By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Embaixadores da Alegria, meaning “Ambassadors of Joy,” is the first samba school in the world solely designed for, and catering to people with disabilities. The idea was founded in 2006 by Paul Davies, Caio Leitao and Felipe Nogueira and born after an unfortunate accident suffered by Davies which forced him to pull out of the Champions Parade at Rio’s annual Carnival.
Davies recounts, “While lying in bed in pain I thought how difficult it was for the disabled to be in a samba school and that there was no space for them.” He goes on to say, “From an idea in 2006, we have now become one of the most respected organizations regarding the treatment for those with special needs.”
Since its creation, the organization has gone from strength to strength, seeing its numbers rise to 1,800 people covering two full-sized floats in this year’s Carnival display. Davies believes the major triumph has been “to show that the disabled and special needs people can and should have a share in society, and that they should be treated with more respect [and not] with pity.”
Certainly the aim is to include people with disabilities as much as possible by using Brazilian popular culture and the art of Carnival to help fuel interaction. The organization is unique in the sense that it is the only known organization of its kind to include all types of disabilities and special needs.
Age bears no restriction either. Davies happily informs: “Embaixadores is open to any age group eight through eighty! In fact we will be starting our very first Ala da Velha Guarda (Wing of the Old Guard) next year, where numerous pensioners from different Velhas Guardas from numerous samba schools will make up our group.”
Embaixadores da Alegria has big plans for Carnival 2012 that are set to exceed all previous performances. As a nod to the coming Olympic Games, the display will focus on Paralympic features with special choreography by different groups and an element of sport added to the moves.
Wheelchair basketball and special gymnastics are just some of what is to be expected in next year’s show. Davies explains: “Every year we try to improve in quality and to include even more special needs amongst those who already parade with Embaixadores.”
The plan is also to take some of the Embaixadores members to the London 2012 Paralympic closing ceremony in order to generate greater awareness of the organization and to be part of the “handing over” that sees Rio de Janeiro receive the Olympic Torch from London.
On a recent state visit by members of the British Parliament, Secretary of State and Minister for Games and Culture Jeremy Hunt expressed his appreciation of the organization and of his desire that they should be included in the London Handing Over celebration.
Undoubtedly the organization has excelled since the idea was first born in 2006 and as for the future, Davies is optimistic. “We plan to export Embaixadores to other places around Brazil and use our know how with other cultural events. So fingers crossed there.”
For more information on Embaixadores and about past and future events, visit Paul Davies’s Blog: eusouembaixador.blogspot.com