I started my journey with EduMais at the beginning of 2017 as an English teacher. For me this was an opportunity to get to know those in the communities of Rio, and try to connect and see how I could make a positive impact in their lives. From the beginning I really identified with the EduMais approach, which was not only to teach English, but also create a Positive Discipline environment where the children could have role models to demonstrate positive behaviours, like being silent instead of yelling. The community is so chaotic that this kind of teaching can make a real difference in the children's behaviours, and in a short time I saw amazing changes in some of the most unruly students.
My first experience of Brazil was on a backpacking trip across South America, just over two and a half years ago. Rio was the first stop and when I left I swore to myself that I would be back in this incredible city someday; I didn't know how, when or why, I just knew I would.
Then, in February 2017, I booked a flight back to Rio to see friends that I made during my first visit, this time for Carnival. It was supposed to be just a two-week holiday before starting a new job with a charity in London . . . well, that was eighteen months ago now! I just couldn't bring myself to leave. I was completely taken by Rio and without a job, nor any Portuguese or money, I decided that I would stay.
Why I chose to volunteer with Edumais and what I've learned from the experience, by long-term volunteer Nikola
I stumbled upon Edumais when delving into the abyss of volunteering opportunities in South America. I had backpacked in South America three years earlier and Brazil speciﬁcally had left a very strong impression on me. I had recently left my finance job in London, moved back to my parents, and had a short experience volunteering in Greece to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis. I was looking for a change but not constant change. My backpack was no longer calling me. I wanted to give back and stay long enough in a place to be able to partake in something meaningful.
One of the challenges faced by young people from underprivileged backgrounds is the difficulty of picturing themselves in different circumstances. Instead of appearing open to their influence and impact, the wider world can seem like something from which they are irredeemably excluded. As a result, their potential can suffer not so much from a lack of aspiration, as from a lack of awareness of the possible avenues available to them.
William's reflections on his adolescence are tinged with an almost overwhelming sense of what might have been. Born and raised in Cantagalo, one of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro where EduMais works, his talents once caught the eye of some of Brazil's most famous football clubs, such as Fluminense and Grêmio. This potential was to suffer, however, from a severe lack of guidance.
“My parents fought a lot, you know,” William tells me, “I didn't have anyone by my side to show me the right way . . . I made the wrong decisions.”
Edumais’s primary focus is providing children in Rio’s favelas a great opportunity to learn and develop, to give them a level of teaching, support and respect that is not always easy to come by in their everyday lives.
For us to be successful, so that the children we work with have the best possible futures, we require our volunteers to be professional and dedicated.
Volunteering for Edumais is not a ‘breeze’. You can’t merely ‘show up’, do a little teaching and then hit Ipanema beach – it’s not enough – we care about the children we are responsible for too much for a volunteer to come in and merely ‘have a go’.
When I left my home in The Netherlands to live and work in Qatar in 2006, could I have imagined that it was the beginning of a journey that would take me beyond the Middle East, to Rio de Janeiro and to founding EduMais in 2016?
Certainly not, but what a ride!