By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter and Brennan Stark, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This September marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of +Oportunidades, a professional training program being offered by USAID, a United States government agency providing economic and humanitarian aid for the past forty years. The Mais Unidos Group, a partnership with the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Brazil, along with several other American companies operating throughout Brazil also support the project, providing the English language learning component.
Meaning “More Opportunities,” +Oportunidades will be offered through 2016 and will initially aim to benefit 1,000 at-risk Brazilian youth between the ages of sixteen and 29 per year. Successful applicants, who must have a public high school degree or be in the process of attaining one, each receive 100 hours of English language instruction and 200 hours of socio-professional training.
The program has been garnering increasing interest since its inception, given that speaking English continues to give young adults a distinct advantage in Brazil’s job market. Many multinational corporations operating within Brazil have stressed the importance of new graduates completing a professional training course with a focus on both English language and technology, which +Oportunidades readily offers.
Eighteen schools in Rio de Janeiro currently offer the program, one of them being State School Tim Lopes in the recently pacified Complexo do Alemão. Since it began the program the school has received a wide variety of guest speakers, including Chief of the New York Fire Department Dan Daly in August.
Addressing a large gathering of students, the Chief spoke of the human capacity to overcome difficulties in his own program entitled “The Five Keys to Happiness and Success,” in which he coached his students on bullying, violence, self-development, drug abuse, and attaining inner peace.
The many beneficial assets of +Oportunidades have increasingly drawn the attention of students throughout Rio. Nineteen year-old student Fernanda Lopo admits “When I heard about +Oportunidades I honestly got enthusiastic right away because they said I’d be better prepared for the job market and that they would even help me find work. During the course I realized that it was even more than that. I not only learn how to deal with job interviews, but I’m getting important life lessons as well.”
Lopo’s hope is that the course will better prepare her for university and allow her more opportunities to work during her studies. “Without a doubt, the program is giving me the security to focus on what I want. It has strengthened my expectations while dreaming and supported me in my moments of doubt and indecision.”
And it’s not just the students who can benefit from the program. With a small investment to participate in the project, corporations can have a positive impact on society and return benefits to their own company as well. Several partners of +Oportunidades have already contracted students.
“These corporations do much more that help us make our dream come true of getting a good education,” says Lopo. “It’s important because we often don’t know how to invest in ourselves or use our own capabilities.”
+Oportunidades began in September 2010 when a handful of individuals including U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon and U.S. General Consul to Rio de Janeiro Dennis W. Hearne, along with social-aid groups USAID and the Mais Unidos Group, expressed their collective desire to begin a program for the development of at-risk Brazilian youth.
Incorporating elements of information technology, communication, leadership and English language training, the program strives to better prepare its students for Brazil’s job market. It also seeks to include disabled youth as no less than five percent of its audience. Currently, the program is in full operation in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Bahia.