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Brazil: Magazine Gives Homeless People a Chance

It goes without saying that most people want to get their information from more sources than just the TV news or major newspapers. In Latin America, Europe, Asia – all over the world, in fact – this has been the case since the Millennium: the best news, opinions grounded in fact and the most pertinent commentary are to be found on blogs and social networks, and in newspapers published by universities and activist networks.

Revista Ocas [pt] is one such publication, containing information that sets it apart from the mainstream press in Brazil. Indeed, it goes even further than that. An acronym for Organização Civil de Ação Social (Organisation for Civil Action), the publication is a voluntary project inspired by street papers from around the world, particularly The Big Issue, which has been distributed in London since the 1990s.

The founders of Revista Ocas followed this example in Brazil by creating work opportunities for people who are at social risk. Moreover, having grasped the potential for such volunteers in the country, the International Network Street Pappers (INSP) supported the idea of creating a magazine to be distributed by homeless people. You read that right – homeless people. Revista Ocas has been handed out on the streets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro since 2002.

Revista Ocas issue 61: the subheading reads 'Invest in a human being'. Illustration by Alex Senna, shared on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Revista Ocas issue 61: the subheading reads 'Invest in a human being'. Illustration by Alex Senna, shared on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The magazine’s editorial team explains [pt]:

O objetivo é fornecer instrumentos de resgate da autoestima dos vendedores, criando mecanismos para que o indivíduo se torne seu próprio agente de transformação, de forma que Ocas seja um ponto de passagem, e não o destino definitivo.

The goal is to provide the sellers with tools that allow them to regain their self-esteem, creating the means by which individuals can become their own agents for change, so that Revista Ocas is a stage along the way, rather than the end of the story.

André Maleronka, who is involved in publicising the magazine on the Overmundo [pt] blog, adds:

A revista, em papel jornal, conta com colaboradores de peso e uma mistura de notícias e resenhas culturais entremeadas com relatos de sem-teto, ex-moradores de rua, análise de políticas urbanas.

In its printed version, the magazine features heavyweight contributors and a mixture of cultural news and reviews interspersed with reports by the homeless, those who used to live on the streets, and urban policy analysis.

A video [pt] by the organisation explains what Revista Ocas means to those who work on it and sell it:

The magazine costs 4 reais [approximately $2 USD], 3 reais [$1.5 USD] of which go directly to the sellers, and the remaining 1 real [$0.5 USD] is given to Ocas by the sellers themselves – a relationship of trust that some of them have not found with other employers. Marisa Suraci, who has sold Ocas since it was launched, rediscovered her willingness to work:

Eu pergunto aos empregadores que discriminação é essa no nosso país que não podemos trabalhar? Pessoas hoje portadores de cuidados especiais, ontem estudaram o quanto puderam e trabalharam todo o possível. A Ocas não é como os outros empregadores. Além dela ter me mantido financeiramente, eu mudei da água para o vinho no meu estado de saúde. Eu melhorava quando falava com alguém, quando vendia a revista, quando era bem recebida…

What kind of discrimination are employers practising in our country if they won’t let us work? Those who are most in need today may have studied and worked as much as they could in the past. Ocas isn’t like other employers. As well as keeping me going financially, I completely turned around my state of health. I was constantly improving whenever I spoke to someone, sold the magazine, and I was well received…

The blog Retinas Urbanas [pt] comments on the way in which Ocas receives its revenue and the significance of the project:

A única fonte de renda da OCAS é o valor pago pelos vendedores por cada exemplar da revista e eventuais anunciantes e doações, e eles ainda fazem Oficinas de Criação com pessoas de rua, quase sempre descobrindo um novo talento no desenho, no texto e até no cinema. Com a criação de vínculos dá para compreender as necessidades mais urgentes de cada um, como a falta de documentos ou tratamento para dependência química, e encaminhar uma saída pela rede de parceiros do terceiro setor.

Ocas’s only source of income is the money handed over by the sellers for each copy of the magazine, along with any advertising revenue and donations. They also carry out creative workshops with homeless people, and often discover new drawing, writing or even filmmaking talent. By forging such links they allow the most urgent needs of each person to be understood, whether it be a lack of documents or treatment for drug addiction, and put them on the road to recovery through their network of third-sector partners.

Funding difficulties have overshadowed recent editions of the magazine, and in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the largest Brazilian cities in which it is distributed, there is already a marked lack of sellers. The most recent edition, its 80th, was only able to be printed thanks to a crowdfunding project on Catarse [pt], which allowed Ocas to raise 8,880 reais [approximately $4,400 USD] in donations from 89 people and organisations over 60 days.

Ocas, 80th edition: 'Nine years. 79 editions. 330,000 copies sold on the streets. Hundreds of people helped.'

Ocas, 80th edition:

The magazine has a blog [pt] and a Facebook page, and is looking for volunteers [pt] and subscribers [pt].

An online petition [pt] acknowledges the importance of the magazine and is seeking to ensure that it can continue. This is giving Ocas even more authority in its contacts with other institutions, and the sellers are delighted at the number of people who are now recognising the magazine in the streets. Major Brazilian and international personalities grace the covers, and the magazine addresses issues from the responsible standpoint of a publication that believes in a society where information is in the hands of every citizen.

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