As the largest nation in South America, Brazil is an exciting and diverse place, ideal for students who are considering a gap year spent volunteering in the developing world. When not busy with their humanitarian tasks, Brazil can offer the student a huge wealth of tourist activities.
This single nation alone possesses not only the world-famous Amazon River, which cuts through dense thickets of jungle that are considered as ecologically significant as they are beautiful, but also thousands of miles of sparkling and pristine beaches.
The festival season – Carnival – has made the former capital of Rio de Janeiro known around the world as a centre of decadence and hedonism for a few weeks out of each year. Yet set against all this, Brazil remains at heart a nation where volunteering during a gap year can make a lasting and significant impact on the lives of individuals in need of compassion and assistance.
Gap year programmes in Brazil
Several organisations specialise in assisting students to find an appropriate outlet for their talents during a gap year in Brazil. Some of the most widely available activities include helping to teach English to disadvantaged young people; coaching local sports teams for children of varying ages, assisting with speech therapy or physical therapy in informal and formal settings, and even working on music projects designed to develop the budding talents of children who may otherwise never have an opportunity to express themselves through organised song, dance, or performance.
Volunteering in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil’s largest city is also the place where there is the most pressing need for gap year volunteers. Although Rio de Janeiro possesses many fine geographical distinctions, including the impressive mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer, it is also the site of the most widespread favelas, or shantytowns, in the nation.
The poverty and desperation of the favelas is staggering by any measurement. Children who grow up in this environment often receive very little education and have few ways to survive other than selling trinkets on the street or turning to a life of crime. The favelas themselves are enormous, dwarfing the size of many other cities.
Most gap year humanitarian projects in Brazil have some form of outreach to the favela community. Although teaching is a critical need, even those who know little Portuguese when they arrive can be an asset to these outreach programmes, many of which centre on improving the physical environment of the favelas through targeted development and infrastructure improvements.
There are in fact favelas throughout all of Brazil, but the ones most desperately in need of assistance are in the Rio de Janeiro area. This can actually work to their disadvantage in some ways because the scale of the need can seem to be so great that a single individual on a gap year may well question what impact one person can possibly have.
The answer, of course, is that one person can have a profound impact in the lives of those who grow up in the favelas. A better-educated child whose prospects for the future have improved due to the efforts of a dedicated volunteer will always be able to answer that a gap year programme did indeed make a difference to him.
A gap year in Brazil will help the student on holiday to appreciate both the natural beauty of the country and the merits of humanitarian aid.
Top image by Rodrigo Soldon