Monday, November 14, 2016

Tijl Vandamme: "My volunteer Experience in Rocinha"

Tijl who is from Belgium who graduated from University in Engineering. He first contacted me about volunteering and staying in Rocinha back in the beginning of October. This was when we were just starting to get our guesthouse up and running. And Tijl ended up being our first guest.
I enjoy interviewing people from other countries about their impressions of Rocinha. So here goes:

1.) Tijl, why did you first come to Brazil?
I decided on Brazil because I had learned some Portuguese and I really enjoy nature. I enjoy travelling and Brazil is such a big place to explore. The best thing was that I didn't need a visa to come here. 

2.) When you arrived in Brazil, where did you go and what did you do?
I first came to Rio and did all the touristy things but really didn't like the city too much. Towards the end of my stay in Rio, I went on a visit to a favela, Rocinha and something inside me told me that I would return here.
But first I already had made plans to volunteer on a farm in Minas Gerais.
I worked in exchange for room and board. I was helping out with milking cows and gardening type work. I enjoyed my stay there and the people were really nice.

3.) After your volunteer work on the farm, what did you do?
I decided to return to Rio to because I was amazed with the favela and the creativity of the people being able with so little to do so much. After the tour, I knew I wanted to explore more about Rocinha. 

4.) How did you end up returning to Rocinha?
I sent of numerous emails to many volunteering type agencies. I found a blog written by this local guy Zezinho about how he had contacts with projects that I could help. And the best thing being that I wouldn't need to pay. After sending the email to Zezinho, he responded right away and after that we were in regular communications and he set everything up for me. He organized the project I would be working and found me housing in the Volunteer Guest House. (Contact Zezinho about staying in the guesthouse). I was met at the bottom of the favela and brought directly to the guest house to get settled and within 2 days I was working as a volunteer. 

5.) What exactly are you doing in Rocinha?
Currently I am teaching English at Garagem das Letras, teaching Drumming at Escola de Musica da Rocinha and I am training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Rocinha Jiu Jitsu. I also am helping out with the guest house as it's a new place. I am also making so many friends. I think I am falling in love with this place!

6.) What were your first impressions of Rocinha?
At first I noticed the favela is dirty, chaotic, but people were very friendly. 

7.) And now that you have been here for some time?
The people are still friendly :) . I feel very safe here. I am accepted as I am and I don't feel people judge me. The favela, there is a positive vibe and so much creativity in how people live. This place has a community, family feel to it. 

8.) What do you like about Rocinha?
As I said before, the people are really friendly. I like the different views in the community. There are so many opportunities here both for work and just everything people do. Its not a boring place and there's always something going on. People here have so little but make do with what they have and they are not stressed out.

9.) What don't you like about Rocinha?
Parts of the favela can be dirty. There could be better or more pick up of the garbage by the city. There are places with open sewers. Too much heavy guns here both the police and the dealers. Rocinha presents a problem if you are still learning Portuguese because there are different accents. Sometimes I have a difficult time understanding what people are saying. But I know the longer I am here that I will eventually improve and recognize the accents.

10.) What information would you give others thinking about staying or volunteering in Rocinha?
Just do it! Don't believe all the media stereotypes. The biggest problem is conflicts between police and dealers but not the locals. I can walk all hours here without fear. Rocinha is a nice community that will welcome you. I advise people to stay or volunteer at least one month to get a better understanding of favela life. One thing thats kind of surprising is that since I have been here, I have not seen any violence or drug addicts. Outside the favela in places like downtown or Copacabana you regularly can see this. 

11.) Tell us a little about where you are staying?
I am staying in the RFH. Its a pretty big place. Its newly remodelled and is very clean. When you enter the building there's a small entryway into a living room area. Then you go up stairs to the first floor where theres a room with 4 beds, a good size kitchen kitchen and a bathroom. The second floor where I stay has one room with two beds and another private room with a queen size bed. Some of the rooms have mini fridges and air conditioning. 
My room has a bean bag chair so I can sit and read. Theres a mini fridge so I can put my fruit or drinks inside. The floor is newly tiled and its comfortable. The bed and linens are all new. The third floor is a good size rooftop with tables and chairs, stereo system to play music. There's a bathroom with a shower and a BBQ. But the view from the Rooftop is awesome! 

Theres WiFi on 3 floors in the house and it works well.
Right now there's me, a guy from the US, and a Guy from the Netherlands with his girlfriend staying here. So there's 4 of us, plenty of room and everybody is involved in Jiu Jitsu or Volunteering with some project.

I have gotten to know one of my neighbors and I often hang out with him. We watch tv and he helps me with my portuguese. The house is centrally located and close to everything. The jiu jitsu school is about a 5-7 minutes walk from the house. I can get to the beach in about 15 minutes. There's everything in the favela, even places to eat that are open 24hours.  

12.) What are the prices like in Rocinha?
As many people know, Rio can be expensive. Rocinha is nice because everything is cheaper in price. So, it is very affordable to live here. I do not come from wealthy family. In Belgium my family is working middle class. So, coming and staying in the favela is where I prefer as outside, I would not be able to afford to live. The guesthouse is very reasonable and affordable for people on a budget.   

13.) Do you have plans to return to Rocinha?
I do. I really like it here and I have made so many friends. I will travel some as I have a friend to visit in Uruguay but after I will return home to Belgium then work and save money to return. I would like to stay for long term next time I come. But when I am here I want to live, work and contribute something to the community.

14.) When you return to Rocinha, what are your plans or goals?
I want to work teaching in some capacity. Maybe work on an oil rig as the pay is excellent but I could save a lot in a short time and live in Rocinha. I want to help with the community center that Zezinho plans to start soon. I want to be able to invest time and money into projects in the favela. 

15.) Anything else you would like to say?
I think I have said enough. I am enjoying this experience and will be back to continue it! I'm just getting started.

Thank you Tijl

To find out more information about staying in Rocinha, training in a sport like jiu jitsu or Volunteer opportunities,  please contact Zezinho at: 

Tijl in Spin Rocinha Dj School holding one of the Olympic torches used in the relay.

To contact Tijl directly to learn more about his experience you can message him through his Facebook Page at: