Research & Advisory associate Alexa Woods facilitates STEM sessions and teaches English classes for residents of Rocinha.
As part of CEB, now Gartner’s Global Impact Week, Alexa Woods, Senior Research Analyst, spent a week volunteering for Project Favela, an early childhood center in an underdeveloped neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alexa shares her experience and its impact below.
Project Favela operates an after-school program for the children of Rocinha, a favela just south of the Rocinha city center. Because the state only funds half-day schooling, Project Favela offers classes for students aged 3–13 to supplement their education and keep them off the street while their families are at work. My week was full of chemistry experiments, art projects, and English classes with some of the most spirited (and energetic) kids I’ve ever met.
The favela itself is a maze of colorful buildings and winding streets that stretch all the way to the top of the massive hillside that encompasses the neighborhood. At the bottom of the favela, you’ll find a newly constructed metro stop from the 2016 Olympic Games and luxury apartment buildings perched in front of the infamous São Conrado Beach, where the thrill seekers of Rio finish their hang-gliding flights. Despite the stark contrast of poverty and wealth sitting side by side, you won’t find any remorse among the residents. Instead, you’ll be greeted with a bustling economy of entrepreneurs ranging from hairdressers and DJs, to moto-taxis and street-food vendors.
As a volunteer with Project Favela, my primary role was to help facilitate afternoon sessions with the older students and adult English classes that took place later in the evenings. Each afternoon began with an assembly after lunch to review the day’s schedule and split the students into their respective home room groups. Groups were assigned a variety of activities to participate in throughout the day. I was responsible for leading team challenges focused on STEM development during our hands-on activity time known as Fazedores, which comes from the Portuguese verb “to make.” For example, students harnessed their engineering skills to build mini versions of the favela from Styrofoam blocks, practiced geometry by constructing 3-D shapes from paper straws, and learned about elasticity by using rubber bands and string to stack plastic cups into a tower (no hands allowed)! With my very basic Portuguese, it was at times challenging to communicate instructions, but the students were creative and caught on quickly.
The majority of children attending these sessions do so throughout the year and build strong relationships with not only the other volunteers (some of whom work for three to six months at a time) but also with each other. Many do not have a stable home environment, so Project Favela offers a unique opportunity for them to learn consistently outside of the typical classroom. The program’s ultimate goal is to get students excited about learning and show them their true potential so that they are motivated to pursue higher education.
Each evening, once all the children had left, more than 20 adults walked through the program’s doors to participate in free English classes. I led conversations with the advanced English group on topics that touched everything from music to politics. Some of the participants in these sessions had lived in Rocinha their whole lives, and others had moved from neighboring countries such as Peru and Ecuador. The common thread between all participants, however, was the desire to improve their English and build a better life for themselves.
I am incredibly thankful for my week of service in Rocinha, and by sharing my story, I hope to give people a different view into life in the favela. Drugs and violence do exist, but they are by no means the overwhelming force. It is the generosity and warmth of the people in Rocinha, combined with their fortified spirit of determination, that truly define the community.
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