Monday 26 September 2016

Rio 2016 - My View

Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful place and one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere. It is known for its beaches, Carnival, the Maracanã, Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain among other things. It has just recently had the Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games making it the first South American host of these events. I recently returned to Brazil to spend three weeks in Cidade Maravilhosa to take in the Olympic Games, but continue some of the social action work I was involved with back in 2014. I had the opportunity to link up with Street Child United (SCU) during my trip and witness the work they have going on in the North of Rio, but also expand the education network project that started back in Curitiba.

In March 2015 the idea of this trip first came to fruition, following a year living in the south of Brazil, and how great it would be to provide young people from the UK with an experience of a lifetime. I realised the benefit of taking a step out of my comfort zone had and wanted to find a way to create a similar opportunity for others. The execution of this idea differed to how it was initially planned through a variety of factors prior to Rio 2016. This was mainly driven by the media with stories such as the Zika virus, threats of violence and terrorism creating a nervous environment.

I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to visit Rio four times over the last couple of years, but on this occasion I spent most of my time in the North Zone. During 2014 we would travel in to the city for a weekend and pitch up on one of the beaches in the South Zone. Our aim was to try and improve our futvolei ability, normally watching in awe of the Brazilian players and to return to Curitiba with as much tan as possible.

The tourist idea of Rio de Janeiro is the neighbourhoods of Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon in the South Zone which is a reflection of the usual visit to the second most populous municipality in Brazil. It is extremely rare that Complexo do Penha, Lins de Vasconcelos or Engenhão de Dentro would make the Lonely Planet tour guide. Just before my latest trip I read an article from the Daily Mail that described favelas (otherwise known as shanty towns) as a grim slum where poverty, drug gangs and young men with assault rifles dominate life for the residents that live there. While this is not totally inaccurate, it does not paint a fair portrayal for the entire population in these communities in my opinion.

Rio 2016 was incredible to witness live, but also before arriving in Brazil just watching the events, seeing the landmarks and Brazil successfully hosting the event despite the issues added to the emotion. I saw the highs and the lows for Team GB including Mo Farah as he made history taking gold in the 10,000m, but also the heartbreak for Lutalo Muhammad as he lost out on a gold medal with only one second to go in the taekwondo. During the Olympics it felt as it you could see action happening at any given time, at one point we turned onto Copacabana and the female triathlon was entering into the final stages. It was surreal to see everything so close and personal, after having watched the opening events on TV back in the UK. It feels special to have been part of it.

My first encounter with SCU came at the Santuario da Penha as we met up with staff members prior to a Moto Taxi across the community to the foot of Morro do Caracol. The Moto Taxi is not my usual method of transport, however it does give an extreme adrenaline rush as you veer through the streets, over speed bumps and uphill. The church can be seen from the Linha Vermelho as you depart the International airport or from the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. I’ve seen it many times on my visits to Rio, but it was just the ‘church in the mist’ before I had the opportunity to visit it. At the foot of the Morro or ‘downstairs’ as local residents referred to it you are met by children flying kites and the Moto Taxi stop where the drivers wait for jobs, kitted out with colourful vests reminiscent to a Football League away kit from the 1990’s. We were met by a group of young men sitting outside on an old sofa as we started our ascent into Chatuba. These young men were usually armed and communicating to other members of their group via walkie talkie. As you navigate the narrow inclines, past the stray animals and children playing among the unfinished building work you eventually arrive at the Safe Space football pitch developed by SCU.

There are training sessions at this facility six evenings a week, usually thirty to forty young people from the community attend, and they are led by Drika, Jessica and Biel. During my first session I was one of the last players to be selected for a team, normally perceived to be a poorer player, but maybe previous British visitors had left a lasting reputation of our footballing ability? The opening match was noticeable as the standard was extremely high, not just for the boys, but the girls were of equal ability if not better than their counterparts. I had entered the field of the Street Child World Cup 2014 female champions after all… My performance for a first session exceeded my own expectations as I dispelled the myth that Gringos couldn’t play football. I also received the nickname of ‘Bolt’ for my athletics display, but be assured this was only over 5m. The pitch is etched into the side of the Morro and can be seen from the Moto Taxi spot at the foot of the community. It is a welcoming environment and offers a stunning view of Complexo da Penha, especially as the sun sets and the sky plays host to the latest kite fights.

I’m grateful that I have picked up the ability to communicate in Portuguese as I feel this creates a rapport straight away, especially given the lack of English among the group. The Geordie accent is something that is hard to shake off, but with a Curitibano twang I was able to get my point across and discuss the intricacies of ‘last man back’. One of the young lads I met has been studying English for 6 months in school and was keen to use some of what he has learnt to make small conversations. For Jhone and the others I hope the great work that SCU do continues because these opportunities are the inspiration for young people to excel. As Kevin Garside put it in his piece following a visit to the project, although the Olympic Games have ended, Street Child United will be here tomorrow. The coaches that lead the sessions are the pinnacle of this community and I had the honour of visiting one of their homes in Duque de Caxias for a family meal. Her story is incredible and testimony to the opportunity SCU provide for a society left to fend for itself. Her mother was a delight as she provided a lunch fit for seven, although with only five turning up our guide Joe had to make up the numbers…sweating out feijoada juice during a second helping. The hospitality of Brazilian people is amazing and something that despite a lack of belongings, they make up for it with heart and love.

The community is unpacified, but within it there are schools, businesses and families living their typical daily life. As we walked around the community we picked up a child that would join us for the remainder of the walk and passed a number of retro arcade machines. This was not a ‘unique chance’ to see a favela with a local tour guide from the comfort of a safari jeep. This was a routine day in the community with the exception of some foreign guests who came looking for retro arcade games and some scrumptious home cooked food. We were given a tour of the neighbourhood by the family and it is almost surreal to have come from the idea of Rio de Janeiro to the reality of everyday life. We encountered young men selling drugs, armed and with one of them juggling a grenade. On the next street corner we passed through a crack den that housed people dependent on the drug and came to a stop as a monkey made an appearance much to the delight of school children trying to catch a glimpse. The previous week there was a forty minute shootout between the drug traffickers and police, but on this afternoon the atmosphere was without hostility.

During my stay I had the opportunity to visit three public schools in Lins de Vasconcelos, Penha (Vila Cruzeiro) and Engenhão de Dentro. We hosted question and answer sessions with students which gave them the opportunity to use their English, but also take a selfie and an autograph from a British visitor. British tea parties, a ‘Royal’ visit and football also made up part of the visit as well as an exchange of flags from the UK to Brazil. It was a thought provoking trip not just for the students, but we had a number of questions that went beyond the realms of pop culture. Students asked us how we felt living in Europe with a higher risk of terrorist behaviour, what we thought about the Ryan Lochte incident, whether Brexit would have a big impact on us and although we created the game of football…how we felt visiting the country of football.

The school run in Lins is markedly different to how it happens in the UK as we passed the drug traffickers to enter the school area. From the outside it looked like a youth detention centre as the school entrance was behind a row of steel bars with televisions locked behind metal cages. This was following a shot into the air to signal that the traffickers were open for business. The next day we learned that there was a shootout between police and the young men we had saw previously following our visit which was a reality check for us about the type of life the young people we had spent the day with lived in.

One of the driving forces in Rio de Janeiro for the expansion of the education project has been Luciana Matos who works as an English teacher for the local Prefeitura. I recently visited her partner school here in North Shields to hand over the school uniform they had sent back with me. She explained that when the children in EM Londres saw a child in the UK wearing their uniform they felt proud to be associated and involved with this project. At times the uniform can be a visual representation of a poor education, but they looked at this photo with joy at seeing a child 6,000 miles away sporting their daily attire. Following the visits the students felt very special to have been chosen to work within this project and have the opportunity to meet a foreign person. It was not just the students, but staff at one of the schools would like to learn English and plans are being made to create a group to help staff learn more spoken English so they can have a better understanding of the project and impact on their students.

I left Rio de Janeiro with a lump in my throat, it wasn’t a symptom of contracting the Zika virus, but with the sadness that I was about to leave another community that was hospitable, warm and welcoming. On my last visit to the Safe Space project we had young children following us down the spiraling staircases to say the last goodbye. I celebrated my 27th birthday with a guard of honour from the kids at the foot of the Morro. The entire trip is a toss up between my legs and heart as to which muscle got the biggest work out as these type of moments stay with you as life continues.

In November 2015, following a trip to Brazil with a group of teachers from the UK, I realised the impact of this type of social work. Many of the British teachers expressed their sadness at leaving Brazil because it had a positive impact on their life as they developed relationships with staff members in their partner school and the children that reminded them of their own, but also partly why they were in this profession. This feeling of ‘saudade’ develops a social value and with that value it leads to productive outcomes. One example of this is the introduction of Children’s Day in North Tyneside which the three UK schools will link up on after being amazed in Curitiba by the way in which they celebrated the event.

I don’t know what the next step will be, but if you had told me in 2013 that Brazil would feature prominently in my life I wouldn’t have believed it…but here I am.

“Like many young people I believe I have potential to make a positive impact on the world.” Cameron Russell

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Introducing Leandro...

Introducing Leandro from Escola Professor Mourão Filho...

How did you learn about this opportunity?
“I learned about the project from Luciana, who is a teacher at E.M. Londres.”

Is English hard to teach in Brazil?
“I think so. Unfortunately education is hardly seen as priority and most Brazilian students do not see any good reason to learn English.”

What were your initial thoughts on this new project?
“Honestly, my initial thought was that it would not work out since most students do not really care about learning English. However, as being a teacher involves believing and not giving up easily, I have decided to give it a chance.”

How do you think having the opportunity to interact with a school in Brazil and England help your school?
“I think that will help a lot, as having this interaction will encourage all the staff to embrace the project.”

What are the children most looking forward too?
“I guess they are most looking forward to chatting with and sending letters to the students in England.”

How will this project effect the children in your school?
“I think that will open their minds to the real importance of learning English.”

What is the impact of this project on other teachers in your school?
“I hope this project will encourage other teachers to take part and help the English teachers implement the project.”

What hope do you have for the future with this project?
“I hope this project will be well availed and that this be the first of many projects in my school.”

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Introducing Rio de Janeiro...

Introducing Wladilene from Escola Municipal Ministro Gama Filho...

How did you learn about this opportunity?
“A friend of mine, Luciana Oliveira, told me about this project.”

Is English hard to teach in Brazil?
“In public schools, it is hard to teach English because most of the students are not aware about the importance of learning a second language.”

What were your initial thoughts on this new project?
“I thought it would be a good way for them to be familiar with the English language.”

How do you think having the opportunity to interact with a school in Brazil and England help your school?
“In my opinion, the contact with others will encourage them to interact in English because they will see other Brazilian students doing it from Curitiba.”  

What are the children most looking forward too?
“When I told them about this project, they became interested in meeting the people from England and they started to ask questions about the country.”

How will this project effect the children in your school?
“I think it will spark student’s desire to explore a world that they do not know that exists.”

What is the impact of this project on other teachers in your school?
“I believe it will have a great impact on them. I have not had time to talk to them yet as I have just talked to my directors and they are really excited about it.”

What hope do you have for the future with this project?

“Firstly, I hope the children become more interested in learning a second language. Secondly, that they explore, investigate and understand their world and the wider world.”

Wednesday 27 April 2016


Welcome to Escola Municipal Londres in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil...

We caught up with teacher Luciana as she discussed how her school came about to be involved in this opportunity and her hopes for the future...

How did you learn about this opportunity?
“I received an email from Craig asking if I would like to join Project Curitiba after he was given my details from the British Council. I then spoke to my school and entered into the schools partnership.”

Is English hard to teach in Brazil?
“It is a little bit hard to teach English because we do not always have the necessary equipment to teach. We have a lot of students with around 35 in each class and they only have one hour per week to study English. In better conditions it would be easier.”

What were your initial thoughts on this new project?
“My initial thoughts were how they opportunity would increase my student interest in the English language and in one month I already have students who are joining the English courses because of this project. They are motivated to speak English with new friends”

How do you think having the opportunity to interact with a school in Brazil and England help your school?
“I feel very excited to learn from teachers and students from a different part of the world and another city from our country. I believe that it will help my school to enlarge the children’s vision of the world and to see that their life can be so much more than they currently imagine.”

What are the children most looking forward too?
“The children are most looking forward to meeting the other children through Skype and show them a piece of their own lives. They feel very important because someone from a place so far away wants to know more about them and cares about their life.”

How will this project effect the children in your school?
“It has already had an effect as children are motivated to study English and more have enrolled in the English courses at my school.”

What is the impact of this project on other teachers in your school? “The other teachers see the impact on their students, they feel the same excitement and also motivation to learn English as well”

What hope do you have for the future with this project?

“I hope that my students will realise how English can change their lives and open their eyes and ideas about the world. I truly believe that this project will provide a new perspective of life to my students.”

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Project Rio - Graphic

Project Rio

We will be introducing the three new Rio de Janeiro schools who will form the international schools cluster over the next few weeks.

You can see a simple infographic below which highlights this education project!

Tuesday 3 November 2015

That time teachers from England visited Curitiba...

Its extremely repetitive, but have to say thanks to everyone that has supported the journey since 2013. It sounds quite far fetched to say that seven teachers from North Tyneside schools spent last week in Curitiba, Brazil with their partner schools but they actually did as part of a successful British Council funding bid that came about the beginning of this year. In 2013 they decided to do a Brazil Day for two lads hoping to get to Brazil and make a bit of difference, but also impacting the local community. I don't think we can not be proud of what has been achieved, however it is very much rolling with opportunities that came about and delivering outcomes with a passion to achieve.

I decided that I had to join the English teachers visiting Brazil and see them meeting their schools in person for the first time because I felt it was something I couldn't miss...and it would be nice to return and see what the schools are doing. The aim was to keep this trip to the other side of the world a secret from the Brazilians so as not to distract them from the English arrivals. I succeeded, although not without a local game in Curitiba the first impression for the teachers was a fan holding a hand gun as we ushered them through the gates!

The experience was unbelievable because you could literally see communities come together as they laughed, joked and discussed their schools in detail through broken English and Portuguese. Similarities and differences came up, but what overshadowed the trip was the awe in which everything was received. The Brazilian schools delivered welcome presentations that blew the English away with cultural dances, local music, fantastic displays and of course the national anthem. The children mobbed the English teachers as if they were celebrities and had a reel of questions they couldn't wait to ask them. The hope is this continued influence and communication keeps the English language 'real' and Brazilian children understand the need to learn and actually have the desire to pursue it. The other side of the project is the English children understand more about the world we live in and also the need to appreciate others.

The local government in Curitiba (Prefeitura de Curitiba) were fantastic and looked after the English teachers fantastically. I had to improve my Portuguese as there was a need to have a bit of translation, but sometimes words couldn't cover the emotions that filtered through the corridors. Two stand out moments include a Skype between Romario Martins and St. Cuthbert's where you could see how moved the English staff were, its hard not to get attached to the story or as started a project about happiness where Brazilian children and staff had to write what made them happy. It was a hard question to answer, but translating the responses was tougher - "gratitude for having the opportunity to meet new friends", "having a loving family" and "my children are the treasures in my life" just a small sample of responses.

The next year will see schools collaborate on various projects such as a joint diversity week, an eco friendly garden and introducing Children's Day to North Tyneside. Its almost a perfect pilot for the British Council to run with as more schools engage in the Newcastle to Brazil project in their own ways.

Three Brazilian teachers are coming to Newcastle in a couple of weeks and the nerves/excitement kicks in again. Whats the plan? the outcome? In all honesty it really is endless possibilities...

You can watch the TV report in Portuguese which covered the teachers arriving in Curitiba

We used to joke about having 1000 nephews in Brazil, the reality is we've probably got about 3000-4000 across two continents!

For English staff thanks for being great sports and taking the moments for what they were...classic!

Sunday 16 August 2015

Road to Brazil II

It's been a while since the last post so might just do a wrap up on the last few months. To be honest the Brazil journey pretty much just continues in our mind as we are not living the experiences daily. Of course we keep in contact with friends in Curitiba/Brazil and Thad has a group of volunteers continuing the legacy in the city.

The teachers from England will travel to Curitiba on Saturday October 17th to stay for 10 days, 5 of which will be with their partner school. Its a really big opportunity for them to understand more of the culture and be able to share that with the children back in Newcastle. They already share information via email, but this real life interaction will bring the project to life.

We spoke to the Prefeitura and they are working on a plan for when they arrive. There is media interest both in Brazil and the UK about this exchange which should hopefully bring a bit of positivity about the World Cup legacy. We had the chance to meet with Gustavo Fruet last year and he remains interested in the project so the teachers will have the opportunity to meet him in a few months as well.

The teachers from Brazil will visit Newcastle on Saturday November 14th for 10 days where they will interact with the schools. They are extremely excited, for many of them its the first time out of Brazil, but they are interested to know more about education in the UK.

We got a message from an American lad who was visiting Curitiba recently and keen to volunteer. We put him in contact with Thad (a fellow American). He had a brilliant time with Thad in the communities and it does go to show the power of social media.

Good news as the Jogos da Amizade returns to Curitiba in November 2015 with the support of the Prefeitura de Curitiba. A video will be released closer to the time reflecting the event last year and a reminder of the World Cup mashed into one.

We had an idea back in March regarding August 2016, its a work in progress, but the next two weeks could put the wheels in motion.