By James Alonzo
Life-changing. This is the best way to describe my internship experience in Mais Caminhos.
One of my requirements as a Public Administration graduate student in the University of Hawaii is to do an internship either in a government agency or a non-profit organization. Since working for an NGO was close to my heart, I didn’t think twice of taking the option. Likewise, since I have always known that Brazil had a massive dilemma of poverty as well, as shown in the prevalence of favelas, and due to the fact that I always dreamed of learning more about their culture, I immediately looked for an organization I can help in that part of the world. Mais Caminhos, being one of the really popular and reputable organizations in Rio de Janeiro, which helps rear volunteering in Rio and Brazil, was on top of my list.
When I was doing my interview from Hawaii with the people within the organization, I definitely felt at home and built an instant rapport with them. They are really nice people who have the heart to help children in need and the communities within Rio de Janeiro which needed help the most. I was so curious how an organization that has a business of providing education of the Portuguese language for foreigners can have helping the people from the favelas at its core tenet. Caminhos Language Center is definitely a very popular Portuguese language school in Brazil and I bet they make good business. But it has always puzzled me before going to Rio why they would even want to help the poor and needy?
And so it dawned on me, after weeks of immersing myself in the organization and interacting with the people who work in the organization, that there is more to life than just making good business. It is about building a just society for the next generation of young Brazilians by giving them the opportunity to learn, be taught of good values, and for them to enjoy their childhood – far from the hostile and chaotic environment that they live in the favelas. In all the sessions I have attended through the organization’s Complementary Education Programme, I have seen how kids like Thiago and Kaylane beam with joy whenever they are being affirmed of the good things that they have done. I have also seen how kids enjoy whenever they are able to express themselves through art and dance, especially with the wonderful cultural presentation they did in the Festa Junina. I have also seen how free-spirited they are whenever we went to the praia in Copacabana as they nonchalantly swam on the nice waters of the beaches in Rio and played football like there was no tomorrow.
I have also seen how positive these kids can be about having a good future ahead of them, despite the very stark present that they currently live in. I have seen how grateful these kids can be, and how much they will make the most out of the opportunities given to them, if only they are given the right opportunities. During my stay in the organization, we sent six kids from the favelas to Poland to join the annual Brave Kids event. I have seen the hardwork they’ve put to practice their cultural presentation so well so that they will be able to represent Brazil well in Europe. I have seen how excited every time they get reminded that their flight is getting sooner, and how much pride they had when they presented their dance in front of their whole school.
I feel so blessed to have been given the chance to meet these kids – these young ones who in the future will hopefully help make the lives of their fellowmen in the favelas better. I also feel so thankful to have worked with such amazing people in the Caminhos Language Center and Mais Caminhos. We had lots of fun working together. However, what is most inspiring is the fact that they dedicate all their time and talents to make ripples of change in the Brazilian society – one kid at a time.
Definitely, working for Mais Caminhos was life-changing. Do you also want to make a difference? Go and volunteer for Mais Caminhos. I’m sure you will get to change lives, and your life will get changed as well in the process – for the better.