This summer, I spent 6 weeks working on a child development program in Rio De Janeiro. I was working with children from the city’s favelas, essentially slums. My job was effectively to just look after the children and keep them entertained. The children ranged in age, from toddlers to teenagers. As they all came from the favelas, the children lived in extreme poverty. I mainly played with them and helped them learn English. Learning English is so vital to Rio’s youth as it greatly improves their future job prospects, having good English skills can sometimes lead to instant promotion. Although primary education is compulsory in Brazil, in the favelas education tends to be low quality due to lack of resources. For example, many of the children I worked with hadn’t been to school in a week because their teacher had the flu. The daycare center gives them additional education with people that are dedicated to the children’s advancement and well-being.
The main reason I decided to go to Rio to work with the favelas children was because I wanted to expand my world view. Growing up in a Scottish council estate, I am well aware of the poverty many Scots live in. However, I wanted to see and experience the absolute poverty faced in the deeply unequal Brazil. You hear many horror stories about the poverty and violence in Brazil and I wanted to truly see it for myself in order to understand.
I was obviously concerned about the security status of Brazil in relation to crime. Just mere months before my departure, the military took force in the city due to rising rates of violence. I also knew that I would be working very close to the favelas, which the UK government warned to avoid at all costs. I was worried about how I would be accepted by the favela communities, being a privileged white foreigner.
Once I was in Rio, however, my worries virtually vanished. I obviously stayed cautious but the people of Rio were almost infinitely warm and welcoming. The conditions the children lived in were tough, but you couldn’t tell from talking to them. It was strange, as they often looked at me with much awe, which I was not used to. The language barrier was incredibly difficult at first, but the children’s friendliness and curiosity made it much easier with time. Many of the children had never left Rio and never thought they would. One of the older girls said to me that she likes when the volunteers come, as it’s the only way she thinks she’ll be able to meet people from other cultures and understand the world. My experience brought me both a sense of bittersweet happiness, as it led to me understand the extreme strengths of the human spirit in the face of such hardship.
I am greatly indebted to the PGAF for allowing me to partake in such a wonderful and rewarding experience.