in Rocinha.
Having people like Tio as my friend, makes my work all the more valuable.