This is the End.

20131120-225850.jpg

So here I am – six weeks, two pairs of worn out trainers, two bottles of suncream, two hair cuts, many chickens and many bottles of beer later, I have completed the most surreal six weeks of my life so far. I am not entirely certain as to what I had expected to achieve by travelling to one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but I am certainly glad that I made the decision to spend so much time there and I have definitely returned to England a much improved person. Though, I regret what felt like a premature exit from the Brazilian city.

I have faced an endless list of challenges that have all been difficult, sometimes quite terrifying, have tested my patience to a level that I have not previously endured, and arrived in two main forms. Undoubtedly, the first has to be familiarising myself with the city, by far the largest, most diverse, most fascinating and terrifying city that I have ever experienced. Getting lost, a popular hobby of many tourists, occurred regularly, with my refusal to sacrifice my pride and manhood through asking for directions only developing my confusion and lack of knowledge of my geographical position further. I have witnessed poverty on an unbelievable scale, acts of crime and violence, cultural difference and mannerisms far beyond what I had imagined before my arrival – many of which I hope that I have sufficiently covered in previous entries, the mugging and prostitution being personal favourites. My second greatest challenge has been working with children. Rio has forced me to tolerate many things in such a way that has improved my patience dramatically. The language barrier is an obvious one, especially when trying to successfully formulate a conversation with the children. I’d like to think that we achieved one or two successful conversations, irregardless of their simplicity or whether or not they genuinely made any sense. I tremendously enjoyed their company and will miss spending my week days with every one of them. Teaching English, or at least attempting to, proved to be a great challenge in itself. Though enjoyable and a beneficial activity to all concerned, I found it difficult to maintain the attention of some of the children, a frustrating problem that made me finally understand the reasoning behind one or two detentions that I may have picked up in my school years. But, then again, thinking back to how I would have taken to such alien and confusing lessons at the age of 10, their struggling concentration is hardly surprising. I have enjoyed my continuous attempts in speaking Brazilian Portuguese, constantly leaving me in a state of utter confusion and putting a smile upon the face of the person who had the misfortune of listening to my almost certain gibberish. On more than one occasion, I remember even resorting to the use of French vocabulary to replace any missing Portuguese, a reasonable substitution, no?

I have met many great people, all having had a significant impact upon my outlook on life, particularly those that I had met on my project and who inhabited the Favela. The project’s permanent staff were inspirational, instantly earning my respect through their continuous hard work, devotion, and obvious care for the health and welfare of their local community. There are so many obvious problems in all areas of the city, yet the project that these people had helped to establish and its continued impact symbolised hope, and provided the first steps for creating a route out of poverty for the many children that it looks after. It is these children that I will miss the most, and played the most significant role in making my six weeks so unforgettable through their positivity, happiness and enthusiasm.

The unrivalled beauty of the city seen in its culture. geographical situation, beaches, infamous sights and historical buildings will remain forever imprinted in my memory. Without these inspirational surroundings that continued to fascinate and surprise me, I doubt that this collection of writings would have maintained its diverse topics and certainly would have become monotonous, whilst my enjoyment in authoring them would have disappeared long ago.

Thank you, Rio. I hope to see you again soon.

20131120-225834.jpg

Standard

Room for Improvement.

20131101-191119.jpg

I am writing whilst sat upon the peak of Pão de Açúcar, only having to slightly turn my head to absorb magnificent views across Rio de Janeiro, expanding to Cristo Redentor, Cobacabana, and the Atlantic Ocean. Nestled between the rolling hills that form the background of Rio and dotted between various districts of the city lay the many favelas that make such a significant contribution to the size and demographics of this amazing city. To me, the favelas are influential in the beauty of this city through their inhabitants, culture, and even through their colourful contribution to my current view from Pão de Açúcar. But, they are equally as significant in providing a functioning demonstration of the many problems that exist here. It is both amazing and astonishing that the city will play a significant role in next year’s FIFA World Cup, and in 2016, host the Olympic Games. I can only hazard a guess at the total cost of playing host to such events, but after spending a month here it pains me to imagine how much more usefully and humanely that money could be spent. Now, I’m no expert in the economics of global sporting events, but I highly doubt that the World Cup or the Olympics will bring significant and long term improvements to the many people struggling in Rio de Janeiro. I sense an unfair distribution of services, tourism investment and corporate sponsorship. Corrupt elements within the national and local governments remain, the obvious existence of significant crime and poverty, two protests descending into violent clashes with the police occurring here since my arrival all signify that there is clearly room for improvement within the social, economic and political structure of a country that holds the 6th largest economy in the world.

My time here has plunged me into thinking about how I could possibly make a difference here and what I could do to help. As I am not Barack Obama, head of the United Nations, World Bank or a billionaire business tycoon, clearly I am only capable of attempting to make the smallest of improvements in such a vast city of well over 10 million people. So what can I do? What can outsiders do to help the people here? The longer I spend here, the more I learn and understand through the people I meet and through my own assumptions. Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate all of this is to provide a case study of a boy living in the favela that I am currently volunteering in.

Anderson, who’s company I enjoy tremendously, also happens to be one of the most talented young footballers I have seen so far. You may remember that in an earlier entry I had mentioned witnessing a young boy score a bicycle kick, Anderson was that boy, and has continued to impress since then. He is 12 years old, and I hold the belief that if he was a British or any other European national, he would quickly have been enlisted in a footballing academy or development project of some form, most probably leading to a successful professional career. Very idealistic I know, and possibly this would only happen in Perot circumstances. But Anderson does not have this opportunity, and will most definitely continue living in Thera vela for the rest of his life. Anderson’s father died several years ago, and his mother struggles to put food on the table for Anderson and his younger brother with her monthly salary of £120. I have visited their home, horrified to hear that whilst Anderson shared a bunk bed with his brother, their mother slept on the floor of what regrettably I can only describe as a small, asbestos roofed, single roomed garage. Anderson doesn’t have the opportunities that many other children have around the world. The state only provides education for two days a week, and due to the fact that both protests that have occurred here in the last three weeks have been organised by teachers, I doubt very much that the education system is a stable and entirely successful institution. Anderson’s mother cannot afford to pay the £25 monthly fee to send him to the local Vasco da Gama footballing academy, whilst I doubt that club scouts venture into the favelas regularly. Anderson is always smiling, enjoys playing football with the other children and shows a true eagerness to learn in the classroom, yet I worry about his few opportunities to succeed.

Anderson’s situation upset me tremendously, he should be given the opportunities that I received as a 12 year old boy. Furthermore, Anderson is not alone and there are many others Lenten children in very similar scenarios, whether their talent b in football, mathematics, art, dance, or any other skill or gift that would lead to a promising career in the UK. I had naively thought over the idea of sponsoring Anderson through the eagerly phases of an academy with a fellow volunteer, but it soon became obvious that it would not be as simple, straight forward or successful as I had first thought. There would be no guarantee of an improvement to Anderson’s quality of life, surely the money would be better spent on providing food for Anderson and his family? Why sponsor Anderson, how fair would it be to select him over other young talented footballers? The list of problems goes on.

A lunchtime conversation with the house construction project coordinator, a Dutchman who left his comfortable lifestyle on Europe behind in order to move into the favela five years ago, gave tremendous insight into the many problems that have been troubling my thoughts since I had arrived here. Fabian attributed the lack of opportunities for children to two main factors. The first is a government whose first and foremost objective is to improve the overall economy, promote big business and promote profit, therefore ignoring the ‘little’ problems and minimising their solutions to focus on bringing the two largest sporting events in the world to Brazil. I can only hope that Brazil’s economy doesn’t to follow the road that the Greek economy took following Athens 2004. The second factor is the favelas themselves. The children are not exposed to a world where they can aspire to become someone in a particular profession. A doctor, fireman, veterinarian, lawyer or even investment banker may be the aims of many children or adolescents in the developed world, yet children here are raised amongst violence, growing up idealising the gangsters and drug barons who appear to have the money, the girls, and the. Attest technology and gadgets in the favela. It is easy to see how children who know no different opt to follow that lifestyle, and this is sadly a case for many.

In exposing and illustrating just a few problems, however, I am disregarding the many successful programs and projects that are making tremendous improvements in their respective areas of operations. The project I volunteer at, emarca, is one of many brilliant examples of this. The staff are caring, clearly love what they are doing and aim to improve the community that the you have grown up in. The children that attend the community centre for football, education, arts and crafts or any other activity are regular attenders, signifying that they enjoy what they are doing – choosing to learn and play at the centre rather than potentially causing trouble on the streets. The project has also succeeded in opening the minds of many children, giving them aspirations for the future to pursue through their education and life choices. This has been demonstrated by an activity that I had asked a group of children to complete on Wednesday, to identify and illustrate what they would like to become when they grow up. I was thrilled by their creativity and enthusiasm, a feeling only enhanced by the results that I received. Two firemen, three doctors, an artist, a builder, a security guard at the Maracanã and a pop star. One boy was clearly thrown of course when the project coordinator decreed that a professional footballer was not a feasible response to this activity, opting for a dream job at the home of Brazilian football instead. Still, the responses from all nine children were fantastic, and I would argue that their thoughts were almost identical to the aspirations of many children in the UK, a warming and encouraging thought.

I continue to enjoy my time here excessively, and I look forward to my final two weeks in Brazil.

20131101-190910.jpg

Standard

Favela life.

20131022-223616.jpg

I had been told on Monday that Tuesday afternoon would play host to a party for the children of the community. I arrived at the favela on Tuesday morning prepared only for what I had expected to be an easy and relaxing morning preparing the community centre for the afternoon’s celebrations. But, I was met on my way into the favela by one of the local project coordinators who asked for my help to move materials that were needed to construct the house on the plot that I had assisted in clearing at the beginning of last week. How could I say no? An opportunity to prove that the white Englishman wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and to work hard in the hot Brazilian conditions? I think it was equally an opportunity to prove all of the above to myself, and it was certainly one of the most physically demanding days I’ve endured.
We made our way through the narrow and dark corridors of the favela until we came to an open square, from which a somewhat intimidating stack of well over a thousand large clay bricks stood in front of us. Dressing in my party attire was hardly the best idea, and I knew as soon as I stepped out of the door in the morning that I had probably shot myself in the foot by doing so. Carrying 1200 bricks bare chested and bare handed was not quite my idea of a party, but I came to understand so much more about life in the a favelas and how much this house meant to the family that would be moving into it after it’s completion. Two of the family’s daughters, aged 15 and 17 years old, helped us throughout the morning carrying almost as many bricks and getting just as covered in orange brick dust as I was. I kept making comparisons between English children at a similar age and the children of the favela. Some may point out some technical illegalities in the he use of child labour, which rightfully and humanely exist most prominently in Economically Developed countries such as the United Kingdom. Those same people would also point out that such laws should also exist in Brazil, and they do, as it is illegal to obtain employment under the age of 16. Though, with such a troubled history and vast amounts of poverty it is unsurprising that there are still over 3.7 million working minors in the country. Anyway, the point I want to make and what I had learnt that morning is that these two young women wanted to help. I for one, at 15 or 16 years old was well known by my family to dodge and avoid any form of hard work, certainly in terms of physical labour. I seem to remember believing that mowing the lawn was a task too dangerous and far too physically challenging to give up an hour of my time for. Maybe I’m wrong in describing the children as ‘wanting’ to work with us in carrying the bricks. Maybe they felt it was the least that they felt they could do after receiving help from the volunteer organisation in the payment and construction of their house. Maybe it was just expected of them, which would contribute a degree of reasoning toward the continued existence of working minors in Brazil. Whichever underlying motivation it is, they helped us with a smile, aided in overcoming the language barrier with laughter and made a hard and painful morning into something enjoyable that I will never forget.
From afar, the favelas may appear beautiful in the foreground of a sunset or in the background of a photograph of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), but the appearance and smells of the favelas cannot be sugar coated. The close knit communities however, are something that I have never experienced before. Children playing in the streets together, music can be heard from all areas of the favela, and most amazingly almost everyone you walk past is either smiling or laughing, a feeling particularly prominent amongst the young children. Less is most certainly more in the favela, whilst the simple joys are definitely enjoyed to their upmost capabilities.
The significant use of modern appliances and technology here has also surprised me, though I am unsure as to whether the image that I had imprinted in my mind of favela life may have been to naive to depend upon. Most shacks and houses are connected to electricity, through a terrifically hectic network of overhead electricity cables and telephone lines that supply the power to televisions and lighting amongst other things. I’m quite certain I heard several families listening to Radio 1 earlier in the week, and I’m certain that British and American popular music is just as enjoyed here as anywhere else.

20131016-222415.jpg

Standard

They know how to celebrate…

20131014-080935.jpg

20131014-080836.jpg

My first week volunteering finished without any major setbacks on Thursday afternoon. Waking up everyday at 7am wouldn’t normally sound particularly appealing to me, but I absolutely love working with the kids every day. The bus journeys are even fun, and that’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to say, but being the most violently and aggressively driven vehicles ever, the Cariocan bus drivers certainly keep the passengers on the edge of their seats. Lunch is amazing, an all you can eat restaurant in the favela for about the equivalent of £4 offers the most amazing variety of local foods in a buffet, everything tastes so good! Apart from attempting to equal the football skills of kids less than half my age, possibly the most fun I have is in trying to overcome the language barrier when speaking to the children. Through using a combination of overly dramatic hand gestures, jumping around, shouting, and repeating the same thing until I was given a thumbs up certainly tests your patience but there’s nothing better than having a normal conversation with them, they’re always so happy! Sharing my week with kids is such a privilege, I couldn’t think of being in a better place at the moment.

Our ‘working’ week finishes on Thursday, and on Friday most of our house ended up going to Ipanema beach on the south coast of the city. First impressions? Spending time on the beach is obviously high on the Carioca’s agenda and is clearly cemented in their way of life. Amongst the thousands of people enjoying the sun and the sea, there are many who make their living on the beaches of Rio. Every hundred yards or so there are stalls selling drinks and barbecued food and let you set up a tab to cover whatever you buy throughout the day. There are vendors walking amongst the towels and umbrellas selling anything from grilled halloumi to bikinis with sales pitches to rival the one pound fish man. The women wear the most ridiculous excuses for bikinis, but who am I to complain? I’m pretty sure you’d find more fabric in a shoelace than in their swimwear but unfortunately it’s almost the same for men, a day at the beach requires nothing more than speedos and a pair of Havaianas. The water was the perfect temperature and the waves were so much fun, I’ve never been to such an amazing beach with such a great atmosphere! There are beach volleyball courts marked out all along the beach, but of course football replaces volleyball and I could spend hours watching the most intuitive shapes these people make to get the ball back over the net.

Friday night was my first night out here, what better way is there to experience the people and culture of a new city? We headed down to Lapa, a district 5 minutes walk from where we are staying. The place had been completely transformed since I walked through earlier in the day, and hundreds of stalls lined the streets selling all kinds of street food and drinks. The walls echoed the sound of samba bands playing in the streets, each with their own cluster of keen and impressive samba dancers surrounding them. I was as if everyone’s movements in the area were defined by the drum beats, a truly amazing experience! After having a drink or two in Lapa, we ended up in a club not far from where we were. On entry we were frisked and handed a card which the cost of our drinks would be added to and we were expected to pay for our entire night as we left the club later on. Everything went according to plan until everyone was leaving the club and it became clear that not everyone had understood the payment system. I only had to pay 69 Reals but aone of us had managed to lose his card and another had left the house with 40 Reals and owed over 250. Things seemed to get heated pretty quickly and everyone was shouting in different languages but after about an hour or so everyone was allowed to leave, getting home just in time for breakfast at 7am…

I was woken on Saturday by a phonecall from my project coordinator with news that I would be able to go on a trip with the kids from my favela in the afternoon to watch a Ligo do Brasil football match at the Maracanã stadium! I felt like I used to feel as a little kid on Christmas Eve. It was Children’s Day in Rio, and when we arrived in my favela the roads were closed to traffic and children were running around, bouncing on trampolines and the sound of fun and laughter echoed through the tiny alleyways of the Community. We were to take about 40 boys and girls to the football, so making sure everyone was there and loading them onto the bus was time consuming and stressful, but I think I was just as excited as all the 10 year olds. The street party continued on the bus, and into the football stadium as games and other activities were organised for the kids by the staff at the stadium. Good god they can dance!
The stadium itself was even more spectacular than I had expected, and though less than half full during the game the atmosphere was fantastic. I can only imagine what it would be like at the World Cup next year with a capacity of 100,000! Witnessing Fluminense draw 1-1 at home to Grêmio was made even better by sitting with the kids, who even at such a young age were clearly so passionate about their national sport and became increasingly animated as the noise of the stadium around them grew over the course of the match.
The journey back home from the stadium was pretty surreal, we took the metro closer to the centre of town and then decided to get a mototaxi back to the house. Clinging on to the back of a motorbike was always going to be exciting, but with no helmet (sorry mum) and racing riders, it was an experience I won’t forget!

20131014-080332.jpg

20131014-080816.jpg

Standard