Home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches and luxury hotels, Rio de Janeiro is also a city of the starkest inequalities imaginable. In addition to the four million people (one third of the city's population) living in favelas, there are thousands of women and children who make their home and their living in the city streets. The instability and dangers of life on the streets have created a complex subculture that is little understood by the rest of society. Women and children living in the streets are easy targets for police brutality and other forms of mistreatment and exploitation. Many sniff glue, called cola, or smoke crack to give them a temporary escape.
Founded in 1994, Centro de Estudos e Salão Excola empowers women and children living in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to make long-term positive changes in their lives. In 2003 Excola began the Salão Escola de Beleza Afro (Salon School of African Beauty) program, which trains and certifies 20 young women each year as beauticians. These women also received counseling, access to condoms and health information. The women are continuing to meet in the small salon space Excola rents in central Rio, and many of them have started offering hair and beauty treatments in their neighborhoods. The hairdressing skills these women have learned provides them with the possibility of becoming economically independent, creating a viable alternative to begging or prostitution and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem. For many of the women, the salon also provides their only reprieve from the dangers of the streets.
Note: This work was funded by a fellowship from Global Fund for Children (Grassroots Girls Initiative) and the Nike Foundation (Girl Effect) in partnership with the International Center of Photography.