Working as a volunteer in favela

Author: Katarina Karcolova

One of the best things of travelling and living abroad is the fact that you can meet very interesting people you can learn from and get inspired. I had a chance to meet such an inspiring person and that is Tamara. We met on the Balkans, where we were working as EVS volunteers (European voluntary service). During the trips we made and time we spent together we talked a lot about our lives, loves, experiences and ideas. Tamara spent one year in Brazil working as a volunteer in a favela and here is the interview I made with her.

Mladiinfo: Could you introduce the project you were working on and describe your role in it?

Tamara: I was working in a local organization of Porto Alegre (Brazil). Mainly, the activities we carried out were related to education. The main goal was to improve educational opportunities and support for youth. We offered different activities as soccer, capoeira, elementary reading, writing skills, art classes or job skills training.
The program also tried to change the living conditions of the favela. We were working on improving food sanitation, hygiene conditions and sexual education. Social work as well as education and health regulations are extremely important for favela’s inhabitants. We also tried to make their lives more colorful. For instance, we arranged an open air cinema on the weekends or small theater performances with children.

Mladiinfo:  What was your motivation to take part in this project?

Tamara: Over 30 million Brazilians in the age of 18 years and under live below terrible educational conditions because of the social marginalization of favelas. I remember reading an article with this headline and that was the motivation for me to get involved. I felt, I could not live in Brazil for a year and ignore such a reality. I also wanted to get to know and understand better the complexity of the country’s situation.

Mladiinfo:  What was the most surprising and the most difficult thing you had to adjust to?

Tamara: I would say everything inside the favela was surprising and strange for me. The most difficult thing was to adapt myself to such a stressful condition. Most of these situations were related to drug trafficking. Drug traffickers in favelas control economy of these places and they are permanently in war with other favelas or police.
For example, you can suddenly hear fire-works announcing to drug traffickers that the drug is entering in the favela. I also remember when we arrived one day and a kid told me that his father was killed last night. People from my organization told me that this kind of things happened very often. Working in this violent and dangerous environment was a challenge for me.

Mladiinfo:  What about the cultural shock, did you have any?

Tamara: Cultural shock is always part of my adaptation process. The thing that shocked me the most was the people. If I had to define Brazilian people with one word, it would be Happiness. It does not matter what kind of people we are talking about, whether they are university students, people in the streets, shops or favela they never lose their smiles. They are also very hospitable people. Even when they do not have enough for themselves, they still offer you everything that they have.
The behavior of the people is also different for me. The way they speak or greet. They always touch each other when they are talking or when they meet someone. It does not matter if you know this person or not, you have to hug him and give one kiss. They are close, generous and happy people. That was the most shocking and awesome thing for me.

Mladiinfo:  What do you consider to be the most important thing you learnt and gained from this experience?

Tamara: I learnt so many things, from cooking typical Brazilian recipes till how to live in one of the most criminal countries in the South America, but what I will never forget is the Brazilian philosophy of life. Brazil has one of the lowest rates of psychological depression in the world and now I can understand why. Many families have a number of reasons to worry about, but they know how to live with that. The most impressive thing is that in spite of the worries, they know how to be happy. They do not talk about all the things they do not have or the things they would like to have, they just live their lives with what they have. They just think in the present. When I came back to Spain and everybody was worried about economical crisis, terrorism or whatever, I realized how different these two cultures are. There is always a way to be happy and enjoy your present life, but sometimes we do not want to see it and we prefer to be worried about what will be next…

3 thoughts on “Working as a volunteer in favela

  1. Hey, it's a really nice story and I liked it. I'm looking forward to working as an EVS volunteer and I hope that I will find the right project for me. I also want to know where I can find information about projects and organizations outside Europe like Tamara's one in Brazil. Can you help me with some sites or information?

  2. Hi my name is melina, im 18 years old and im canadian. I have the project of going to brazil next year to teach either english,spanish or french. I would probably volunteer with the 2bros foundation in the rocinha favela. I’m really glad i read your article because it reassures me a lot! Im very motivated about the project but im still concerned with safety.
    I have blond hair and blue eyes so I really look like a tourist’ wil it be a problem for my safety? How is it for a girl to trav by herself in that area especy a girl looking like a “gringo” ?

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