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Note from the editor: this post was written from South America by stalwart Jolkona volunteer, Pavan Potaraju.

Background of Favelas

In 1970’s, there were around 300 favelas in Rio. That number had increased by 25% in 2010. The favelas were home to drug dealers, mainly handling Marijuana and Cocaine. Shootouts between traffickers and police resulted in murder rates in excess of 40 per 100,000 residents. Through their presence, actions, and political connections, the traffickers engendered an atmosphere of dependence, promising “protection” and ensuring that the critical segments of the local population would remain “safe”, despite continuing high levels of violence. Previously, it had been impossible for any tourist or a local not living in the favelas to enter without the help from a favela resident.

Transformation

About 2 years ago, the government introduced the pacification project. This was aimed at cleansing the favelas and liberating hundreds of residents. By the end of 2011, authorities say 59 favelas will have benefited from the fledgling pacification units, freeing an estimated 210,000 people from the rule of Rio’s gangs. This could be a direct result of the soccer world cup and Olympics coming to Brazil in the next 5 years.

NGOs Emerging

With community conditions improving in the favelas, multiple NGOs have come to the area to provide further respite. One such NGO is Community in Action, founded by Zak Pastor. It is located in the largest favela communities: Complexo do Alemão.

On the Road

As part of visiting some of our partners in Latin America, our first stop was at Rio de Janeiro. We met with the founder of the Community in Action, Zak Pastor. Zak took us to the headquarters of Community in Action in Complexo do Alemão. The favela was completely taken over by the police; their presence visible in the streets. We visited a school, sports complex and another NGO in the area which works with Community in Action. The main focus here was to help residents work toward personal growth and transition from abject poverty to employment.  Specifically, they provide cultural and vocational classes to facilitate this transition. They also have a volunteer programs for those who want to work and live in Rio.

How you can help

I never imagined visiting a favela would be possible. Now having been there, I understand how critical a role organizations such as Community in Action play in transforming these areas. Every donation goes a long way in helping the residents transition from abject poverty to employment. Donations can be made at http://cia.communityinaction.org/.

Want more on the South America trip? Adnan Mahmud and Nancy Xu are also blogging about their experiences with the team. Follow Adnan here. Follow Nancy here. Keep up to date with us also on Facebook.

 

 

 

Leaving Kenya

International travel always has unexpected twists and turns as our last night in Dago, Kenya proved. As we watched the TV with our host family, the headlines flashed the news of a bomb explosion on a bus that was part of the Kampala Coach line. This was the same bus which we were all supposed to board in just a few short days. This incident sparked off a discussion among us and we were contemplating if we should even make the journey to the Uganda.

On the road to Uganda

After much deliberation, we decided to take a private shuttle instead of the Kampala Coach and continue our journey to Uganda. At the border, we were presented with an unexpected three hour delay, providing an opportunity to collect our thoughts and connect with others. During those three hours, I was engaged in a discussion with a nine year old boy who was selling bananas. In the process of our conversation, the young boy told me that he was working to save money to buy a football. The little boy was a curious young fellow who asked me different questions about what I do and where I was from. Our conversation drifted from politics to sports and to physics. I must admit that these varied subjects of conversation did surprise me. I was amazed the knowledge he had and our little chat was definitely one of my best on the trip.

Arriving at Children of Uganda

On Christmas Eve, we arrived at Kampala, Uganda to spend time with one of the Jolkona partners – Children of Uganda. The kids welcomed us with drums, dance and various other local instruments. This was the best welcome ever!

We were all excited about celebrating Christmas with these kids. We spent most of the day with them doing various activities – drawing, photo frame designing and crafts followed by lunch, cake and, who can forget, some basketball! It was such a pleasure to experience the kids interacting with us all, displaying who they were and expressing themselves in such a creative and innovative way.

The day ended with a grand performance from the kids with various instruments and an amazing dance. Later they tried teaching us some dance moves and how to play some of the musical instruments. This will surely remain as one of the best Christmas I’ve ever experienced and hopefully the same was felt by the many others who were with me.

Deciding to take the risk and proceed with our plan to go to Uganda was probably one of the best decisions the team made. We all got to see the impact Jolkona has made with this project, and spending Christmas with these kids was truly an amazing experience.

How you can help

For as little as $25 you can provide meals for 5 children for a week. Every donation goes a long way in supporting the kids at Children of Uganda.

Pavan Kumar Potaraju spends his days at Microsoft and volunteers with Jolkona on the Events team and with the Microsoft Giving Campaign. In April, he was our featured volunteer, you can read more about Pavan, here. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona team’s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.

Post written by by Jordan Belmonte

Every day I wake up inspired by the fact that I have two valuable things: choice and opportunity. Like most Americans, I decide what to eat, where to work and the shape of my future.

In December 2010, I traveled to Africa with six other Jolkona volunteers to visit our partners and see the impact of their work. As part of this trip, we visited Dago, a rural village in Kenya, where the opportunities most Americans take for granted are harder to come by.

In Kenya, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 1.2 million children are orphans due to AIDS. Dago has an especially high rate of HIV/AIDS, and many of the affected families struggle to meet basic needs for water, sufficient protein and access to medical care.

When I talked to my friends and family about what I saw in Dago, they looked at me with sympathy and said, “That must have been awful to see” or “What a tragedy.” But after leaving Dago, it was not the tragedy of poverty that stuck with me — it was the perseverance of the human spirit and the community’s efforts to help young people envision a future full of opportunity.

blackboard at Dago Dala Hera orphanage

In Dago, we visited two current Jolkona projects that help young people create a brighter future. We got to cheer on the home team during the Kick it With Kenya youth soccer tournament, which also provides HIV-screening and much-needed medical care. And we saw how the Environmental Youth Action Corps is teaching young people to be environmental advocates in their communities.

One of my favorite initiatives in Kenya was the Dago Dala Hera orphanage, soon to become a Jolkona partner. At Dago Dala Hera, 36 at-risk and orphaned girls have found asylum from childhood marriages, abusive households and family deaths. The orphanage’s meal program also allows 95 local primary school children to concentrate on their education rather than on their empty stomachs. While the community’s attention to meeting basic needs for food, education and health care was impressive, Dago’s true triumph was its initiative to feed the soul and reinforce the idea that “if you can think it, you can get it.”

help orphans in Kenya

Near the end of our time in Dago, while we were visiting the orphanage, I sat on the edge of one of the cheerful bunk beds and thought of the girl who slept there every night. I hoped that the girl would rest well, excited for a new day, believing as much as I do in the phrase painted on the dormitory wall: “life is like an ocean, an endless sea of opportunities.”

dormitory in orphanage

Jordan Belmonte is a product marketing manager at Microsoft during the day and the Director of Events here at Jolkona. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona team’s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.

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