By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Quenia de Alleluia grew up in a favela, but the 28-year-old coordinator and English instructor at the Wise Up language school in Largo do Machado has traveled the world. She completed her Masters degree in clinical psychology at Northwest University in Seattle, WA and has plans to begin a PhD in September. She is also the first and only provider of psychological counseling in Vidigal, where she and her family are from.
Alleluia’s clinic is part of Ser-Alzira de Aleluia (SER), the non-profit organization, or NGO, founded by her parents, Elma and Antônio Carlos de Alleluia, in 2003 in an effort to improve the quality of life for residents of Vidigal.
“It didn’t begin as anything formally established. It was something that just happened over time,” says Alleluia. She explains that the NGO was named after her great-grandmother, who moved to Vidigal in 1948 and was known for providing food and aid to her neighbors.
SER attempts to offer a better life for participating students and their families through technical, political and cultural development. It offers a space for learning and socialization in Vidigal, where, according to Alleluia, children rarely play outside and where a sense of community is lacking.
Specifically, it offers extra-curricular activities such as English, Spanish, computation classes, tutoring for math and Portuguese, dance, capoeira and jiu-jitsu. For students that show excellent progress, the organization coordinates university scholarships. It also offers technical beauty courses in hair styling, waxing and manicure and pedicure, which enable participants to generate income from their homes.
In addition to counseling services, social workers hold regular meetings with families, and doctors and dentists are hired to provide consultation and give talks on health and hygiene.
Alleluia explains that the organization’s primary purpose is to educate. One aspect of education targeted is that of dignity and citizenship. SER addresses the question of consumerism with its students, “we teach them to be happy with what they have, to value the person,” states Alleluia.
Students are also taught about their rights as citizens and are regularly taken on field trips to museums, cinema and even the shopping mall to foment the idea that the world outside Vidigal also belongs to them. As part of this effort, SER welcomes volunteers from Brazil and around the world to take part in a cultural exchange and to introduce students to other parts of the world.
Alleluia states, “education is an intangible good. Once you learn something, you can never lose it. You can pass it on to someone else and it multiplies.” On key dates, such as Mother’s Day, Day of the Child, and Day of the Woman, it throws parties that have an educational component.
On Mother’s Day, for example, teachers lead discussions on health and preventative medicine; on the Day of the Child the focus is on raising a child, basic education, and how to help children with special needs.
According to Alleluia, the organization’s work creates a spillover effect in the community, “We’re creating good citizens that will add to their community and the world.”
Currently SER serves ninety children, six to nineteen years of age as well as several adults. All members of the Vidigal community are welcome to participate in SER activities. The only prerequisites for youth participation are that the child’s vaccination card is up to date and that the child is enrolled and attending school.
In March 2010 the family-run NGO will complete seven years of formal operation. “We just wanted to see if we could make a change in the reality of things… to help others and to help our own reality,” Alleluia adds.
For more information on Ser-Alzira de Aleluia or to learn how to become a volunteer visit the website: www.seralziradealeluia.anepsrj.com.