By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – At 9AM the Casa do Caminho Language Centre is a hive of activity. The four, fully air-conditioned classrooms, situated just one block away from the new Ipanema metro station, rapidly fill up with students chattering in an array of languages.

Portuguese B with Elisabete Trotte Gonçalves, photo by Sarah de Sainte Croix.

This month the center celebrates its one-year anniversary. Business is apparently booming, but what sets this school apart from the herd of language centers and tutors plying for business in Rio de Janeiro is its philanthropic calling.

The Casa do Caminho Language Centre represents an innovative business model. It was conceived as a means of providing an income for its sister organization, Casa do Caminho Child Centres, an NGO which provides shelter and education to impoverished children and teenagers in the district of Xerém, in Rio de Janeiro state.

At the school only the teachers are paid. The administration staff is entirely voluntary and profits from tuition fees go directly to support the work of the children’s centers. The school offers some of the most affordable language tuition around (from R$14 per hour,) and the competitive pricing ensures a steady stream of students and a ready flow of income for the NGO.

“The idea was to start a school for Brazilians to learn foreign languages, but the demand was for Portuguese,” says Hilaine Fernandez who manages the language center. The school still offers Spanish and English classes, but the overwhelming majority of students are foreigners learning Portuguese. Fernandez estimates that over 300 alumni have passed through their doors since they opened last year.

Casa do Caminho sign, photo by the Casa do Caminho Friends Association.

The school has grown rapidly, beginning as a two-room operation on Rua Barão da Torre, and in July last year moved to their new and bigger space on Rua Farme de Amoedo and doubled their capacity. Fernandez calculates that there are now around 50 students studying concurrently at the school.

Elisabete Trotte Gonçalves, a native Portuguese speaker and tutor who has worked at the school since the beginning, says she chose to work here after becoming disillusioned with the mercenary attitudes that she witnessed in many of the other language schools in Rio. “I love people…I have always worked with people – as a psychologist and as a teacher. The mentality here is different – it is not mercenary. I like to know that a part of my work goes to the orphanage.”

She explained that while the wages are lower at the NGO than they would be working for a private institution, the flow of work is constant and she is able to earn as much as she did in previous years as private tutor, while knowing that she is working towards a good cause.

One student studying on the four-week, intensive Portuguese B course said, “I chose to study here initially because it was the cheapest course I could find. I love knowing that the money I have chosen to spend on my education is helping to educate other young people. I have learned so much already and my teacher could not be better. It really is the best R$820 I’ve ever spent!”


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