Room for Improvement.

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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.

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A mugging, a football match, and a gang of transsexual prostitutes.

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I’ve now completed my third week in Rio, three weeks that I have absolutely loved, enjoyed and will cherish for the foreseeable future. I have decided to extend my time here by an additional two weeks, and am keen to remain at my current project where I feel I am progressing in building a relationship with the children and staff there. Though I will be spending a greater amount of time away from my family, friends and the comforts of living in England, I greatly look forward to spending more time here and celebrating my 22nd birthday with the new friends that I have made here, in the city that I have come to love. Who knows what could happen?
This week has been definitive in my appreciation of Brazilian lifestyle and culture, deep recognition of the problems that exist here, and the impact that all this has had on my outlook on everything. I’m sure I’ll go into depth with this a bit later on. But first, I’ll give a brief update on how what I’ve been getting on this week.
I experienced my first, if a little pathetic, mugging on Monday afternoon as a fellow volunteer and I were waiting for our bus to Take us home from the project. Though quite terrifying at the time, my stubborn personality clearly proved a success after I bravely, or more likely stupidly, continuously refused to hand over more that the bus hey that I was holding in my hand. Still, the petty criminal was clearly satisfied with his single figure earnings, politely thanking us with a smile and a thumbs up before moving off on his getaway bicycle. I will never forget the image of Jesse, my fellow muggee, returning the thumbs up and smiling at the man as if he had done us a favour, I will also never know why he did this. Immediately breaking into into a nervous laughter, I think we were satisfied with how well the situation was endured, though it is something I would most definitely not like to experience again any time soon. I’m quite certain that others would not give in so easily, or indeed be quit as polite as this gentleman thief.
On Wednesday evening I was fortunate enough to have attended one of the quarter finals of the Copa do Brasil between Flamengo and Botafogo, a true Rio derby. I realise that in attempting to accurately illustrate my experiences in Brazil I have consistently referred to atmospherical features and differences, and I’m sure that it’s repetition in my writing has irritated some readers. Those readers may just have to bare a little more, as my initial thoughts upon entering the Maracanã stadium greeted by the sight and sounds of 60,000 fans, revolved entirely around the astonishing atmosphere of an almost full stadium. Surely I can be forgiven? We had bought tickets for the Botafogo section and opted for standing in the midst of the loudest and most lively supporters. Even an hour before kick off there was more enthusiasm from the fans than I have ever witnessed at any English football game, and these were enhanced by the accompaniment of drums, horns and flags. Though the Botafogo fans were easily outnumbered by their Flamengo counterparts four to one, songs and chants were constant and deafening. The sight of the packed stadium was impressive alone, and I was impressed by such a large proportion of female supporters around the stadium. I was equally as surprised to witness the gladiatorial Seedorf and his Botafogan squad thrashed 4-0, with a significant chunk of the Botafogo crowd disappearing as the third Flamengo goal hit the back of the net. However, it is impossible to discredit the fans any further – such was there excitement and hooliganism infectious, I may or may not have been jumping up and down on my seat, swinging my t-shirt above my head whilst singing words I did not understand at the top of my lungs. A truly enjoyable and unforgettable experience.
Completing plans that had been repeatedly postponed, on Wednesday evening myself and two others began our journey to the peak of Corcovado, forming the platform for the statue of Cristo Redentor. I for one was eagerly anticipating the iconic views across the city and Ocean, my anticipation only enhanced by our plan to reach the statue in time to watch the sunset. I was not disappointed, the panoramic views and Cristo himself greatly exceeded my expectations. It goes without saying that we ticked the bucket list boxes in pulling the most touristically possible poses with the statue behind us and had fantastic fun doing so, why be embarrassed? We definitely chose the best time to go, managing to catch Cristo in daylight, sunset and illuminated by spotlights in the dark. My only regret is that I think I would have enjoyed the views a little more had I made the hike through the national park to the top of Corcovado instead of getting a minibus. There’s always next time.
I think I will publish a separate entry regarding my thoughts and realisations that were mentioned at the beginning of this brief update, as I believe it may become a lengthened post. I shall leave you with the delightful news that on Thursday night I was approached and caressed by not one, but two transsexual prostitutes. Clustered like packs of gender confused wolves on almost every corner of Lapa, a nightlife hotspot, a degree of skill is required in avoiding the attention of the wo(men), a skill I am learning and developing the hard way. Still, all in good fun.

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