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Community Leader Uses Social Media to Unite Residents of Vila Cruzeiro

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For the original article by Fania Rodrigues in Portuguese published in Brasil de Fato click here.

The idea seemed simple: to create a Facebook page to share information among residents of the community where she lives. The desire to help others led Cláudia Sacramento Mathias to create the Vila Cruzeiro RJ Facebook page, which now has over 23,000 Likes.

It really was simple. But what Cláudia didn’t anticipate was that this initiative would make such a difference to people living in Vila Cruzeiro, in the Penha neighborhood in North Zone.

The daughter of a domestic worker, Cláudia Sacramento Mathias had polio as a baby and still has difficulty walking today. Now, aged 46, she receives financial assistance from the government, something she only realized she was entitled to two years ago. The poverty she was living in meant that she lacked information on her most basic rights.

Even so, her physical limitations never paralyzed her. Today her aim is to keep informing and contributing to her community.

Daily struggle

The Vila Cruzeiro RJ Facebook page was created two years ago and since then residents go online to get daily information about security issues in the community and to help each other as well. Cláudia tells of how she stays up until the early hours of the morning giving information to workers who need to get home late at night.

“Normally I stay up until 2am sharing information. When there’s a shootout or another problem, such as power cuts, I go to bed later,” Cláudia says.

Whenever there is conflict in the Vila Cruzeiro favela she is the first source of information residents turn to. They go to the page to find out if they can get home safely. “Since the page was created there have been fewer cases of stray bullets [causing injury or death],” says the page administrator.

In addition to the Facebook page, the community also organizes using WhatsApp groups. Five groups, each formed of 100 people, share information in real time for the benefit of those who are making their way home while there’s conflict in the community. And all these people are in contact with Cláudia, who is now considered a community leader in Vila Cruzeiro.

Generosity

The Facebook page has been such a success that it now functions like a huge solidarity network. Cláudia tells of how a Vila Cruzeiro resident recently used the page to ask for help for her 11-year-old son who needed urgent psychological treatment. “So many people appeared on the page to offer help, it was really impressive,” she says.

Another resident, the mother of a 10-year-old child with a physical disability, needed a special mattress, food and diapers. “Her husband had left her and she couldn’t work as her child is very dependent on her. We posted about it on the Facebook page and managed to get her everything she needed,” Cláudia says with pride.

In a recent post on the page, Cláudia asked for help for the family of Rafael Braga Vieira. The young man was arrested during the protests of 2013 with a bottle of disinfectant in his bag, accused of carrying explosive materials. Now his mother and brothers, Vila Cruzeiro residents, are having financial difficulties and she is asking the community to donate food for the family.

Public service

The page is also used to share opportunities for jobs, professional training courses and internships for young apprentices and university students. Cultural initiatives are also announced on the page, such as the Teatro na Laje theater group and community parties.

Vila Cruzeiro’s history

The Vila Cruzeiro favela was formed in the 19th century and its first residents were escaped slaves who stayed in the area under the protection of an abolitionist priest from the local Penha Church. Even today the land on which the community stands is the property of the Catholic Church.