Brazil is facing a severe political and economic crisis, in part because of the mega corruption scandal that erupted in 2014 and affected most Latin American countries. Brazil’s conservative movement has been gaining strength in the past decade, with evangelicals now controlling a fifth of the Lower House of Congress, as well as a significant portion of the national media. Conservatives want to turn back the clock on advances Brazil had made, including on gender equity and comprehensive sexuality education. Brazil has also seen an increase in the levels of violence in recent years, with a national murder rate that has climbed to 30 per 100,000 citizens (in parts of Rio de Janeiro, a state intervened by the military since February 2018, the murder rate is as high as 140 per 100,000 people). Violence is associated with drug and gang activity, and the vast majority of violence victims are young, black, male, and poor, often living in favelas where gang warfare is most pronounced.
Presidential elections took place in Brazil in early October, in this context of economic crisis and widespread corruption. Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing candidate, won the first electoral round, with 46% of the vote versus 29% for Fernando Haddad, the left-wing Workers’ Party candidate. Mr. Bolsonaro, a controversial and divisive figure known for making racist and homophobic comments, including equating homosexuality with pedophilia, won the second round by a landslide, with his party becoming the largest force in Congress. Bolsonaro is expected to implement pro-market economic policies, combined with a conservative social agenda backed by the evangelical movement.
Santana do Deserto is a small rural town in Minas Gerais, bordering the state of Rio de Janeiro, where most families work in big farms, in textile factories, or have local government jobs. Young people attend the only local public school in town, but most do not complete secondary education, as they must work to help support their families. Drug and alcohol abuse are common, as is adolescent pregnancy. Young people from Santana do Deserto and neighboring communities are under-stimulated, lacking norms that inspire, educate, and offer alternatives to riskier pastimes. Youth don’t have any guidance in educational or employment pursuits – their visions of what opportunities are available are very limited (many only have the example of their parents’ education/jobs).
Onda Solidaria was founded in 2004 by Ricardo Calçado, a young and energetic social entrepreneur who continues to serve as Executive Director. The organization succeeded in building a second tier of managers, after relying primarily on volunteers for many years. Onda Solidaria runs two key programs in Santana do Deserto and in the slums of Rio de Janeiro:
(1) Sports program: soccer is used as a vehicle for physical, intellectual and social transformation, as well as for the reduction of idleness among youth. Thanks to EMpower’s support (including through a Spark and Ignite award on this topic), the program now includes a gender equity component and girls are actively participating in all activities, including as coaches.
(2) Transformation programme: it includes after-school activities and training for a smaller group of youth at Onda Solidaria’s headquarters (Vila dos Sonhos, see below), as well as in-school training for a larger number of students at the local public school. It overlaps with, and complements, the sports program, and focuses on training youth on basic life skills, including employability, English, and gender equity.
In 2012, Onda Solidaria received a donation of 27 acres of land to build an Eco-Social Centre & Villa (Vila dos Sonhos) to benefit and empower local, impoverished communities in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. Onda Solidaria has established partnerships with Rio de Janeiro’s main soccer clubs that enable program participants to travel to Rio (many for the first time) to visit the city’s soccer stadiums and teams and receive the junior teams of these clubs at Vila dos Sonhos. This has proven to be a powerful social integration strategy.
Current Grant: EMpower’s 6th grant to Onda Solidaria provides continued support for the organization’s life skills, employability, and gender training program, which benefits 345 youth from the marginalized rural communities of Santana do Deserto in Minas Gerais. Santana do Deserto is a small rural town of 4,000 people, where drug and alcohol abuse is common, as are early pregnancy and high levels of youth unemployment. Most program participants are first-generation high school students. The grant also will help strengthen Onda Solidaria’s Board of Directors.
Primary Location: Santana do Deserto
Funded Since: 2014
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