My first two weeks in Rio have allowed me to relax, regroup, and reflect.
After an incredible and intense last few weeks in Cape Town, I tried to take my time and slow down once I arrived in Rio.
It was nice to have a lot of downtime to focus on exploring the local area, exploring my project, and becoming acquainted with my new life in Brazil.
After more than 24 hours of travel I landed in Rio de Janeiro with the same confidence, excitement, and positivity that I had felt when I first landed in Cape Town.
It is a great feeling to know that since the halfway mark of my travel year I have been able to approach each new place with confidence and excitement rather than insecurity and fear.
At the beginning of my year I was always a bit anxious about the experiences that each new place would bring. I used to worry that my host family experience may not be what I wanted or needed. I used to be concerned about finding meaningful experiences and opportunities for my project. And I used to worry about meeting new people and feeling alone as I approached a new destination with limited contacts.
At the beginning of the year, the idea of traveling to Rio de Janeiro was a bit frightening since I do not speak the main language and I have very few contacts here.
Now my mindset and approach has changed.
Throughout my year I have grown in my ability to trust, value, and have confidence in myself to the point that I now believe that I have the ability to adapt and overcome any challenge that I may face. Now I am excited to travel to each new destination because each place brings new opportunities for me to learn and to explore.
As I expected, not knowing the main language has been a challenge for me as I struggle to find contacts for my project.
From talking to different organizations, locals, and other international volunteers I have learned that Brazil has an interesting recent history of developments and progress in addressing major social problems including domestic violence, child abuse, and the poverty and challenges in the favelas. These developments include new police squads, laws, programs and institutions focused on helping women, helping children, and improving social and economic conditions in the favelas.
Unfortunately with limited time and with a difficult language barrier, it isn’t as easy for me to access and spend time with these programs, services, and institutions.
Fortunately, I have made recent progress with my project thanks to people who have gone out of their way to help me establish contacts and see the work that they do.
After talking to a young man playing foot-volley ball on the beach, I learned that there is a developing program in the favela near where I stay that helps children in the community by teaching them English every Saturday morning.
I was invited to spend time with the program and have learned a lot about how this program and many other programs approach helping the favela community.
The program is set on the terrace of the young man’s home near the top of the favela. The large terrace has a stunning view of the favela and the surrounding area of Copacabana. The program materials include one white board, two markers, an English instruction book, four tables and about 30 chairs. Every Saturday the program has anywhere from eight to eighteen children ranging in age from 5 to 10 years and who are all at different levels of english comprehension.
Similar to other programs that I have tried to contact, this program survives with the help of international volunteers. On my first Saturday in Rio de Janeiro I made my way to the top of the favela by walking up dozens of stairs and taking a cable car with two other international travelers. I was surprised to see that the organizer of the program, the local young man who lives in this favela and who runs the program out of his home was nowhere to be found.
I then spent the next two hours continuously crossing over the boundaries I had tried to set for my project by moving between the observer and participant roles when my help was requested by the international students.
We went over the letters of the alphabet, the alphabet song, basic introductory questions, and how to spell each other’s names.
It was nice to see that these children were really trying to learn! Many of them enthusiastically helped each other with pronunciation or the answers to questions that the teachers would ask. Many of them were closely listening to the teacher and writing down everything that they possibly could in their notebooks. A few of the children surprisingly had smartphones or tablets and were using them to sometimes disrupt the lessons by taking a selfie.
After observing and participating in two classes with this program, I believe that this program truly is a great way to help the children and the favela community in a variety of ways-from emphasizing the importance of education and teaching children to value education and learning to teaching the children another language that can help them in the future.
While I recognize the many positive aspects of the project, I do believe that the program has a lot of unmet potential. I believe that with more support and communication between the international volunteers and the young man who started the program, with a more organized curriculum, with a more structured program, and with differentiated instruction tailored to the children’s different levels of english language comprehension the children will be able to learn a lot more and have their educational needs met.
Fortunately, the young man who started the program is currently working with students from an American University who are helping him to develop his business model for his tourism service and this community project. I was able to provide my feedback to them and they will hopefully use my recommendations to create a more stable platform for this program that includes more of a planned curriculum, the possibility of the teachers providing differentiated instruction based on the different learning levels of children in the program.
I am excited to see how the program continues to grow and develop during my last few weeks in Rio!
When I have been working to establish contacts for my project in Rio and in Guatemala, I have also taken the time to explore the local area, meet new friends, and adjust to life in a new country with a different culture and different language.
I have explored the local beaches and different areas of town, I have gone dancing to try to learn forro and salsa, and I have spent the day listening to samba music with new friends.
I have explored the local beaches.
I have been incredibly lucky to have a host and “host family” who speaks english. My host is very kind and helpful! I have enjoyed going on walks with her around the area, sharing amazing local takeout together, and getting to know her.
Leandro is a local who has been a breath of fresh air with his kind heart and gentle spirit. Despite a sometimes challenging language barrier he has done so much to help make my time in Rio de Janeiro memorable and special. I’m excited to continue to get to know him and spend time adventuring with him!
Shannon is a traveler from the United States who has been a great support for me while I have adjusted to my life in Brazil. I look forward to continuing to adventure around the area together and I appreciate our conversations about the issues that we face both as international travelers and as people who want to help others and make a difference.
With the help of these new friends Rio de Janeiro has provided me with the opportunity to continue to learn while also reflecting and appreciating all that I have experienced and will continue to experience.
Every night I take a long walk along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
While listening to the waves gently crashing and feeling the sand and water at my feet, I reflect and think about the days that have ended and passed, the current day that is coming to an end, and the days yet to come.
During these walks I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride and happiness with where I have been, where I currently am, and where I am going in all aspects of my life.
I have now traveled to six different continents and have seen and experienced some of the most beautiful sights in the world.
I have observed and participated in truly rewarding programs, services, and systems that are making a difference in communities, countries, children, and families around the world.
I have felt unconditional love and support from people who are at first complete strangers.
I have experienced fear, insecurity, heartbreak, disappointment, and challenges.
I have also experienced moments where I have have felt so loved, blessed, valued, lucky, happy, free, and alive.
Ultimately all of these moments combine to allow me to now experience and appreciate a new and heightened level of achievement, happiness, and love.