Delali Kalitsi volunteered with Project Favela during June and July of 2015. She was an instrumental team player during the preschool transformation stage. With her help, the preschool is fully aligned to standards and provides a thematic, interdisciplinary, and bilingual preschool program to the children of Rocinha. In August of 2015, she begins her first year as a primary teacher at St. Matthew Academy in Blackheath, London. Editor's Note: Be sure to watch the video of Dell working her magic at the end of her article.
So you've just arrived in Rio de Janeiro and met with your taxi driver who has somehow driven you up the steepest hill you have ever seen. The air is humid, the sun is out and the views are amazing. There's street art, music, meat grills and football literally everywhere. You're exhausted, but before you settle in before orientation, your volunteer co-ordinator has an important message for you: don't flush the toilet paper down the loo (or toilet for you non-Brits). Rio de Janeiro. You actually made it! (as in you're alive, breathing and safe in the biggest favela in Rio and not caught in-between a drug war crossfire like your family and friends anticipated.) But It feels surprisingly...safe?
You take another peek out of the window, gazing down on what you will soon know and love as the vibrant community of Rocinha. Now you've made your bed and you can't go to sleep. Great. But that's fine, you'll just unpack. Actually maybe not. Another peek out of the window. You've taken a wander around the lounge, the balcony, the kitchen. You've read the whiteboard, hostel rules, flicked through some Rio tour guides, stared questionably at the jar of change on the table counter. Now you're ready to sleep. Finally. You're exhausted! But there are still. So. Many. Thoughts. For instance, how you're actually going to do this...how are you going to teach Brazilian kids? What are you going to teach them? When? Who with? HOW?
Once you embrace and see the beauty in their community then their material deprivations will no longer consume you as you will understand that this is not the aim.
Yeah, teaching. You might have some experience in this field. It could be loads. It could be nothing. Either way your brand new experience with these favela kids will be unlike anything you've ever done or seen before. Everything about these favela kids is going to be different from kids overseas that you have previously interacted with, from their hobbies to their diets, classroom etiquette, musical interests, family backgrounds, social dialect, daily routine, reading abilities, writing abilities, priorities and goals. All of which are part of their wholesome culture and could make this experience challenging. But you're not trying to erase their culture. You're not trying to tailor them into the children that you worked with in Europe or North America. (And if you are, then you have deeply missed the point.) You are never going to leave the project with all of them living in swanky apartments in Leblon. This is how they live and this is who they are. Once you embrace and see the beauty in this then their material deprivations will no longer consume you as you will understand that this is not the aim. The aim is not material or financial. The aim is education. What you are trying to do is enthuse and engage them into an educational programme which will encourage them to extend their academic careers and give them the prospects which will equip for a better quality of living in the future.
So no, this is not going to be easy. Rewarding? Yes...Fun? Yes! A unique experience? Most definitely. But easy? No.
Now you might be wondering how any of this will be physically possible in your stay. You may have some ideas about how the experience will be which could inhibit your potential as a teacher that will truly make a difference. From experience, I can tell you that these inhibitions are more than likely myths. I'm Del, a former volunteer and newly qualified teacher and I'm going to expel 3 myths which will help to enhance your teaching experience at Project Favela.
Myth #1 :"I'm not a teacher. (Insert name)is, so he/she is going to be a better job than I."
Okay I can't tell you how many times I've heard other volunteers allude to this myth. Funny thing is that these volunteers have easily given a better lesson delivery than I, a supposedly qualified teacher on my best days. I honestly do think that this has been because of the relationships that these volunteers established and developed with some of the projects most vulnerable children.
Seeing the children as individuals and taking the time to get to know them is invaluable to aid your teaching qualities. Speaking from personal experience, once I had gotten to a place where I really knew the personality dynamics of my 4 year old class, I instantly became more comfortable in the classroom and more confident to giving class demands as a result of that. (Even with the poor quality of my Portuguese, but we'll talk about that in another myth). Confidence is key for your lesson delivery and establishing behaviour management boundaries with the children, but if you feel like you don't have any when you stand in front of your class, it's probably because you don't really know them and they don't really know you. Once you first arrive at the project, get down the crèche when you can. In terms of developing a key relationship with your class, it is one of your best resources. Spend an afternoon slot helping out with going home time. Let's say you've already prepped your resources for your class and have ten minutes to spare. Go down within those ten minutes before collecting them so that you can observe them in their typical learning environment. Try to build a rapport with the staff down there and look at the class displays or go through the children's workbooks. This way you can see what they are capable of. Talk to the children, try to play games with them or sing songs with them and get to know them on a first name basis. This way when you teach them you no longer feel like strangers in a room. Touch base with some of the existing volunteers that may be handing their class over to you. Talk to them about the different individual children. Are there any pointers or tips that they can give you? What has worked well and what hasn't?
Once you develop this relationship, it will become easier for you to plan and prepare classes. You know what your kids are into and what they would undisputedly hate. Need to set some boundaries for discipline? No problem. You banter with some of your class members so much that you can do this without being their worst enemy. You know who should absolutely never sit together during story time and who not to pick to read something out aloud as this is their worst fear. You know how to differentiate different ability groups in your class for the learning activities. Some kids know the whole of their timetables in your afternoon class and others are just learning to count to 20, but you know all of this so selecting a maths exercise isn't so much of a mission impossible anymore. Most importantly, you will earn respect from the children as your efforts to get to know and support them effectively will not go unnoticed.
Myth #2: "My Portuguese is awful. (Insert name) is fluent, so he/she can take the lead."
Yes you should know some Portuguese before you arrive. But, if you started trying to learn at a beginner level like I did before I arrived in Brazil, it's likely that your Portuguese still more or less sucks. However, you'd be surprised at how soon you will pick up the essentials. Sit in as many classes as you can when you arrive and you will be amazed at the classroom demands which are rolling off your tongue when you start lead teaching. Go out into the community, but without that-one-volunteer-who-is-fluent-in-Portuguese. Stop using that person as a safety net, walk into and around Rocinha ALONE. The amount of Portuguese I picked up whilst embarrassing myself to the waitresses in Super Sucos, (best place to eat in Rocinha, that restaurant needs a blog post in itself) really surprised me. Going into the photocopy store, grocery store and supermarket to practise my portuguese phrases when making requests for items also helped a great deal. Try to be as friendly as possible, even if you are just saying hello or hi to the locals. I found that this helped me to simply articulate my voice in a Brazilian-Portuguese accent, which I discovered was one of my main weaknesses.
Okay despite all of this, you still don't really speak Portuguese very well and you think that your teaching abilities are non-existent because of this. This is a myth I told and fed myself upon arrival to the project. But experience has taught me that it's not about your level of Portuguese, it's about your classroom presence.Okay, so maybe I have been pulled aside a few times by other volunteers to reprimand me about the fact I spoke French, Spanish or even German by mistake. But the main thing is that the children achieved the intended learning outcomes for that module and are making progression. Yes the language barrier is hard but I soon discovered that even with the little Portuguese that I had, I was able to (sort of) manage a class using a range of resources. Your use of voice is a vital tool in classroom delivery. From high pitches to low pitches, keep the children on their toes with what you will say next. You could even speak softly to them, you don't have to shout. Remain consistent with your behavioural boundaries. Never shout over children who are not ready to listen and always wait for silence when gathering their attention. Use non-verbal strategies such as clapping, musical instruments or soothing music to calm them. Praise children that are modelling admirable behaviour and use them as a model to the other children as an incentive to display the appropriate behaviour that you need to make your teaching effective. We have used star charts, happy faces and sad faces and even celebratory parties for good behaviour in the project. Consistency and repetition of the values you want the children to possess in the classroom is key and don't lose sight of these standards.If you have a talent, utilise it. Whether it's music or art, sports or you just have a great sense of humour. Try to implement your unique skills into your teaching delivery to keep the children engaged. You can sing, create visual resources, play a game and all can be done with little Portuguese. Just google translate the essential demands that you need before hand and model how you want the activity to be done with another member of staff so that the children can get a better conceptual understanding of your learning idea. I loved to teach traditional English nursery rhymes which the children got to know and love and play classic games with them like Grandma's footsteps,duck duck goose, or Indian chief to enhance their social skills and benefit their English vocabulary. In relation to visual resources, as a team we often used storybooks with key English vocabulary and portuguese translations.We could then develop these into a range of cross curricular activities to support the newly developed curriculum that was designed specifically for Project Favela.
Myth #3: "But I'm only here for (insert #) weeks. I’m not going to manage to make much of a difference in that short amount of time"
One afternoon I was with another volunteer at the beach in Copacabana. We were asked about how we were spending our time in Rio. When I explained that I was a teacher to 3 groups of early childhood classes, I was asked how long my stay was. I replied 4 weeks. To this I was told that there wasn't much that could be done within that short amount of time. This comment really put things into perspective for me. I began to doubt the purpose of my visit and question how much of a difference could really be made within one month.
To be totally fair, this point of view was undeniably true, but I debated with it as I walking back up to my hostel. I saw some street kids which I recognised from after school club. I asked them what they were up to and they replied that they were leaving the after school club. The same after school club which used to be empty prior to the arrival of the volunteer who was running it at that time. It then dawned on me that she had only been active in encouraging the street kids to come to it for a few weeks and yet had made such a difference. I thought about the impact that "Respect week" had on the younger classes and their use of manners in the classroom. I also thought about the new volunteers who had only just arrived at that point and how inspired I was by walking past or into their classes which had been flourishing in such a short amount of time. I remembered the volunteers that had left and the amazing strategies that I had learned from them in my short time of working with them. I thought about our brand new curriculum and my professional development in the past four weeks. I thought about all of the ideas that I was buzzing to take home with me and implement in my very own classroom. I thought about the faces on the 8-12 year olds when I handed them the parental consent form for their very first school trip . What I was told at Copacabana may have been true but my experience at the project has suggested that this is only to an extent. I've seen volunteers do in two weeks what hasn't been done in the whole duration of the project. I've seen the attitudes of the children completely transform and the looks on their faces when they learn that an old volunteer has left. I've seen so many trials and errors contribute to so many positive changes and I've had the opportunity to work amongst a range of highly skilled, talented and amazing individuals from around the world. Every single person brought something different to the table and had different strengths. Every single person was active in the makings of these changes.
You may be there for a long period of time, or a short period of time, but you have been selected to support the children at the project for a reason. There is clearly something about you that has been noticed and needs to be shown to the children of Rocinha. Have an open mind and you will make an irreplaceable impact.