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Where the Streets Have No Name

by Leticia Helena (2462 words)

In an age when communications are becoming increasingly digital it is easy to forget how much still depends on paper and postage, but amidst the chaos and violence of Brazil’s largest slum, three entrepreneurs have made a small fortune by providing a basic service—delivering mail.

In 1946 Brazilian singer Isaurinha Garcia recorded ‘Mensagem’, her biggest hit, in which she sings that she is surprised to receive a letter at her own home. In those days Rocinha was exactly what its name means: a small farm, an area where half a dozen people grew fruits and vegetables to sell in the richer districts of Rio de Janeiro. Today, it is Brazil’s largest favela, a slum neighbourhood with a population variously estimated from 63,000 (according to the 2010 census) to 120,000 (according to the number of registered electric-company customers). And still today, although Rocinha has a relatively well-developed infrastructure and even its own local television channel, its residents are pleasantly surprised to be visited by an official postal carrier.

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