A first hand account of Community Development Volunteering in a Favela in Rio de Janeiro

Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Tuesday, 11th November 2014

Children celebrating Dia das criancas in Rio de JaneiroMy first time in Brazil was around a year ago, when I decided to experience this beautiful and vast country by volunteering with a local organisation named Iko Poran. I stayed in a large house with my fellow volunteers in the centre of Rio de Janeiro. After our first meeting being introduced to everyone, I had been told that I was going to work on the Ágape project in a very needy community named Para-Pedro in Irajá, the northern part of Rio.

Since 1998, the Ágape project has been looking after hundreds of children in a community of about 50 houses on a single street. The project functions as a day care centre, where mothers leave their children while working. This might seem novice, but is essential for the protection and development of the kids. The favelas in this area are not pacified i.e. police units are not present to pacify the drug lords. The women are scared to leave their children at home, as drug lords in the neighbouring favela want to recruit the boys to become part of drug trafficking and stealing scams.

A favela in Rio de JaneiroThe majority of the families come from the North-Eastern states Piauí and Maranhão, which are among the poorest in Brazil. They arrive to Rio with the promise of a better life with an opportunity to earn more money. In reality, finding any kind of work is difficult, especially as the women are reluctant to leave their kids at home on their own. On average, one family has BR100-200 (£25-50) to live off every month, next to the money from ‘Bolsa Familia’ that varies in amount. Neither is enough to support these large families, and thus they live off the food donated to them from CEASA; a business linked to the Brazilian department of state regional development.

Childcare volunteering in Rio de JaneiroNormally, people that live in favelas occupy the land and thus do not pay rent. However, the land of this community is owned by one man, who claims rent every month from every family. They pay up to BR100 a month to stay in what mostly can be described as shacks; often no actual windows, some are unfinished brick houses, others with barely a door and a tin plate as a roof. The project is located on the second floor of the church, which is a proper building, but also a space that the project needs to pay rent to utilise.

My first week included ‘o dia das crianças’ (children’s day), which is a special day for the kids in Brazil. Thus my second day entailed arranging this great party for all of the children, which was provided by the support of CEASA. Massive amounts of sweets, fruit and drinks, with various entertainment and games to play. It was a fun yet energy consuming day, but offered us a rare opportunity to meet everyone from the community.

Community development project in Rio de JaneiroFrom that point, every day seemed a bit more relaxed. Usually the smaller children would come in the morning to do writing or reading exercises. After our lunch break, the older kids would come in the afternoon to do homework, make interactive games, paint, play around or go to jiu-jitsu class nearby. One day, I brought a large amount of yarn and fabric bands in various colors for the kids to make bracelets. They all went crazy and both boys and girls made numerous colorful bracelets with a lot of excitement. It was from those moments you realized that even very basic ideas and gestures can fill a lot of space in kids’ hearts.

For five weeks, I spent almost an hour every morning from Monday-Thursday on a bus to work with these children. While at times it felt like we did not do much with our time, it was in all our presence that was needed to make a difference. As a volunteer, you bear witness too many discouraging realities; when two young boys get a gun from an older guy, and then wander off out on the street; or when you see kids at the age of 12 having to do hard labour with their parents to earn money for the family.

Children painting on a community development project in RioThis is why the projects are important. While every project and favela is different in nature, they all share the same purpose of providing the kids hope for a way out. If you ever wish to experience Brazil – do it from another perspective than just beaches, coconuts and carnival. This you can still do, and does not leave out the option of also making even just a tiny difference for a group of children that could use your influence and presence more than anything.

To find out more about volunteering on this project please click here

By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad team

Author: WorkingAbroad Projects

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