The students on our entrepreneurship course are soon to finish their last year of high school and many choices need to be made. Some want to go to university, some want to start their own business, and some will go directly into the labour market. But how do you prepare yourself for all these options?
Together with their teachers, the students are studying for their vital final exams, which will be especially important for those who want to go to university. Those who want to start their own business are being helped by our entrepreneurship course. But something was missing: how could we prepare the students to enter the labour market? How could they get answers to essential preparatory questions such as: who am I, what are my interests, and how do I market myself?
It’s 17:45 and the sun is about to go down. Rebeka and Daan are preparing the EduMais room, located within the school of Solar Meninos de Luz. Most of Solar's 400+ students are leaving to go home but a few aren't; they are staying to join EduMais's extracurricular English class!
These determined students asked for extra classes to further improve their English, aware that their parents would be unable to pay for a course. When looking into the possibilities of meeting their request, Diana, the founder, was delighted to receive a volunteer application from Rebeka, a professional English Language Teacher at Rio International School in Barra de Tijuca. Keen to put her skills and experience to use within the community, Rebeka was worried that her work schedule might prove limiting, as she could only volunteer in the evenings. But by a stroke of luck, it was a perfect fit!
Leaving your place of birth for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience. Without your family for support, and in a foreign country where your language isn't spoken, you would be forgiven for finding everything a little overwhelming, especially if you were just fifteen years old. Yet Thaís appears to have taken it all in her stride.
“My mum was much more nervous than me,” she laughs. I fear I have to admit that I am too: Thaís scoffs at my idea that she might have been anxious on her first ever flight. “Why?,” she asks, “I just slept! Then I woke up with a headache, drank some water, and went back to sleep again."
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’.