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Community Post: How an Informal Post Office Connects Rio's Slums


This post is also available in: Hungarian, Farsi, Portuguese

Five years after the implementation of the Pacifying Police Unit – a law enforcement program aimed at reclaiming territories controlled by gangs - many utilities and services in Rio de Janeiro still have difficulty operating in the city's slums. This is the case of the Post Office, which fails to deliver mail in the streets and alleys of Rio hills. According to the Rio de Janeiro Post Office, the reason for this is a lack of "signposts and ordered numbering, and overall conditions of access." To overcome this shortage, slum dwellers have created informal organizations such as the "Community Post", which works in the Vidigal neighborhood.

Mail Community was created in 1997 by four friends who wanted to do something good for Vidigal's slums and at the same time generate employment. "We had seen services like this in the Itanhangá neighborhood. We saw how the project worked there and decided to launch something similar in Vidigal," says Edson Pepper, one of the founders of the program. "We decided to go from house to house in Vidigial to announce our service and earn the confidence of the owner." For two months, Mail Community offered free delivery to earn the trust of the locals and get them used to the service.

According to the Post Office, only 45 locations in Vidigal receive mail. For slum residents, mail is available in a van parked outside the slum's boundaries. The Post Office states that residents can collect their mail from 9:00 to 16:00 during weekdays and 9:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays, though Pepper disputes the accuracy of these hours of availability. Additionally, many residents go out to work before the arrival of the van and come back once it has gone.

According to the 2010 Census, Vidigal has 3,360 households. Mail Community works in areas the Post Office does not serve, delivering mail to 1,300 homes and 5,000 families. When Mail Community began delivering in the neighborhood, they also started mapping the streets, numbering the houses and matching house locations with the names of each resident. Each house that joins Mail Community pays R$7.00 (US$3) per month, which means each of the six people working on mail delivery gets paid around R$1,000 (US$430)each month. Galdino Wilson, one of the project's postmen, has been making deliveries for the service for the last seven years and managed to buy his own home thanks to this salary.

"Our work has a lot of credibility with the residents," says Pepper, "and we've always had support from the Association of Residents and its President." Pepper and the employees of Mail Community see their work primarily as a service to the community, however, Vidigal's social makeup is changing. The slum and surrounding areas are formalizing, becoming more middle class and international. "I have delivered mail from Austria," says a surprised Pepper. "I do this work for my community, but if the profile of the slum continues to change, this work may no longer make sense to me."

This article is by Thathiana Gurgel and originally appeared in Portuguese on Viva Favela