Over 11 million people in Brazil, about 6 percent of the country’s total population, live in slums of cities called favelas, according to the latest census figures. Among the myriad challenges that arise in these dense, impoverished urban areas, getting mail may seem to be a surprising one. Yet due to the unique, improvised architecture of favelas — the fact that structures are often created and destroyed rapidly, using a variety of available materials, such as concrete, that are impenetrable to mapping satellites — many buildings don’t have addresses. Further complicating matters is the fact that many streets are called different names by residents in different areas. As a consequence, postal workers haven’t been required to deliver mail in these areas, frustrating residents. Many areas only appear on Google Maps and other digital maps in extremely limited forms, as a single road, for example (controversially, Google also removed the word “favela” from some of its maps at urging from the Brazilian government).
But a group of enterprising friends recently decided to tackle the problem starting in Brazil’s largest favela, Rocinha, using good old pen and paper.