Brazil faced an education crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic, as demonstrated by the 2018 results of the Program for International Student Assessment, which showed that the quality of the country’s education system ranked 66th among 77 nations. COVID exacerbated these problems, with Brazil experiencing one of the longest pandemic-driven school closures in the world: schools remained closed for 40 weeks in 2020, twice the world average according to UNESCO. School closures affected marginalized young people unequally. Young people from high-income families were able to switch to online learning, while youth from vulnerable communities, who lacked access to personal computers, smart phones and the Internet, or whose parents didn’t have the skills needed to provide them adequate academic support, simply fell out of the education system.
School closures, coupled with families’ loss of income and jobs, led to higher school dropout rates, more child labor, greater food insecurity, and increased exposure to violence and exploitation for children and young people. In marginalized communities, school shutdowns and escalating dropout rates have been a boon for criminal organizations. Young people from families whose income has been decimated by the recession or the health crisis, have been forced to abandon any hope to resume school. Since poverty and unemployment are rising, working for a criminal organization, especially in places where illicit activities are a big part of the economy, has become one of the few available options. In the favela of Morro do Castro/Rio de Janeiro, where UmRio operates, only 15% of children and young people participated in remote classes during the pandemic, and a whopping 60% have returned to school illiterate.
UmRio was established in 2013. It works in Morro do Castro, a very poor and often violent favela of 6,000 inhabitants, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The organization promotes marginalized young people’s empowerment through a holistic model that is based on three pillars: rugby, education, and healthcare. Rugby serves as an entry point to engage young people and positively influence their lives, teaching them important life skills, like teamwork, self-esteem, communication, and nonviolent conflict resolution. Program participants also engage in project-based learning opportunities, including academic support, preparatory courses for high school and university entrance exams, and English classes. UmRio partners with the School of Dentistry of the University of Rio de Janeiro to offer monthly dental check-ups, treatment and preventative care workshops to program participants. All program initiatives are implemented in Morro do Castro’s only public primary school –João Brasil school– with which UmRio has established a very strong partnership. Over the past eight years, UmRio has supported +2000 children and young people.
EMpower’s first grant to UmRio will support 103 marginalized young people between the ages of 10 and 19 (51 female and 52 male), who have dropped out of school because of COVID, return to and stay in school, and improve their academic performance. The grant will also support an additional 1,494 young people to stay in school by training 100 teachers from three local schools in UmRio’s learning methodology. Finally, the grant will support UmRio to strengthen its organizational capacities in communications and fundraising by updating its website, increasing its social media presence and hiring a fundraising specialist, all with the aim of capitalizing on new corporate funding opportunities.
Primary Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Funded Since: 2022
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