When COVID-19 forced GetYourGuide local partner Thiago Firmino to shut down his operations, he decided to step in to keep his community safe. From running a successful walking tour business he became the face of a movement aiming to prevent the spread of the virus in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Brazil.
Thiago is the founder of Favela Santa Marta Tours. His tour of favela Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro is one of GetYourGuide’s most successful products in South America. A resident of the favela himself, Thiago has always had an active voice in the fight to improve the quality of life in his community. He has been a mediator between authorities and the local population in issues ranging from improving access to healthcare to keeping Santa Marta safe.
However, it was his response to the COVID-19 outbreak that caught public attention and turned him into an example of strength and perseverance. His response sparked a growing movement attempting to prevent the pandemic from spreading through Rio de Janeiro’s poorest communities.
Thiago’s journey began when he first heard about the effects COVID-19 was having in China.
“I started keeping an eye on it when it was still in China and thought, ‘if it’s out of control there who knows what could happen here’,” he says. Worried about the possible impact such a virus could have if it reached his community, Thiago adopted a preventative approach. He began by buying cleaning and protective equipment from a local store.
When the virus hit Brazil, Thiago realized that if he didn’t take action himself, it was unlikely that help would come from elsewhere. Speaking of this realization he says “The favela is always forgotten. Anything that happens in the city, the favela is always the last to receive any benefit.” While the local government was slow to respond, Thiago quickly took it upon himself to do something to protect the community.
Together with volunteers from the local community, he launched the program to sanitize the favela of Santa Marta. “Healthcare is precarious and the question of public hygiene and trash is also precarious,” he stresses. Clad in a ‘ghostbuster’ outfit and armed with disinfectant, Thiago took to the very same narrow streets and small alleys of Santa Marta that he used to guide travelers along. Once a tour that was recognized with a GetYourGuide Award for Tours on Two Feet in 2019, the route has since become instrumental to the sanitization of the area.
For Thiago, fighting for the health of his community has become a priority. “Tourism is the first to stop and the last to return,” he says. “We are doing this voluntarily with residents so that we can take care of ourselves. I would rather be without work than without my life.”
The program has been replicated across other favelas in Rio, with Thiago providing training and support to multiple similar community-led initiatives.
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