Blog written by Priscilla Lisboa

Short term volunteer Mais Caminhos

During the month of January, I worked as a volunteer for the non-profit, Mais Caminhos, where I was introduced to the term Positive Discipline. Before I go into explaining what that means and how it works, I will explain why I decided to volunteer for this project. In 2013, when I came to Rio, I was researching schools that taught Portuguese and found Casa do Caminhos. I signed up for classes and loved the lessons taught by Markus. I was happy to know that part of the proceeds went to the Casa do Caminhos orphanage in Xerem.

While I knew my stay in Rio would be short this year, I still wanted to do some volunteer work. I contacted the Language school about opportunities to volunteer in the orphanage. Unfortunately, I got the news that the orphanage no longer exists. I learned; however, that Mais Caminhos, an afterschool program helping kids from the favelas, was looking for short-term volunteers. I contacted Diana and Katy who interviewed me and later received me with open arms at the school. The kids, on the other hand, were apprehensive when they first met me. Fortunately, after an hour or so, they started giving me hugs and calling me “tia”, meaning Aunt, all the time.

During my first few days at Mais Caminhos, Diana organized a meeting to explain all of the important aspects of Positive Discipline. As the first week went by, I saw how the Positive Discipline method was enforced in the classroom. The approach consisted of allowing the kids to make decisions for the group as a whole, such as coming up with rules for trips and how to behave in certain settings. It also consisted of an approach that I wasn’t familiar with, that involved the kids high-fiving the hand of the teacher or volunteer when they did something outside of the rules. This to me sounded counterintuitive in theory because to me high fives are only given to those who follow the rules as a means of positive reinforcement. But, when I saw it in practice, I realized how successful a high-five was as a substitute of to a stern voice or punishment. Positive Discipline relies on the principle that teachers should be kind and firm at the same time. The kind part came from the high fives and smiles, and the firm aspect came from the strong raised hand. When students realized they have done something wrong they know they have to high-five their teacher and explain how they fell outside the rules. While often they do not want to high-five their teacher, or sometimes even their classmate!, they are always received with a happy smile.

Having learned this technique and seeing how successfully it was received with the students allowed me to better handle situations and use Positive Discipline as opposed to traditional punishment. It took a little getting used to, but after the first two weeks, it came organically.

Now that I am back in New York, I miss the students and volunteers and hope to be able to volunteer whenever I am back in Rio again! It was such a pleasure to be a part of this project and I wish it continued success, as new students become a part of it!