In a sprawling township in Rio de Janeiro housewives pour into a neighbor’s living room, gather around a table and chat the afternoon away. But any resemblance to The View ends there—the ladies also pass around condoms with their potluck snacks. These women, among the world’s more unlikely safe sex educators, live in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, or slum. Brazil provides free HIV care to all citizens, but the favelas house nearly a third of big-city residents, complicating treatment and prevention.
The housewives were trained by Transformarte (a Portuguese compound of “change” and “art”), an AIDS service organization (ASO) founded in 2002 to educate Brazil’s urban poor. “The situation is very serious,” says Murilo Peixoto da Mota, its executive director. “Inhabitants of the slum quarters are very vulnerable to HIV.”
Despite a staff of only five, Transformarte has been able to reach a large percentage of Rocinha’s 200,000 residents through peer inspiration. Mota has schooled a rapid reaction force of seemingly ordinary folk in the science and psychology of prevention, using a whisper-down-the-lane approach that he hopes will eventually reach into every neighborhood. Mota believes that the sharing of information is most effective from peer to peer: “Women for women, young for young.”
The organization also targets Brazil’s younger at-risk populations, teaching them about HIV through creative, arts-based approaches. Transformarte (www.transformarte .org.br) has helped dancers and actors between the ages of 11 and 25 incorporate HIV-related content into theater skits and dance routines. The students perform at schools and neighborhood events, encouraging kids to protect themselves and hopefully sign on to teach other kids the following year. “The arts are a great ally in this type of intervention,” says Mota. “They provide self-esteem [and let] youth discover new talents.” Let the samba begin.