By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Thirty high school students from the United Kingdom visited the Santa Marta favela in Botafogo last week, to witness first-hand the operations of Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP, Police Pacification Unit) within the community, through an exchange program sponsored by The British Council.
Part of the UK’s Global Fellowship program, whose slogan is “Don’t look at yourself as only a young person in the UK; look at yourself as a young person in the whole of the world”, the project aims to expose the British youth to the cultures and alternative socio-economic realities of emerging nations, providing them with an invaluable learning experience.
A group of one hundred 18 and 19 year-old students – selected from British schools due to their interest in different cultures, extraordinary entrepreneurship and communication skills – have been sent to one of the three principal developing countries of the world, Brazil, India, or China to participate in a six-week cultural exchange program.
Upon their return to the UK at the end of August the students will be charged with passing on their experiences to as many young people as possible, holding various events at schools and their communities with the aid of The British Council in London, as well as giving interviews.
On the itinerary of the visitors to Brazil were Afroreggae and Leblon Police Station in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the favela Santa Marta and famous touristic spots of the city, before they continued to São Paulo to stay with Brazilian families. Their cultural immersion program includes basic Portuguese classes and talks with the police and the community, as well as visits to governmental organizations, and important businesses such as Petrobrás.
Sponsor The British Council has emphasized the importance of achieving a thorough understanding of the emerging nations’ cultural, social and economic realities by Britain’s youth, in order to develop better relations with the these countries.
The project’s coordinator in Brazil, Liliane Rebelo stated that the program “plays a key role in increasing the confidence and self-esteem of young Britons, helping them to deepen their knowledge of the role of emerging economies, and their understanding of the importance of being an active global citizen.”
Rebelo also points out that the participants usually start the trip with certain preconceptions with regard to the countries they are visiting, but end up with completely different attitudes and opinions at the end of the program.
“Their experience in Brazil allows them to understand the challenges facing the country, as well as possible ways to resolve issues of great importance”, she said, adding that the program is equally beneficial for Brazil, which has been “establishing relationships with these young people who are the future of the UK.”
The British Council, which in Brazil has offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Recife and São Paulo, is the international cultural organization of the United Kingdom that promotes educational opportunities and cultural relations. It is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1934, and works closely with the British Embassy and other British government representatives in Brazil.
With offices in 110 countries around the world, the Council’s aim is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between the UK and the other countries, while representing the contemporary culture and values of Britain within these countries.
In Brazil, The British Council has been working since 1945 to bring the people of the two countries together, with different projects mainly targeting the younger population, in order to develop stronger ties, and to achieve a greater mutual understanding.