Savannah Peiser gives an interview about her experience volunteering on child development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I chose to go international because there was the dual opportunity to help those who are disadvantaged and to travel and explore Brazil. It was also a journey of discovery for me and to open up more career opportunities for my future.
Why did you choose Iko Poran Association?
I stumbled across their working abroad website, and when I spoke their colleagues in London, they made me feel relaxed and comfortable about their partnership with Iko Poran. The program also appealed to what kind of change I wanted to make, even if it was only a small change.
Little steps, along with patience, reach bigger goals.
What was your favorite part about Rio de Janeiro?
The location of the project and the hostel I was staying in were within walking distance of each other, or a 10 minute bus ride. To walk was about 40 minutes, but it was worth it to meet people and to see the beautiful surroundings. Sometimes when I finished late, I caught some beautiful sunsets. Also, it was close to the main area for social life, so on the weekends, when I didn’t work on the project, I could enjoy with fellow volunteers and people staying in the hostel.
What makes Iko Poran’s program unique?
It was unique for many reasons; I was the only volunteer there, so because the children were inspiring the main reason for the uniqueness of the program was the ballet classes that gave the kids a peaceful retreat from their harsh day-to-day life. Their lives are not easy, the backgrounds of their families really do make you think. Also, it made me feel grateful, but sad, that there aren’t equal opportunities. Overall, it was unique because it was thought-provoking and inspiring.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Luis Felipe Murray gave a great introduction to the program and made sure I was happy with the project before I began participating. The only critique I have is that during the program there could have been a little more contact, just to check up.
Volunteer with children in Brazil
The smiley group of children from the morning half of the project at Ballet de Santa Teresa – my little cherubs!
What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish that I had brought more materials with me to engage the kids with a little more.
Describe a day in the life of your program.
I would wake up around 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. at the hostel, get ready and have some breakfast, and leave by 8:30 a.m. I would arrive at the project by 8:45 a.m. or sometimes 9 a.m. because the bus would be late; in the mornings, I always took the bus. Upon my arrival at the project, I would check the rota for that particular day. Always in the morning was the activities with the younger kids aged three to nine. We would have some reading and writing classes, and then painting and puzzles. At 10:30 a.m. there would be a break for juice and biscuits, then back to classes. During the writing/readings/arts classes, there would be music classes happening, with various music teachers and ballet lessons (the main class of the school). Then at 12 p.m. we would begin lunch, which would go until 2 p.m.
During lunch, once the little kids had finished eating, they would change their uniform and go off to proper school. Then the older kids aged 10 to 15 would arrive, eat their lunch, and when the afternoon teachers arrived they would begin their lessons at 2 p.m. After 2 p.m the lessons consisted of making things for the production they were performing at the end of the month. The school would close at 6 p.m. Sometimes I’d stay until the end, but most days I left after lunch. That was a nice thing about the program, there was some flexibility.
What enjoy doing on your free time?
I really enjoyed socialising with the people at the Rio Hostel Santa Teresa, the staff there were very friendly and became like my family for the month I was there. We would eat and drink together and go out on the weekends.
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
I stayed in the Rio Hostel & Pousada Santa Teresa. The people who worked there were like family and the other volunteers and people staying there were very friendly. From my time there, I have definitely made some real friendships.
What surprised you most about Brazil?
Nothing really surprised or shocked me about Brazil, as I already had knowledge of how life is there due to having Brazilian friends. Also, I’m from South Africa and the two countries are incredibly similar; they have the same socio-economic issues, same culture, really similar cuisine, equally beautiful beaches/wildlife/outdoor landscapes, quite similar mentalities, and the same political problems (i.e. corruption).
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Brazil?
I think when it comes to packing, it’s all relative to the individual. Pack what you need.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
I didn’t struggle to communicate with the locals as I already had quite an extensive knowledge and practice of Portuguese. Sometimes there would be a problem with the accents of the different people, especially those from the various states of Brazil, but it wasn’t a big hindrance.
How has (and will) your time in Brazil impacted your life?
For sure it will enhance my career opportunities, and it has opened my eyes a bit more.
Would you recommend Iko Poran Association to other volunteers?
Yes, I’d definitely recommend Iko Poran! They’re a great organisation with great projects.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
When I volunteer again, I would either come back to Brazil or go to South Africa.
About Savannah Peiser
Savannah was born in South Africa, but her family moved to London early on in her life. She was fortunate enough to attend a good school, and then move on to attend Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Savannah loves traveling and has traveled to many places; she thinks traveling is an education in itself.
Want do volunteer in Rio de Janeiro?
Find the complete information about volunteering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil here.