Thursday, June 7, 2018

Volunteer Profile: Otto from Finland

It's always awesome to receive people from other countries who want to experience Rocinha and contribute to projects that help the residents. I never imagined that I would be involved in this, but it happened kind of by accident. I have known "Nandy" for a long time. I have always used his services when I needed business cards or flyers done. Nandy is reliable and his work is good. 

About a year ago he approached me about English classes and I told him that it was difficult to organize and set this kind of thing up because you need a place that is like a classroom, books, and how is it to attract students. My thinking is that it would be too much work and I already was working with the dj school and animal shelter. There are a few other English schools here and I mentioned to one of them to contact Nandy to try to organize something but they never followed up. So, I felt I should at least give it a try. It's a challenge, but it's now going on.

Thus..... "Rocinha in English" school was born. 

Finally in April of 2018, I finally decided to sit down and have a meeting with Nandy, Heberson and Vinicius, the main people wanting to help organize this. Nandy is connected to the "First Baptist Church of Rocinha". They offered a classroom and we set up everything up to get the classes off the ground. Nandy and Vinicius created this project called "Nasceer" which under this name there are several projects. Some of them are "Reforca Escolar" (Home Work Club), Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and the "Rocinha in English" Classes.  

My job with Nasceer is as Executive Director of Communications. I promote their projects to locals and also try to attract potential volunteers that would like to help or create unique classes that can enhance the cultural experience between people of different countries. My focus initially was getting the "Rocinha in English" classes off the ground. 

Being that I have been involved in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since 1996 it was only natural that I would also gravitate towards helping them too. There are many kids that need Jiu Jitsu uniforms, so I am working on a project to get kids uniforms through fundraising and donations. I will help in any way that is possible. I also started a facebook page called "Rocinha in English" to attract more locals to participate. 

For those that want to create a new project, I am the first contact. Nandy is the administrator who signs people up for the classes and facilitates the space(s) where project(s) will take place. Nandy and I work together to ensure that everything is done correctly. It's awesome to finally work with another person who is serious about this kind of work. And another person who follows through. We are a good pair.

Otto Munter from Finland, had contacted me some months before arriving in Rio and asked about volunteering and I gave him an idea of how he could help. I organized everything from meeting him, bringing him to the guesthouse and projects. I found him housing in a nice area of the favela and he took two tours of the community so he could be comfortable and independent. He was only here for 1 month which goes by very fast. The students enjoyed his teaching and now all I hear is how much they miss him. We hope he can return someday. 

I asked Otto to write something about his experience in Rocinha as it is important for us to show that yes, you can come here and make a difference of the lives of people here. Rocinha wants to thank people like Otto and any other volunteers that come here and sacrifice their time to enrich the lives of others! 

Below in Otto's words, his experience: 

My name is Otto Munter. I come from Finland. The reason I wanted to visit Brazil at first was because I needed a long holiday far from Europe. Then I became aware of the situation of favela people in Rio de Janeiro and I felt like I want to help any community there the best I can. 

I watched many documentaries in youtube about favelas and there I found out about Rocinha. I watched videos about Rocinha and thought it could be place for me. I also found a blog in the internet written by Zezinho who lives in Rocinha. We started sending messages and he promised to help me if I wanted to volunteer some projects in Rocinha.

And after six months of working and getting enough money, I finally travelled to Rio. I found my way to Rocinha and got introduced to the project organizers. 

Otto after the English class with "Nandy" one of the project organizers. 

My project was teaching English. I was teaching two groups: young group and adult group. 

I taught the youth class from 3-4pm and the adults in the evening from 7-8pm. Both classes were only 1 hour long. 

The reason I wanted to stay in Rocinha was because I really wanted to live inside the community since I was helping them and wanted to feel a stronger connection to community. I felt like I didn't need any luxury hotels or anything like that. I stayed in a very nice guest house in Rocinha. 

I like many things about Rocinha. The people there are very kind and seem happy. Everyone was very friendly. I also like that Rocinha actually never sleeps. There seems to be action through every night and day. I really like the buildings and architecture in favela. I've never seen anything like that. Many buildings seemed like very fragile but they were still firm. 

What I don't like about Rocinha were the shootings. Fortunately there were not many shootings when I was there. Mostly people were firing fireworks. Actually I didn't like that either since sometimes it was hard to get sleep while there were fireworks going on outside. But better fireworks than shootings for sure. 

My overall experience in Rocinha and in Rio was amazing. I really liked teaching english and seeing how my students developed their english skills. What i would change about Rocinha are of course minimizing the shootings to zero. Actually there are not many other things I would change. I like how differently things are organized compared to Finland and other western countries.  I wouldn't change other things because everything reflects local culture which I like. 

I recommend volunteering to Rocinha for anyone who is interested about helping other people. Zezinho is a great guy and he can arrange all sorts of volunteer work for anyone who wants to take part to the projects. I wasn't afraid of the shooting because they happened pretty far away from where I was staying. And Zezinho advised me very well about the no-go areas. I wish I could return to Rocinha and this time with my wife. I think it's more likely. 

I would like the world to know that favelas in Rio aren't how they are portrayed in Western media. Before I visited Rio, my image about favelas was very violent. I thought they were full of criminals who terrorize the community. After spending a month in the favela my mind has changed. I found happiness and kindness there. Something that's hard to find even in Finland and Western countries. There were some bad things going on of course but the things I encountered in Rocinha were mostly positive. 

To learn more about volunteering for "Rocinha in English" or if you want to create your own project contact Zezinho at: 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Profile: Bruno Silva

Bruno and his new Koral Gi that he will use for upcoming competitions in 2018

I first met Bruno Silva when he was training at AriFight, which is a very small Martial Arts school located at the top of Rocinha. The school was started by Aritano Barbosa who also has a school in Botafogo. The school in Rocinha is overseen by "Ari" but is run by Alexandre Gomes and Bruno is now teaching there. The school provides Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai classes for adults and youth and children.

 Aritano "Ari" Barbosa director and owner of AriFight

I visited the project about 8 months ago and took these photos of the adults training Gi and No Gi Jiu Jitsu.

When observing class, I noticed this one guy who was a brown belt dominating many of the students. I ended up talking with him after class and he gave me the information about the school. I also got info from Alexandre Gomes too.

I found out that Bruno competes in No Gi Jiu Jitsu. In Brazil they have a separate sport called Luta Livre which was started by Hugo Duarte who had a falling out with the Gracie's. Hugo was a specialist in Luta Livre or No Gi Jiu Jitsu and decided to start his own Sport.

I made friends with Bruno on Facebook and started following his career. I noticed he was competing a lot and always placing in the tournaments. Many of them he was winning. As our tours get more popular I want to be able to help athletes who need it. We can help by purchasing equipment, entry fees into competition or other things they need to compete. With Jiu Jitsu players I thought about helping by getting Gi's. In Rio Gi's can be expensive costing from 200-400 reais for these uniforms. For many in favelas, this is half a monthly salary.

I thought about ways I could help Bruno as I was impressed with how disciplined he was with his training and competitions. So, the idea of getting him a good quality Gi came to me. I had these guests come to visit. Darren Tinsley and his wife took a tour, but Darren also had the opportunity to train some Jiu Jitsu in Rocinha. I used some of the money from that tour and was able to buy a Gi for Bruno. I never told Bruno my plans as it was going to be a surprise.

Bruno wearing his new Koral Gi, thank you to visitors who support our work.

I contacted Bruno and found out his schedule and I wanted to get a little more background about him. We organized a time to meet and this was Saturday (two days ago). So, I gave a little interview with him.

Bruno where do you live?
I live in Rocinha in a area called 99 with my wife and two boys aged 2 and 4.
I am 29 years old and have lived in Rocinha for about 20 years.

Do you work?
Yes, I work at a private school called PUC in Gavea which is very close to Rocinha. About 10 minutes by bus. I work as a chemistry technician. I also help teach at Instituto Reacao which is in the Sports Complex at the bottom of Rocinha.

When did you start Martial Arts?
I started Luta Livre when I was 14 training under Mestre Aritano Barbosa. I also started Jiu Jitsu at 15, a year later but then stopped because I enjoyed Luta Livre more. But when I was 23 years old,  I returned to Jiu Jitsu training under Marcos Antonio "Marquinhos" and Paulo Caruso. Aritano decided to open this small school in Rocinha which I now teach at with the other instructors. Our school needs help as it is very small yet there is big demand for adults and kids that want to train but we don't have the space.

Why do you train?
I have always trained but I think it can change your life when you are involved in any kind of activity, especially sports. Without sport/training, my life would be incomplete. Also I remember watching on television this fight between Bob Sapp and Minotauro Nogueira in Pride Fighting Organization. After watching this fight on television, this inspired me to enter into this sport.

Who are your heros?
Minotauro of course and my instructors Aritano, Maquinhos and Paulo.

What are your dreams or goals?
I would like to see my children involved in Jiu Jitsu or some sport and watch them compete. My personal goal is to someday compete in the ADCC No Gi World Championships.

Bruno  with Alexandre Gomes (in the yellow shirt) receiving their Black Belts November 2017.

Below are some photos that Bruno sent me of his No Gi (Luta Livre) competitions.

Jiu Jitsu photos

The photos below are the of the Instituto Reacao where he also teaches in the evenings after work. Every Friday is No Gi day. Otherwise the Jiu Jitsu classes require you wear a uniform (Gi). These classes are free of charge for anyone that lives in Rocinha.

Bruno is second to the left and in the Blue Gi is Judoka Flavio Canto the man who created Instituto Reacao and he won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens Greece. His projects exist in several favelas including City of God which is the home of Gold Medalist Rafaela Silva from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

And of course some photos of the Quadra Rua 1 in Rocinha where Bruno teaches with a group photo with kids and a few adults. In the back row is Waldney wearing his new Blue Gi. He teaches there every Saturday from 10am until 12 noon. Depending on his schedule during the week, he is also there.

If you are interested helping with the project or sponsoring Bruno, please contact us. Bruno also teaches private lessons. AriFight school in Rocinha has an open door policy and anyone is allowed to train here, so visitors are welcome.
Contact us by email:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Donations 2018

I have been more focused on improving my health and losing weight than contributing to the blog lately. I need to start writing more.

In March of this year, I went up to Andre's project Crianca do Futuro to drop off some donations that I had here in the house.

I brought some wristbands which everybody loves and wants. Everyday when walking in the community at least 10 times I get asked for wristbands. I have run out so I need to get more of them. The younger kids (kids aged 8-13) play on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-8:30pm so I decided it would be a good idea to bring a bunch and hand them out.

I have been visiting Andre's project for a few years and noticed a big guy sitting there cheering on his son. I recognized him from the Jiu Jitsu project that they have in the back of this building. When he was training I noticed that he didn't have a Gi top. I know that he is a big guy at (6'2 100 kilos) and it's not easy to find sizes that fit bigger people. I asked him what size he was and he said A4.

So, I kept this in mind for this visit. When I returned on this day, he was there. I brought the A4 blue Gi top. His name is Waldney and I gave him the Gi top. He was so happy.

After talking with Waldney I noticed he was cheering on his son Davi. Davi is 9 years old and loves Football but Waldney keeps his son active in Jiu Jitsu and Capoeira as well. I had a small Football jersey that I was looking to give to someone and it fit Davi perfectly.

Football is like religion here and even the girls/women take part. Vitor Alexandre is the head coach of the girls team and unfortunately they don't get as much help or sponsorships as the boy's teams get. I had received a pair of football shoes from one of the tourists that had visited Rocinha in December of 2017. I wanted to make sure that they were given to a girl who was in need. Vitor told me aboutRafaela Silva who plays both field and futsal (indoor football). She was so happy to receive these brand new football shoes.

I want to thank all those visitors that makes this work possible and enjoyable.
We will always be helping people in Rocinha in any way that we can.

Tourism making a difference for the local people.

To learn more about our work, contact us at:

Friday, March 16, 2018

New Partnerships!

Our Partnerships Are Growing

We originally started with our project Spin Rocinha. Our DJ school has been open and running for almost 7 years. Last year we joined up with “Projeto Flor e Xavier”, which is a homeless shelter for abandoned animals. We are linked with many projects here that are open to receiving volunteers who would like to contribute in some way in Rocinha.

Volunteers leave a lasting impact on the people they help. The people that live in Rocinha will most likely never have the ability to get on a plane to travel. Their only contact with foreigners is through volunteers. This can be an enriching experience for both the volunteer and the students at the projects.

Just this past week we joined up with a project run by Fernando. The project is small but it has been in operation for about 8 years. I went to see the project and you can see the photos below of the many activities they offer.

Some of the activities they offer are:

Computer Instruction for both children and adults
Homework Club
Literacy Classes children and adults
Jiu Jitsu
Capoeira by Abada
Art classes on Saturdays

They welcome volunteers who can:

Teach English

This project operates from 9am-5pm Monday-Saturday.

They welcome volunteers that can also bring their own talents. So, if you have a unique talent or skill that you would like to share, let us know.

Some of the previous volunteers with us have taught classes on:

Yoga and Meditation
Face & Finger painting
Making Jewelry
Break Dancing 

Adult Computer Classes 

 Kids Computer Classes

 Kids Computer Classes

 Adult Literacy Classes

 Kids Home Work Club

Kids HomeWork Club

Dinning room where the children get fed twice a day. 

 Kids Reading Class

 Kids Art Class

 Kids Art Class

 Kids and Youth Boxing/MuayThai Class

 Kids and Youth Jiu Jitsu

 Youth & Adult Jiu Jitsu

Kids Capoeira Class

During the holidays there are food drives where money is raised to buy food packages for some of the poorer residents in the community.

Brand new Jiu Jitsu uniforms donated to some of the youth in the project.

If you have interest to volunteer or somehow help this project let us know.
Contact us if you have an idea: