The place that is known for being one of the most dangerous in the third most populous metropolis of Brazil, is changing. Pedreira Prado Lopes – the first slum of Belo Horizonte, capital city of Minas Gerais State – famous for its drug dealing spots, is starting a new business. Pedreira Shopping Fair is a communitarian shopping mall aimed to give entrepreneurs an opportunity to thrive outside the criminal path.
Pastor Tiago Guedes, founder of Inconformados (non-conformists), a NGO created to help people at Pedreira and nearby communities, said that the organization gave lots of professional courses to people there but, even with a professional certificate, they seldom get any employment.
“There are still prejudice against Pedreira’s people”, says chef Aneliza Caetano. “They think we are all drug dealers.” Caetano, famous for her cheesecakes, gingerbreads and cakes, delivers her products to richer people in afluent neighbourhoods. “They are caught by surprise when I say I live at Pedreira Prado Lopes," she says with a big smile.
Now that Caetano’s gourmet desserts are sold in Pedreira Shopping, the local people get excited when they see her beautiful creations come from such a humble place, “They say they had seen those things only in movies before."
Elza Ferreira da Silva, a more traditional cook, can’t hide her enthusiasm. Every friday people from different places of the town wait eagerly for her famous and cheap feijoada, and other meals of Minas Gerais cuisine.
“I’m glad to get new work after retirement," explains “Dona” Elza, who owned a little restaurant before going to the mall. As she went to the new place, her clients followed her.
But, in spite of succesful people like Dona Elza and Aneliza Caetano, there are many entrepreneurs that are struggling to keep going.
Wanderlei Rocha, the man in charge at the entrepreneurship initative, has been worried. “Many people here aren’t selling very well and are suffering to pay the rent, although it is very cheap. But we can’t just say ‘go away’ to them. They need support because business is still a novelty for many."
Rocha, nicknamed “Thor," is himself a novice in legal trade. As a former boss of a drug dealing spot, he has got the community trust and uses the money for giving food and medicines to poor families. After spending some years in prison, he left the drug business and says his former companions want to do the same. “They are not willing for their children to live as criminals."
That’s why the shopping mall is so important. The entrepreneurship has been working for only three months yet is showing new alternatives for people like Dona Elza, Anelize Caetano and Thor. The man in charge, who was himself a drum player in Pedreira Carnival, dreams about the day his community will be known because of its culture and not for crime and violence.
Pedreira Prado Lopes started 120 years ago to house the workers who came to build the town when the capital city of the State moved from baroque Ouro Preto to the City of Minas, lately named Belo Horizonte. It has many song writers and musicians who are clouded by the most visible aspects of the place: crime, drugs and poverty.
The Happiness Compass founder and CEO Evan Sutter was invited to start a program similar to his initiative The Kids of Bogotá at Pedreira. He is also leading a movement involving Mindfulness practice because it is proven to be very effective to pacify violent places. “We did our best to start the shopping mall and it’s working. It is not an idea, it’s something that is already real. But we need external support because the community, by itself, cannot afford the next step”, says Pastor Tiago Guedes.
Guedes, who felt very touched by Evan’s goodwill in helping Pedreira, wants to create a micro credit program to support entrepreneurs. “We want to bring back the communitarian spirit that there was at Pedreira Prado Lopes in the past when the community built houses and grew vegetables working together," says the young Pastor.
The main inspiration comes from Liberalino Alves de Oliveira, known as “Seu” Belo," who passed away in 1999. He was a communitarian leader that has built apartments counting only on togetherness of the people of Pedreira. Liberalino’s son, Herbert, joined the Pedreira Shopping board few weeks ago to follow in his father footsteps. “It was the dream of my life. Now I can fulfill it," he states.
Fortunately, it is not the dream of only one. In Pedreira there are 10,000 people dreaming of the day they will not be taken for drug dealers or criminals anymore. “We are just honest people wanting to live with dignity," says Mario Gonçalves, tatoo artist who works as a bouncer. “We need better opportunities."
By Wilson Bentos. Wilson is a Brazilian communication professional, political consultant, radio host and journalist who is worried about the fate of the planet. Passionate, vocal, curious and inspired, Wilson stands firmly behind those people who think alike. He is a board member, and key influencer, of the Pedreira Shopping Fair and its Entrepreneurial Initiative to help drive change in the area.