For the children of a Brazilian shanty town, football is their life. Here, in words and pictures, they show us their beautiful game
The shanty towns, or favelas, of South America, are one of the cliches of reportage photography, which too often presents a narrow, stereotypical view of the inhabitants and their circumstances.

The creation of photography workshops at the Favela do Morro do Cascalho, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, was, then, in part, a reaction against such representation, an attempt to offer an alternative vision, based on the local passion for football, through the involvement of the favela children.

The initiative came from British photographer Julian Germain, photographic artist Patricia Azevedo and graphic designer Murilo Godoy, both from Belo Horizonte. Their idea was to equip the children with cheap cameras, and to encourage them to use photography to express themselves on the theme of football, as well as addressing such topics as "family", "favourite place", "favourite object" or "self-portrait".

Cascalho was chosen for its explicit engagement with football (the football pitch is the entrance to the favela). The workshops involved 41 boys aged eight to 14, all members of the children's football team, and nine girls between 14 and 30 from the women's team. None had ever taken pictures before, so they were not constrained by conventional notions of "what makes a good picture". Their approach was direct, curious, candid, unpretentious. Their photographs convey hopes, fears, fantasies, yet remain rooted within the realities of their lives.

The following year, the children were asked to make paintings. Their spontaneous inclination to depict footballs, football pitches, football shirts and trophies as symbolic, beautiful icons, and the natural affinity with colour, have produced a series that perfectly complements the photographs. Football, for the children, is everywhere, a presence in their homes, in their clothes, in their landscape, in their hearts and minds.

In a process that involved the whole community, they have also set their story down in words. The resulting book, No Mundo Maravilhose do Futebol, is a fusion of four beautiful means of expression - painting, photography, writing and football.

The History of Cascalho

In the beginning there was nothing, not a stone or a tree. Dinosaurs were everywhere. There was only one little house, far in the distance: Eve's and Adam's. They made a bomb and destroyed all the dinosaurs. Adam and Eve made us and sent us to live here in Cascalho. Then came chickens, dogs, birds, horses, cats, pigs rabbits, goats, rats, cockroaches and many more people.

Cascalho is a favela ; not a farm and not in the country. It is not really like in the city, but the city is all around us. It is a wonderful place for those who are used to living with all kinds of people; happy, sad...

The favela is the hill and our hill gives an open view of the city. In olden times Cascalho was just covered with bushes and trees. Building was difficult since there was no water or bricks, or money. They used canvas, lumber, cardboard, tin and plywood. The settlers made adobe with their own hands, using earth, and dirty water collected from the washerwomen.

In those days there were two big rocks to climb, and it is said you could watch the city in the distance as well as fun fairs and circuses from up there. People say there was another rock, even bigger than a house. One day it rolled down the hill, as far as the small square. In the fall it smashed into millions of little pieces like gravel, hence "Morro do Cascalho" - Gravel Hill.

The hill had no piped water. The people fetched it on their heads or by donkey from a big pump. There were no electric lights; people used candles, kerosene or gas lamps. Then came the light. Only one man had a TV set. If people wanted to watch, they had to deliver a barrel of water to his house. Today, we could not live with no water, sewerage or even a dribble of light.

The church is dedicated to Saint Ermelinda. Some people say she is the patron saint of Cascalho and Catholics. Others say she is only the patron saint of the priest, and isn't recognised by the Vatican. The priest does not allow poor people into the church. Never, not even once, not even on sacred days, have we been into the church. It is said that inside there is a statue of Saint Ermelinda, and that water pours through her hands, and that there is a tunnel of light where people are given gifts.

Cascalho starts behind the goal posts of the football pitch, continuing up to the end of Anita Garibaldi Street and Nascimento Gurgel Street. Its main alleys are Nervous Tony's Alley, Chiquita's Alley, Scar Alley, Liberty Alley, Little Rice Alley and Assembly Alley. The favela spreads across the hill, and ends at a small and hidden house which can only be seen when you come right up to it. From the other side of the main road you can see almost the whole of Belo Horizonte, the blue sky as well as the pink pollution. We are proud of this privileged view and it is not only we who like it; quite a few people come up here to enjoy it. At night we look at the stars and the cars passing by. Once we saw a falling star and made a wish.

The people of Cascalho do not own the land. We have been here for many years and we have some rights, but, because of the increasing value of land in the city, the favela is being squashed. Wealthy people are invading the hill. There are new buildings, becoming bigger and bigger and making our place ugly. They are even building where our neighbours' houses used to be.

There are all kinds of people here, doing their best for themselves and their children. Many work with horses and carts or cars and vans. Some work in the sewers; others washing and ironing, as housekeepers, babysitters, cooks, policemen, janitors, housewives; or they sell hot dogs; or collect waste paper, scrap metal and cans in a wheelbarrow... Some have good jobs and earn more, while others earn little, and some live as vagabonds.

When it's raining, there is less dust, but it gets so muddy that we can hardly get out of our houses. The best thing is to stay indoors, huddle together under a blanket and watch TV, with some popcorn and a bottle of pop. When there is thunder and lightning we turn the mirrors to the wall and do not use forks.

Most kids help their parents at home, but even when they are very young they go out to work, carrying shopping, watching cars or at the market. Some kids give their mothers a lot of trouble. The important thing is not to steal and to keep healthy and strong. We study and play with balls, kites and marbles. We play ring-a-roses, hide and seek, steal the flag, cops and robbers, statues, follow the leader and hopscotch. Some of the games can get quite rough. Even if we are not playing games, all the interesting things that happen around here keep us happy.

The most important event in the history of Cascalho was the construction of the football pitch. This brilliant idea was born during a really smart chit-chat. It was built in 1973. The people did everything by hand. They cut the weeds and dug with shovels, hoes and pick-axes. In the end they managed to get a machine to make the pitch as flat as possible. Then the first soccer club was founded, called Benfica, with a black-and-white kit. When they went to register, they realised there was another local club of that name. At the last minute they decided to register our glorious team as Grajau Esporte Clube. We have children's, women's and men's teams. The strip was changed to blue and white. A team must have a proper kit. We also have a flag and trophies.

Once, on a Good Friday, a contractor came and built a wall halfway across the pitch. Everybody was shocked. We chased the security guard away, destroyed the wall and organised a match to commemorate the occasion. If we had acted softly, we would have lost the only sports ground in the area and the effort would have been for nothing.

If only the pitch had lovely green grass, so it wouldn't be so muddy when it rains. It's not the best for showing our football skills, but we like the way it is, crooked, full of stones, a few holes and only a little grass. The main problem at the moment is that during a match the ball often lands in somebody's house and certain people refuse to give it back.

As well as football, there are many parties and festivals. We love it when everybody dances the Pagode, a kind of samba but more relaxed. During the carnival we all have as much fun as possible. We play the "Game of Whores", when the men dress up as women, in wigs, miniskirts and lots of lipstick. At the end of Lent we burn Judas, but first his testament - scandalous gossip and hearsay from around the favela - is read aloud. There are a lot of jokes and it is very funny, but many people don't like to be scolded by Judas!

We have many happy times but there are also problems. There are a lot of petty arguments, but you know it's getting really serious if somebody insults your mother, even if she has nothing at all to do with it.

The main road is very dangerous, especially for the kids. The cars go very fast. Maybe that's just how people drive, or it could be because they are afraid of the favela. The tranquility is occasionally shattered by gunshots because there are a few really lazy people who get into fights. When the police come they can never catch them because they disappear deep into the heart of the favela. When they get home they go up the wall and they get stoned out of their minds.

There are some stories that have become legends. There is the one about the werewolf who appears when the moon is full. Everybody is terrified of him. He is enormous and his body is totally hairy, covered from his head to his toes. He has a thin moustache made from wire and he eats live ants. Then there is a story about Commanche, a brown horse with white spots. One day a woman called Adelia was walking past Commanche when he spoke: "Good night, Adelia." She ran to Consola's house and fainted. Then, a young man also heard the horse speak: "Oh, Jo, how good it is to live in this world!" What a crazy horse! It is legendary that horses can talk with people. Actually, we do talk to the horses, and they understand us, but usually they do not answer in words.

We sat around Old Man Tiao while he told us these stories. When we didn't believe him he waggled his ears and laughed so much that we will remember it for ever. There are other unforgettable and happy moments, like the trips we make to away games with our football team. These moments deserve a slow-motion action replay, but since that is not possible we just record them in our memory.

It is a great honour for us to tell our history in a book, where our lives can be read by a lot of people. Everything that is written here is what we have been told, and most of us believe that even the legends are true. After all, so many incredible things happen in the world.

Extracted from the collective text by the kids from Cascalho, with Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy. `No Mundo Maravilhose do Futebol', with text in English and Brazilian Portuguese, is published Basalt, Amsterdam,pounds 25 (enquiries: 00 31 20 624 9802). They shoot, they score The children's poems and writing I dreamed of a beautiful green field. I was with my friends Catito and Gabim and dreamed we were in this field with Romario, Pele, Dede, Ronaldino and Bebeto. And they are teaching us. You can imagine, we started with `hard feet' and ended up crack players. Afterwards, when we got back to Cascalho, and told them how were taught by Romario, Pele, Dede, Ronaldino and Bebeto, they laughed and mocked. So we called them to play and they were astonished by the goals we scored! We shut their mouths because before we always lost and now we always win. Someday, we will be called `Cascalho's King of the Ball'. Marcelo Gomes dos Santos

I took my mates three times, I took one of my cousin, I took one of my other cousin, of my brother in bed two times, of my sister holding an orange and an apple, of my brother with his medicine. My cousin took one of me; I took one of my mother's blouse, of Patricia two times, of Fernando two times, of Poliana, Patricia and Fernando; took one of my father, took one of my graduation picture, of `Little Tiaozinho', I took one of me when I was little, of Athletico on television, I took Athletico's goal six times. Marcos Vincius dos Santos Football for people who have a lot is a little and for the people who have little, it's a lot. It's the reason why in my history I have big dreams. Janaina Soares dos Santos

The helicopter The helicopter flys over the city The city is full of people The people are full of children The kids are full of love The Genie comes to Cascalho I was walking along the street and I found a fluorescent lamp. I was walking up the slope and I dropped the lamp. Suddenly there was a mixture of smoke and dust. The chickens flew up, the horses began to neigh and the goals began to bleat. The funniest were the dogs who cowered under the bed and the cats disappeared onto the roof and everything began to fly like cardboard in the wind. Suddenly, from inside the lamp, a genie appeared. Everybody was amazed and the genie said with his deep voice, "Those boys with no T-shirts and with green shorts have three wishes." I replied, "Great! The first wish is that you organise this favela. The second is that you make our football pitch beautiful. The third is that we kids will become professional footballers." Well, what they call an ugly favela was changed into a wonderful place, and the pitch turned into a stadium with green grass and we became famous players. Ellington