By Lacy Edney, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For those who want to visit the Cidade Maravilhosa and do more then soak in the beach, there are a host of NGOs (non-profit organizations) that offer volunteer opportunities in many favelas and underprivileged communities. In a city offering a wide variety of beauty, landscapes and culture, there is an equally wide range of needs to be met, and the altruistic traveler can find an use for almost any talent or interest.
Those wanting to get actively involved with helping children may be interested in Developing Minds Foundation, a NGO with programs in Brazil, U.S. and Columbia. In Rio the NGO has a football (soccer) program involving 300 children in the Mangueira favela, which is in partnership with the popular Flamengo professional team.
Former professional football players are volunteering to teach these children who have grown up in Mangueira, which overlooks the Maracanã Stadium. Founder Philippe Houdard explains, “In the favela, there aren’t a whole lot of outlets for kids to have fun.”
The Developing Minds Foundation is also working with 200 children in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela, providing access to computers and teaching them how to use the internet and software, to equip them with the necessary skills to help integrate and thrive in the modern digital society.
The NGO makes it a point of hiring locals to have a better connection with the community, but they are also always looking for more help. “Even though favelas still do present some risks, [the process of] pacification has made it a lot easier for us to bring international volunteers into the Mangueira and Cidade de Deus favelas,” remarks Houdard.
Those looking for an inclusive package deal, the Iko Poran program includes twenty hours of Portuguese classes as well as an orientation session for living in Rio de Janeiro. Iko Poran (translates to “All Right!” in the Mbya dialect of the South American Guarani Indians) partners with over forty local NGOs in Rio to help volunteers find a program they are interested in.
Even if traveling in Rio for a short period of time, Iko Poran offers volunteer programs that last from seven to fifteen days. Named “spring breaks,” it is an all-inclusive program including lodging, food, transportation, and trips to a few tourist attractions.
Another option for those looking for help figuring out where to begin, is Project Favela, an organization that partners with 35 local NGOs and provides individual placement for volunteers. “We ask a volunteer what their dream volunteer opportunity is, then we ascertain their skills and schooling and find the best fit for them. We have found volunteer opportunities ranging from teaching hip-hop to ping-pong,” explained one of the administrators, Scott Miles.
They provide the NGOs with volunteers as well as a stream of revenue. On average, a two week volunteer experience in Rio, with lodging included, costs around R$2,150.
A part of the price is a donation to the volunteer’s particular project and the amount is presented on the volunteer’s first day on the project. “Approximately half of our volunteers are travelers who arrive in Rio and are moved to do something more with their vacation,” Scott states.
With many opportunities for talents of all kinds, volunteering is an excellent way to experience Brazilian culture in a more profound and meaningful way. Programs like these provide support to ensure volunteers are safe, well taken care of, and able to be involved in a community while visiting.