Since its establishment, OU’s study center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has partnered with Mundo das Artes (World of the Arts [MDA]), an NGO that provides afterschool arts-based activities for at-risk children living in Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela (low-income neighborhood). Each semester, students studying abroad with OU in Rio volunteer with the organization, where they teach English, play games and lead activities on subjects such as US culture and the environment.
MDA was started by Rocinha community leader Lino dos Santos Filho, affectionately known as “Uncle Lino,” who wanted to help the children of Rocinha by offering them a positive path through art and education. MDA’s motto, “Exchange a weapon (real or toy) for a paintbrush,” sums up its mission: to help children avoid violence and drugs and turn instead to creativity. After his death four years ago, Lino’s daughter Iris, now 26, took over the organization, sacrificing her time, energy and finances to carry on his legacy. Iris has said that she considers MDA “a refuge” for children who have faced difficult domestic situations, and “a place where they can feel free, see new things and learn about other cultures through interactions with volunteers.”
For OUR Director Caren Addis Botelho, the partnership with MDA has been a special opportunity for OU students to not only help the children of Rocinha, but also to learn and gather inspiration from Iris’s leadership and dedication. “Iris is my personal heroine,” Botelho says. “She is a tireless defender of the MDA children who come from broken homes, characterized by very low income levels and frequent domestic violence.”
Though this year’s OUR fall cohort has only been living in their new home for a few months, they’ve already had numerous opportunities to work and play with Iris and the children of MDA. In September OU senior Matthew Carman, a biology major, held an “insect safari” in a local park to teach the children about the area’s biodiversity. Carman noticed that right there in the city limits were families of beetle, ant and butterfly that he had never seen before and became interested in studying their behaviors. He led the group on a nature walk to observe and learn more about the insects. “It was so heartwarming to see the children watch Matthew at work and learn to make observations,” Botelho explains. “Matthew was very impressed with the children's focus [and] interest.”
Current OUR students will continue volunteering with MDA throughout the semester. For their next event on November 2nd, they will host a Halloween activity for the children.
MDA director Iris and the children have touched the lives of many OU students studying abroad in Rio. Botelho notes that some students become so attached the organization that they have raised and donated funds for classroom repairs and other needs. In turn, OU students positively impact the children’s lives as mentors and educators. “Iris loves OU students because they teach her children different perspectives and because they can become de facto role models,” explains Botelho. “When MDA students see that our young students are pursuing a university degree, they see other options for their futures. When they see and hear OU students speaking English, they become more aware of different cultures.”
Interested in spending a semester or year abroad with OU in Rio? Start the application process at our Education Abroad website. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.