Luciana Savaget

I´m Luciana Savaget, a television journalist and writer of children´s books. Around four years ago, a colleague of mine, a journalist, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers, when he was working on a story about prostitution of children, in a dangerous slum in Rio de Janeiro. What I´m going to tell you about is my experience in story-telling with children who live in these extremely violent areas.

I usually begin my talks by paying tribute to our non-readers, who at this moment are in many parts of the world. As involuntary witnesses, more than this, as innocent victims of a war, which like all wars, makes no sense.

If these children in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Haiti, Colombia, Lebanon, and Brazil... had had the chance to dream, by means of us, makers of dreams, children´s writers, these wars would certainly be less likely to exist.

Because words are a very powerful weapon. Dialogue makes us reflect. Culture and education aren´t just abstract concepts, but rather concrete and basic values.

For this reason, our role as writers of children´s books and multipliers of the incentive to read is often more important than we can imagine.

It doesn´t only depend on us, I know, but it depends a lot on our winning this struggle of dreams against human folly. Books convince us of the need for peace, and lead us into solidarity. There lies the power of words.

In Brazil, the figures show the extension of this undeclared war. Recent official data show that in twenty years, the homicide rates in the large Brazilian population centers have increased one hundred thirty percent. That is, thirty thousand victims a year.

The Brazilian figures are dramatic because the victims are male young people between 15 and 24 years of age, most of them killed by firearms. Violence against young people has become an epidemic in our country.

We live among bloody but silent conflicts, unnoticed by the international community.

Just in Rio de Janeiro around 22 people are killed every day. This is a different war from the one we read about daily in the newspapers, it´s not a dispute over territory, oil or religion... It´s a dispute over the economic power of drugs, of the drug traffic, of chemical domination, which acts very efficiently, especially on the devéloping minds of younger people. It´s a war which is hidden in the alleys of the slums spread throughout the entire city of Rio and which recruits as “soldiers” children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 16.

Many of these young people haven´t even had the opportunity to attend school. In this way their childhood is stolen, and they´re forced to enlist in this unjust battle without any ideological reason, but for their survival.

As a journalist and writer of children´s books for more than ten years I´ve been passing through areas of absolute poverty and much violence in the city of Rio, where I live, taking along what I believe to be the best antidote for this violence: dreams.

Until three years ago I used to go alone to tell stories in some of these slums. I often found myself in dífficult situations, having to negotiate with armed drug traffickers in order to enter these communities, trying to prove that my mission was a peaceful one. I was going there just to take the fantasy I borrowed from books. My goal was to tell stories to those children who learned early in life, what violence is.

Currently I’m taking part in a project called Vida Real (Real Life), that’s being done in the Maré Complex, also known as the Maré slum, located in the north part of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Maré, as most slums, doesn’t appear on the city maps.

Now I´m going to show you a DVD about Maré slum and about the project.


Maré isn’t just one favela, but several of them together. Sixteen communities coexist just like different parts of a city, each with its own characteristics. One hundred and thirty two thousand one hundred and seventy six people (132.176) live there, in thirty eight thousand two hundred and seventy three (38.273) homes. This represents two point twenty six percent (2,26%) of the population of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Maré was built over the waters of the Guanabara Bay.

The project Vida Real has existed for three years. It began as an initiative of a former drug dealer, former junkie, that after going through some very difficult times decided to abandon his life of crimes and help young people lead more dignified lives. He is not supported by any government and doesn’t belong to any NGOs. He counts only with the work of volunteers. At the moment he is helping sixteen teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen.


This teenager have all had contact with illegal activities. Some steal cars, carry guns and commit small crimes around the area. They’ve all used drugs as well, and they’ve never had a book.

The project takes place in a small three-room house in the outskirts of the slum, a part called Nova Holanda (New Holland). Several donations have enabled us to create a library, which currently has three hundred books. Little by little we’re getting these boys and girls used to reading. They’ve never had an opportunity to listen to stories of princes, flying carpets, fairy tales… Once a week, in a risky operation – because to enter a favela is always dangerous – we ask the permission of the drug dealers and criminals that control that place so that I can do my job and work with the reading skills of those teenagers.

First I made them understand the importance of a book. They chose a couple of them to touch. I asked them to do this because I wanted them to get intimacy with the books. And them I began getting them used to making reading part of their routine.

Every one of them has had a friend or relative killed by the police or in conflicts among the drug dealers. Their fears are not the same as the fears of a normal teenager. The monster that scare them isn’t described in books. It’s not a witch or a big bad wolf. It’s the police car that enters the favela killing aimlessly, called Caveirão- the big skall. The Caveirão is meant to intimidate the drug dealers, but it only kills, and never arrests anyone.


The four doors are automatically locked and can’t be opened from the outside.

This currently is the safest way for police officers to enter favelas. The vehicle weighs eight tons and reaches a speed of one hundred and twenty kilometers per hour.

To attack the criminals, which possess really heavy weapons, the officers use only rifles.

With the protection of the armor-clad cars, the officers reach the most risky places of the favela.

On top of a armor-clad car, an eleven-year old boy pretends to shoot a weapon during a police operation in the favela of Rocinha.

These are the drawings of the Caveirão that the kids have made for me.

When the armor-clad car enters the favela, the officers use hostile and imperious words. The threats and insults traumatize the inhabitants of the favelas, and the children are especially vulnerable. Speakers on the outside of the vehicle announce its arrival: “Children, get off the street, the shooting is about to star”. Or, in a more threatening manner: “If you owe, I’ll get your soul”.

When the Caveirão approaches someone, the officers yell through the speakers: “Hey, you! You’re a suspect! Walk slowly, lift up your shirt, turn around… now you can go.”


The teenagers are not the only ones that have been learning with the stories I tell – I’ve also been receiving life lessons from them. I learned how to understand the pain and lack of hope of these kids, who have to work for the drug dealers because they’re not given any other choices. I’ve learned to be afraid, very afraid of the police, which can’t keep these people safe.

It’s in this reality that we try, through the dreams described in the books, to make things easier for these teenagers. My reading classes are as simple as reading a book or telling a story.

I recently wrote a book about the Iraq war, the title is: Operation Rescue in Baghdad

In this book, I talk about the war in Iraq, and about the rescue of the characters who were forgotten in the ruins of the magnificent palaces which were the setting for the book “ A Thousand and one nights”.

Because I don´t know if you recall.

Most of the characters in the Book of One Thousand and One Nights were born in Baghdad: Aladdin and his famous lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Sinbad, the seal, who lived his adventures in the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, both of which cross Iraq. Many happy endings of the stories told by Scheherazade were set in this city: “they lived happily ever after in Baghdad.”

With the young people of the Maré Slum I have worked on their war, the war which these people live in on a daily basis. These young people feel how violence is cruel, exactly like the young people at Iraq, Palestine, or Lebanon.

With the help of the book, I unite fantasy with reality, because we who work with books, know that dreams exist, and it is easy to rescue the dream of a child. The dreams of adults have very often been taken away by the wind.

Operation Rescue in Baghdad is dedicated to all children who suffer with the wars all over the world. And who, because of that, are prevented from dreaming about stories told in books.

To finalize my presentation the boys from the Maré slum taped a message for all of you.