EduMais Volunteer organization in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America Fri, 02 Sep 2022 20:45:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 202314830 EduMais in Dutch newspaper with Serious Game Design Course Fri, 18 Feb 2022 16:43:15 +0000 This week EduMais made it into the Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Dagblad with a story about the […]

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This week EduMais made it into the Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Dagblad with a story about the Serious Design Course that we did during the summer camp in January.
Here you can find the link to the Dutch version of the article.  Below a translated version of the article about these special 4 weeks we had with the teenagers and the people of Games of Health.

Dutch experts teach how to make games in slums
‘Don’t shoot, this man is a teacher’

A group of Dutch video game experts visited the Brazilian slums to teach children how to make their own games. Can game design help kids that live in one of the most notorious slums in the world?

The heat is sweltering in Rio de Janeiro. Along the beaches and boulevards of Copacabana and Ipanema shine the shiny glass of skyscrapers and office buildings, but on top of the hills in the favelas it is a different story. These are the slums, notorious for their crime and poverty, where millions of Brazilians must hold their own every day. The police don’t like to come there; order is maintained by drugs gangs armed to the teeth. Outsiders rarely show themselves here. It is not a tourist attraction.

Fortunately, Jurriaan van Rijswijk (52) has a local guide and host. “When we met someone with a gun, my guide immediately said: ‘Ele é um professor.'” In other words: ‘Don’t shoot, this man is a teacher. He’s teaching my daughter.’ Jurriaan is allowed to continue. He is temporarily part of the community, a teacher with a special field. “We are here to teach children how to make a video game.”

Jurriaan arrived in Rio de Janeiro with his wife Sandra (51) and two colleagues, game expert Rob Tieben (39) and game designer Menno van Pelt-Deen (35). They are all part of Games for Health Europe, a foundation that Jurriaan and Sandra founded to promote gaming techniques in healthcare. Normally they are involved in projects such as games for rehabilitation programs – education in the third world is an exception.

“It started when we happened to come into contact with Diana Nijboer, the founder of the EduMais Foundation,” Jurriaan explains. Nijboer’s foundation specializes in education in the favelas. “Diana was looking for people who wanted to give practical lessons. We wanted to help, but we make games. Then that would be our subject.”

The plan? Travel to Brazil for a month to organize a course there. Nijboer used her local contacts for the organization and accommodation, while Jurriaan’s foundation made its own contacts in the local game world. Did they want to be guest lecturers? “Brazil is a huge country and has its own game industry. Some developers come from the favelas themselves, they were immediately interested.” The experiment would begin in early January.

For Jurriaan, Sandra, Rob and Menno it was not the first time that they were in front of the classroom. Jurriaan:  “We have already given lessons in game design, in Dutch prisons and in Suriname. But this program in Brazil was the most extensive version.” That’s because this time Jurriaan and his colleagues focused not only on the students, but also on future teachers. “We not only wanted to teach children, but also teach young people how to teach themselves. That is why we involved ‘trainers’, young people who can continue this course.”

Together with a group of local developers, the Dutch gave children a crash course in game design, from drawing characters to programming the software itself. By the end of the month, they had made their own form of Pac-Man. The yellow animal had been replaced by the children by a doctor who brings corona vaccines. The ghosts became virus bacilli. Not a bad result, but according to Sandra, the project is far from finished: “We are now talking to local organizations. Our goal is that they can help the trainers to teach other children and thus build a new educational trajectory.”

Anyone who thinks of a place like the favelas logically assumes that games are not the highest priority. But according to Jurriaan, that line of thought misses the bigger picture: “The most important thing is that children learn how to use their creativity. Many children can’t or don’t want to program, but game design also means drawing, designing concepts or making lyrics and music.”

Rob Tieben agrees. He wrote a dissertation on applied game theory and sees much of his research in daily practice. “Play is a universal way in which people interact in the world. In the favelas, for example, football is very popular.” Combine that with the resources that are at your fingertips thanks to digital technology such as smartphones, and game design can become a powerful skill. “These children have a lot of life experience and are very inventive. They can figure out a lot themselves, but they need the beginning of a skillset.”

Are those children now full-fledged game developers? No, Rob and Menno explain. “You really don’t learn everything in three weeks,” says Rob, “but you can plant a seed. And they also have computers there with internet. They can develop themselves further. I hope that this course is a starting point from which they can continue themselves. They now know that their work is worth money online. It would be nice if they could earn something with that. And the trainers can repeat this process elsewhere.”

Menno agrees: “It’s not just the children we work with, but also local game developers. They are now involved and would like to stay involved.” He speaks from experience: although this was his first visit to the favelas, he also made educational programs for students and professionals in the game industry over the past decade.

According to him, the real purpose of the visit lies in the future: “You don’t teach the people there things that they can’t teach themselves, but you do help them cross the threshold. You show that a program like this is possible. Now hopefully more organizations and favelas want to participate. Children see that they can make something, and in the long run more projects can come out of it. That’s the difference we made.”


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EduMais Game Studio is born in Rio de Janeiro Wed, 02 Feb 2022 13:40:19 +0000 Day 2 of week 3 involves practicing the art of game design and developing games. The different […]

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Day 2 of week 3 involves practicing the art of game design and developing games. The different groups exchange assignments to each other. Dev needs assets that the art team creates and the dev team builds new maze maps created by the game design team. It feels as if there is a studio in the making.

Summary of day 2 of week 3

Game Development Group

Creating the assets

The art group making the assets

Game Design Research

Game Design Group

Fernando Chamis and Yves Albuquerque from Webcore Games inspired the students what running a game studio is about. The students fired questions at these experienced professionals to learn everything about being a game designer.

Fernando Chamis & Yves Albuquerque

Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk, with permission republished on our blog.

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Making Computer Games Tue, 01 Feb 2022 19:53:57 +0000 Yesterday the students of the EduMais Educational Game Summer Camp started with week number 3. In this […]

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Yesterday the students of the EduMais Educational Game Summer Camp started with week number 3. In this week they will design, build and develop the first computer games. The core team grew with two people: Berry and Jolien. Together with Menno, Jeroen, Flavia, Marcelo and Rob they created the program for the next two week.

Summary of day 1 of week 3 EduMais Games Summer Camp

The group of students is more than halved due to Covid infections or because some students did not manage to get tested on time. Covid tests are free in PPG Favela – fortunately! Commercial tests cost R$300 per person per test. That is around 45 Euro or 55$. To put this into perspective: the minimum wage in Brazil is R$1.212 monthly.

The group is split into 3 specializations:

  1. Development – programming the games, for this we use Game Maker Studio 2 created by our former colleague Mark Overmars.
  2. Art – visualizing the games. how the game look and feels.
  3. Game design and marketing – the mechanics of the game and how to market it when its ready to get published.

The selection in which group a student works is a decision made by the students themselves. For this reason it was very important that in the first two weeks they’ve experienced every aspect of game design. With two weeks left each students has the opportunity to learn 2 of the 3 preferred specializations.

Tot get acquainted with the basic skills of the specializations we use famous existing examples of classic robust games we all know.

For the development team this was – of course – PacMan. We use PacMan because it a very good designed game, simple enough to learn how to make it in a short period. And with enough complexity to really understand how to create interactive interfaces and how the dynamics of the game works. And of course PacMan was also chosen because of the workshop by Ellis in Wonderland in the first week that was tailored around PacMan, what the idea behind it is and how it was to meet with the inventor of PacMan: Toru Iwatani

The Art group practiced how to make characters or avatars and how to play with shapes and proportions. Playing with body shapes and proportions enables designers to express in body language how to caricature and mimicry emotions. Character is therefore a perfect name for a game character. Because it has both a literal and figurative meaning.

Art group

The art group showing their Game Characters

Besides the character design there will be workshops on using shadows, how to design game assets digitally on an ipad. Game assets are objects in game to interact with. This can be a car, an obstacle or a tool. 

 The third specialization is about Game Design and how to market the game when it is ready to get published. The Game Design aspect of this specialization is tailored around maze structures. Not surprisingly because Pacman actually is a maze. The assignment for the students was to design iteratively alternative maze structures for PacMan and to test them. And eventually to come-up with alternative Gameplay as well. We where astonished to discover how creative and how good these students are doing so 

The organization had to be creative with the playful breaks and lunch. We kept the groups together without mingling them. And everybody had to wear nose and mouth masks and keep enough distance as possible. 

Every day the group of teachers and volunteers evaluate what went top and what could be improved. Improved Covid measures, avoiding the use of cellphones by the teachers in front the students, better listening, cooler places to be able to work are such tips to improve. The tops are among many others the steep learning curve the kids showed, their progression and the good concentration.

Feedback sessionEvaluating the first day of the 3rd week.

That ends the first day of the 3rd week. Tired and at the same time satisfied we look forward to the next days of the Summer Camp.

This weekend we received the sad news that due Covid that caused Rhabdomyolosis with a huge impact on the kidneys that lead to extreme dehydration of the kidneys Diana Nijboer got hospitalized in the ICU in Rio de Janeiro. We all worried what would happen with her. We are in close contact with her every day. She’s in good hands and she is recovering but very slowly. Of course she is very sad and cried a lot that she misses this part of the course as Founder of EduMais and as an educational Mum for all the students, volunteers and teachers. It actually gave everybody at EduMais the strength and energy to work even harder to make this Summer Camp a huge success. Recover soon Diana and in the mean time the students will design, develop and play fantastic educational games created by themselves.





Written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk on Games for Health EduMais Blog

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The Art of Storytelling and Story writing and Games Sun, 30 Jan 2022 22:44:59 +0000 Tuesday and Wednesday the students of the EduMais Summer Camp Educational Game Design Course started with the […]

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Tuesday and Wednesday the students of the EduMais Summer Camp Educational Game Design Course started with the Story writing and storytelling workshop. Every day the teachers prepare the groups and the course of the days to come. Most of the teachers are former students of EduMais themselves. Some of them are even ‘born’ at the school as they call it. They start at day-care through the entire school career until they reach 18 years. We also welcomed Menno and Jeroen van Pelt – Deen. Who arrived on Monday.
Marcelo Vasconcellos started with a lecture on storytelling and games. The game industry has two camps: the ones that love and the ones that hate stories in games. To be honest stories it’s not my cup of thee, but I know for many many people it is a big deal. I comfort myself with the knowledge that even Angry Birds originates from a Finish saga – that it has a story – and that hundreds of million people love to play it!

After Marcelo’s workshop we split the groups into a story writing class and a story telling class. A good narrative comes of course with a perfect fitted design. Ying and Yang. This also counts for the teachers. Marcelo and Flavia monitored these two days as a couple in perfect harmony with the other teachers and students. Incredible to discover the silence as the classes moved along and the students fully concentrated on writing and art. 

Don’t forget to play! With playful power breaks that we have introduced in between the classes the kids could physically drain the energy and focus on something totally different. And of course we changed the rules of the game: in this case: Dodge ball. Two camps fighting each other with a ball. What you will end up with is a complete nuthouse.

Students are awesome. So nice to discover that students who think that could not create art in writing and drawing actually do. Not if they are taught right but if they are coached right. Menno Deen, Flavia Garcia de Carvalho and Marcelo Vasconcellos are wizards in unlocking students views and talents.

The EduMais Summer Camps are all-inclusive. Literally and figuratively. No one is excluded and the food, beverages, and entertainment are all in. Good for the students, good for the teachers, and good for the parents. Parents trust the fact that their loved ones are being taken care of well.

Today we welcomed again an international expert to the Summer Camp: Roy van der Schilden. An experienced game designer, Narrative Designer & Business Director at Wispfire. He perfectly explained the structure of narratives and decision pathways. And emphasized that when you start making narrative games the students should keep things super simple. A story has a start, middle, and end. And a narrative has a situation, a problem, and two or more solutions. Thanks, Roy for your contribution.

Roy van der Schilden

The story writing and storytelling workshops were a blast. The story writing class already started to produce some stories in Twine. Next week the students will put them into practice with actual real game design and playable prototypes. I am so much looking forward to that.

Creating this program requires flexibility and adaptability. The group of teachers and volunteers evaluate every day the tops and tips.

Daily debrief with tips and top.

Let’s finish the week with a yell.

 Art class at EduMais Summer Camp


Although Covid has influenced the last day and a half of the week. One of the students got tested positively and that forced the organization to decide that we had to postpone the Summer Camp until next week Tuesday. But flexible as we are Menno and Rob already adapted the course to a program where we still are able to develop playful educational games with students and teachers at PPG – Rio de Janeiro. Also to all students: stay safe and please return. And for Diana: boa sorte!

Written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk – Founder of Games for Health Europe  Foundation with permission published on EduMais Blog

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Making games is like a festival for the brain and dancing for the soul Sun, 30 Jan 2022 20:05:17 +0000 The post Making games is like a festival for the brain and dancing for the soul appeared first on EduMais.


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Serious Game Design: First game concepts are a fact! Fri, 07 Jan 2022 13:05:11 +0000 Today the students created the first Educational Game Concepts: whoooppp whoooop. PARTY Blog written by Jurriaan van […]

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Today the students created the first Educational Game Concepts: whoooppp whoooop. PARTY

Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk – Games for Health – published with permission.

The day started with a Game Design Class by Ellis Bartholomeus – better known as Ellis in Wonderland. The workshop was parallel translated by Marcelo Vasconcellos. Both Marcelo and Ellis are friends of Games for Health since the first conference in 2011. So great they are willing voluntarily contribute to this Game Design Course.


Ellis in Wonderland


After the Game Design Class all students worked on an educational game with the topic of learning English using the various canvasses provided by Ellis Bartholomeus. This very quick generated some powerful insights for English to be seen as a an escape from reality and daily live. Students strongly believe that learning English can provide them with the ability to progress in a professional career and even to be able to escape the Favela and Brasil. But if you ask them if they like the life they live they tend to love it. So there is some work to be done discovering these various views.



Serious Game Design is a tough cookie and hard work. After an hour of Serious Game Concept Design the students relaxed with some ball games. I think ball games originates in Brasil. The ease how students use a ball amazes me every time.



Serious Game Design requires attention and concentration. Not naturally given by every person. Nevertheless all 7 groups finished the Game Design Canvas with some very creative and profound insights.


Afternoon was disseminating the Game Design Concepts into a blog that will be published by the students themselves. The authors of each blog are one or two team member of each group.







The same time the Bloggers were writing on communicating the Game Concepts the other group practiced for a dance and yell that will be used for the trailer of this course and future communications. The yell is: Game Design at EduMais!!!!



No matter what. This course is designed for students from the PPG Favela in Rio de Janeiro and facilitated by EduMais. And no matter what: if it put a smile on these students faces we know we contribute!


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Serious Game Design in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro – Day 2 -Making objects for play Fri, 07 Jan 2022 11:11:37 +0000   Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk, Games for Health, published with permission. What a drive, what […]

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The art is in the making

Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk, Games for Health, published with permission.

What a drive, what a thrill and what an energy the EduMais Summer Camp students have! Today was about three things:



We started the day with a classic one – yes a classic one: the Spaghetti – Marshmallow Challenge. A challenge where you have to build the tallest freestanding structure with 20 spaghetti’s, 1 meter of rope, 1 meter of tape and a Marshmallow. It is a workshop that demonstrates that every game design project has assumptions and that making games is actually teamwork. And that failing actually is an option.


After the Spagetti Marshmallow workshop we dove into 5 making workshops.

Workshop 1 was Lego. In gaming terms, Lego is a sandbox play – or often called not a game at all. We challenged the students to create classic chess with Lego.



Workshop 2 was MakeyMakey. A build-your-own-controller kit that transforms a Banana or sheet of aluminum into a game controller by using objects as sensor for play.




Workshop 3 was about the art of art. Visualizing objects and interactions to play with requires the skill to be able to visualize with drawings and pictures instead of using words. Simple objects are often quite difficult to visualize. With some powerful techniques it is possible to learn how to visualize these objects simplified.



This video shows Flavia, a Brazilian designer and researcher who voluntarily contributes to the course, how to design with the 3 basic objects: a circle, a rectangular and triangle.


Flavia explaining the basic principals for design.


Workshop 4 were the LittleBits. Probably one of the most favorite workshops for the EduMais students. LittleBits are magnetic objects that click together. And if they are assembled in the right way it forms a operational circuit board. Hardware as if it was software basically.

I love this video, taken by Sandra van Rijswijk, of one of the students explaining to the teacher how the LittleBits work.


Workshop 5 was about playing existing educational games and to reflect on that. They loved and hate them. That’s on purpose. Because creating games will not only generate fans but at the same time will create haters. To be able to cope with the emotions of everybody with an opinion is an important aspect of creating a healthy game-community. And often its better to listen to your opponents for suggestions to improve your game than to listen only to your fans!

Educational Games: fun or not?


We ended the day with a second round of the Marshmallow challenge. And we asked the students what they have learned today, what they liked and what they would like to see improve. Collectively summarized and presented to the entire group we are looking back to a fruitful day and ready for the day to come: making game concepts!


Although the surroundings of the Favela often feel to be not very attractive as an outsider. The beauty of these students willing to learn and to move forward during their free time summer holidays deserves a great respect. And quite often even nature signs that Favelas are beautiful!

The sun set some beams of light on wall mounted ferns at Escola Solar walls.

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Serious Game Design in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro – Summer Camp – Day 1 Thu, 06 Jan 2022 06:33:28 +0000   What a day . . . what a beautiful day! Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk […]

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What a day . . . what a beautiful day!
Blog written by Jurriaan van Rijswijk – Games for Health Europe Foundation republished with permission.

This morning we started at 8:30 with briefing the course teachers for day 1 of the EduMaisGame Summer Course. At 9 o’clock the kids came in. 39 registered and 36 showed up! Amazing.

Diana and Henrique started with the rules of engagement together with the kids. No shouting, being respectful, walk not run and all the good and bad manners listed as does and don’ts.

Rules of engagement as a start of every EduMais Course.

Then of course to get to know each other we played. Physical and social play. And we changed the rules. A discovery where actually Brazilians are very good at.














Physical &  Social Play

After lunch we split the kids in groups where each group had to choose a game they love and a game they hate. This assignment was to make a structured analysis of how the game was constructed and designed to discover why it was a good versus a bad game. The next step was to generate ideas for improvements of the game that they hate.


Making EduMaisGames

Each team had to create a group name and a presentation of their findings. An important skill of Game Design is that you are able to share and present your ideas and thoughts.


We end the day with an exploration of the different roles the kids have an ambition for. Are you an artist, programmer, story writer, marketeer, producer, audio designer or game designer. Multidisciplinary teams are required for serious game design!


Different roles for game design

Traditionally every day of an EduMais course kids and teachers say goodbye, wish them a nice evening and night and telling them that we love to see them tomorrow morning. For many people still this is not the case. We are sad to hear that already one of the kids needs to resign because of a domestic. We are figuring out how he still would be able to attend.


The EduMaisGame course is being held at the location of Solar Meninos de Luz in the Favelas of Pavão-Pavãozinho & Cantagalo. A picturesque environment to make impact with serious games..


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Jaque is Starting University Following her Long-Term Dream Tue, 12 Oct 2021 20:27:43 +0000 Jaque is 20 years old and only child. Her parents had formal education till the age of 12. Her mother […]

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Jaqueline is going to universityJaque is 20 years old and only child. Her parents had formal education till the age of 12. Her mother works at a store and her father is a doorman in an apartment building. Jaque is the first one to start university. She is going to study literature at the UERJ.

How does it feel to be going to university?
Amazing! I don’t know how to describe this feeling because it’s something new. I won’t experience university straight away because I start studying next year, but I’m already super excited and super happy! I want to meet my new friends, my new professors and study what I love to study: Languages! Portuguese and French.


Do you feel like EduMais helped increase your chances of getting into university? If so, how?
Absolutely! On my university entrance exam, I had to choose a language to answer some questions. I chose English, of course. I had the choice of Spanish, English or French, and of course I chose English because I have the most knowledge about it. EduMais 100% helped me, because English isn’t just about reading or seeing new words, it’s about speaking and practicing. When I met EduMais, they helped me a lot, and I feel like I improved my English skills thanks to EduMais. So yes, 100%!


What would you say to EduMais students who have the goal to go to University?
Don’t give up! Even if it seems impossible, or super hard to go to University, don’t give up. Study hard, and be with people who want you to achieve your goal. There are a lot of people who don’t support you, or aren’t your ally. Be with people who believe in you, and believe in yourself in the first place. It’s okay if you don’t get in on your first try, or even on your second try. It’s okay! You’re learning. The essential thing is to not give up.


Do you see yourself as a role model for other kids in your community?
No, I don’t think so. In our community there are a lot of people who can be a better role model than me. But I think I can be a good role model for my cousins. They live in the same community as me and they are younger than me, so I think I can give them inspiration. For the community, I think so, we have a lot of talented people here, not about university but about song, dance, painting sport… there are super talented people here! I’m not a special one, and I’m totally fine with it! I don’t like to be the centre of attention in the community, and I’m totally okay with it!

Congratulations Jaque, we are all so proud of you!

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Responding to the Populist Challenge and to the COVID-19 Crisis: EduMais, a Carioca Case Study Sun, 18 Apr 2021 19:37:50 +0000 By Emma Cosmao – EduMais Project Director Given the current political and social context, EduMais has had […]

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By Emma Cosmao – EduMais Project Director

Given the current political and social context, EduMais has had to adapt its response capacity. In particular, the rise of populism and the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for new approaches. The following report evaluates how volunteers and EduMais’ leadership perceive these changes and identify subsequent key initiatives. Furthermore, it makes important recommendations aimed at improving future efforts. The main objective of EduMais is to provide quality and mindful education to empower local youths in the wake of an ever-changing society.


Who are EduMais?

EduMais focuses on providing education to children in the favela of Pavão-Pavãozinho/Cantagalo (PPG). Its uniqueness lies in the use of Positive Discipline and Diana Nijboer’s firm leadership. “Education is an act of love”, and not of pity.

EduMais handpicks volunteers for their character and dedication to the work. When asked, “Why EduMais?”, volunteers have two main angles. Firstly, EduMais’ approach is unique, focused on providing tools rather than answers. Thus, it gives students a safe space to learn English, entrepreneurship, game design, and more. Secondly, Diana’s leadership is central. She treats all equally, and as family, so long as they are willing to put in the work.

The consciousness of the political situation and its impact on human rights work in the country differs. Half of the surveyed volunteers stated there was no correlation between their work and the rise of populism in Brazil. In contrast, the other half iterated their concerns related to access to education, military operations in PPG, and the mental health of students. Diana Nijboer, the founder, believes that the changing landscape of Brazilian politics has had a profound impact on the work EduMais conducts.


EduMais: Board & Finance

EduMais’ approach is transparent from start to finish. The financial reports are readily available, signposted clearly on the website, from 2016 to 2018. The updated board information is clear on the Stitching EduMais Foundation page.

All board members are Dutch, including the Director of EduMais. The yearly reports indicate that to be a board member, the individual must have a personal affinity to Rio and the project. Yet, it is notable that all members be non-native to the city. Diana has iterated a long-term plan for EduMais to become cyclical, no longer heavily reliant on foreign help. However, due to it being only 4 years old, this has not yet been achieved.

The importance of diversity on the board cannot be understated. ‘Foreignness’ of certain NGOs can effectively discredit them, according to Gavarito’s ‘Playbook for Human Rights Actors’. To counter this possibility, one of the recommendations is to shift demands for donations from an international to a national sphere.

Furthermore, the opacity of EduMais’ finances on their website makes it hard to understand the origin of donations. Therefore, another recommendation would be to increase board diversity to include Cariocas. Nonetheless, EduMais compensates for this shortcoming with local collaboration. EduMais has been in close collaboration with Solar Meninos de Luz, who have had a school open in PPG for almost 30 years. This close collaboration has created a deep-rooted trust for EduMais in the community. The threat of delegitimization comes from the top, rather than from beneficiaries of the work of this NGO.

The financial report (see below) provides a clear picture of EduMais’ bank account.

EduMais’ 2018 Financial Report: a Need for More Transparency

Total received donations during the year of 2018 (in Euros and Brazilian Real)

Half of all (20,000 euros) donations for the 2018 financial year come from a “main sponsor”. However, they remain opaque. To have one source be so influential undoubtedly impacts the work of EduMais. Also, such a large portion of funds have come from specific fundraising activities. Beyond this table, the report enumerates how the money has been spent. Unsurprisingly, the money goes to the programs it details on the website, and whatever remains already has an allocated purpose.

Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo: Setting the Scene

Pavão-Pavãozinho/Cantagalo is the perfect synthesis of the current challenges to Brazilian democracy. It is located between the upper-class area of Ipanema, the middle-class, and the world-famous Copacabana. However, the government and other Cariocas ignore it. 

The contrast of worlds is evident when approaching the iconic steps to enter PPG. Hidden in a corner between two tall apartment buildings, the colorful steps lead up to Rua San Roman. Under the crippling heat and humidity, a new world appears. Houses on top of one another, and a smell one cannot describe. It is a city within a city.  There’s the local kilo restaurant, the local barber-turned-gossip-spot, and, of course, the school.

Photo of the contrasting entrance to the PPG and its contrasts

The problem not only ignored; it’s repressed. The issue is institutional, as Diana Nijboer declared, confirming literature trends on Brazilian democracy. Favelas are not included in the conversation within the democratic system because many residents of these parts of the city are not registered voters, nor they have the incentive to be.

Violence & Fear in Pavão-Pavãozinho/Cantagalo: a Testimony

One family testifies that “the favela has different areas: Cantagalo, Pavão, and each has different characters (Pavão is further up, accessible only by bondinho (cable-car). Up until recently, there were two UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) posts – one near an old hotel in Cantagalo, and then one in Pavão. They were strategically placed in areas of prominent trafficking. The UPP has closed the Pavão section. Traffickers are taking over, with huge weapons, occupying the area, paying bars to stay open. These places become recruitment grounds for trafficking. Consequently, violence increases.

John’s family recently moved “down” the favela, where it’s usually safer. However, they live near a bar controlled by traffickers. Within the past week, the scene has drastically changed: an increase in parties, drugs, and weapons. Diana describes a man following her as she was going in to visit John’s family. She talked with John’s mother inside the house, but the traffickers were smoking joints right outside, occupying the space and provoking the situation.  When asked why they don’t go to the police, John’s mother responds “if we go to the police, we don’t have a life anymore”.

Diana mentions that if traffickers take over the area, they will live in a space where helicopters fly over – an opportunity for traffickers to shoot, and police to hit the traffickers – and since John’s house is in an open area, with a beautiful view of Copacabana, they are more vulnerable to lost balls – the real killer in the favelas. This will affect the kids “I can’t imagine what it’s like, she says, It’s like John, he’s 6 years old. Of course, he knows who they are, but he knows nothing else.”

Pavão-Pavãozinho/Cantagalo view

The Populist Challenge

The failure of Bolsonaro’s administration to improve the education system illustrates a pressing need for NGOs to continue to act.

Academics are calling for social movements and NGOs to “step up to defend civic freedoms”. There is a sense of immediacy. In late 2017, things were noticeably bad, and EduMais & Meninos de Luz had to close operations due to the threat of stray bullets and police violence.

However, EduMais volunteers and Diana hold different perceptions of the impact of populism on EduMais’ role. Two volunteers stand out. Stéphanie Moscoso highlighted the increased social inequality and change in educational policies, which makes EduMais’ work more vital. Hannah Van Akkeren describes a cheering pro- ‘Bozo’ crowd in the face of militarized action in PPG. “They were cheered for the death of members of the PPG community who they perceived as a big threat. […] I believe the police killed a few people that day.”, she states.

Diana is much more intransigent in her analysis. The worry of a government that ignores those living in the favelas is constant. However, there’s an additional concern that foreign aid will be harder to give with an increasingly authoritarian regime. Freedom of expression is in danger, as evidenced by the assassination of Marielle Franco in 2018. At the same time, the Bolsonaro campaign showed its divisive and authoritarian nature. The concern is that foreign aid will be the next target of the president, who is adamant to exclude favela residents from Brazilian civic life. Operating in such a context has been a key factor in EduMais, both as an NGO and the individuals who represent it.

In the face of rising populism, what is the role of EduMais?

It shifted from solely providing English classes to much more. EduMais is not focused on a glossy short-term solution. The goal of the English and entrepreneurship classes, and the after-school program is to demonstrate an alternative path. EduMais gives people a space to learn and to reach further than what their environment might have previously enabled them to. In this context, EduMais must stand by its mission, and encourage students to continue reaching further than the steps leading to the bottom of Rua San Roman.

Crisis Mode: Responding to COVID-19

As the majority of volunteers are international, there was a scramble to head home. Yet volunteers only intensified their efforts as things were moved online.

Many volunteers, including Jake Delorme or Juliette Bonnepart, noted that the pandemic freed time to give back to EduMais and step up in their volunteering roles. To Diana, it is clear that, in terms of volunteer commitment, the pandemic has been a blessing. Additionally, the role of EduMais as an NGO widened. Notably, it turned to immediate crisis response (providing food) due to temporary suspension of classes and freezing of incomes for local families. EduMais also had a headstart on fundraising for food baskets, with the donations page launched on March 3rd. This campaign continued until December 1st, reaching its monthly target of 7638€ almost every month. Furthermore, it continues to adapt to its role with new campaigns, such as 4G So I Can Study.

“4G So I Can Study”: Responding to Human Rights Violations due to COVID-19

Diana and I spent a long time discussing the rising social inequalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, we discussed those resulting from disparity in access to the internet and adequate learning conditions. The response has been the 4G So I Can Study Project, aiming to provide internet access for students to attend classes. This is an example of how the role of this Education-focused NGO has expanded.

Expanding EduMais’ Role During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The reason for EduMais’ expanded role is twofold. First and foremost, it is a reflection of the government’s shortcomings. Its failure to pre-empt the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable communities is a deliberate act. Its aid package of 600BRL/ month for informal workers often did not reach families. When it did, it did little to help. In any case, this package has now come to an end and was unpopular with Bolsonaro throughout its rollout.

Secondly, the Brazilian Real has plunged in value. Therefore, fundraising has turned to the international space. This is more effective, with each Euro fetching further than usual. However, this shift presents its own challenges. Many European households have found their incomes decreased, which has led to fewer donations. Why should a French person donate to a cause in Brazil, with so much going on at home?

The 4G So I Can Study project has the unique attribute of appealing to people in the same situation. The model of online learning has caused much debate in universities. The project thus provides an opportunity to take note of our privilege. Indeed, our qualms with this format have nothing to do with accessibility.

A week after its launch, the project had been funded to 32% (updated December 6, 2020).

Concluding Remarks: The Tragic and Terrifying Cocktail of Populism and COVID-19

A Troublesome Political, Legal & Social Framework

Sadly, the situation is not unique to Brazil. The global pandemic has enabled leaders to take emergency measures in the interest of safeguarding their populations.

Restrictions of freedom of movement have allowed populist leaders to weaken democracy in the name of the pandemic. This is particularly poignant in countries where democracy was already treading a fine line (Hong Kong, Belarus, The Philippines). Here, emergency measures may lead to further restricted civilian freedoms. In Brazil, the manipulation of public panic has created a perfect conflagration of elements. Consequently, it’s harder for EduMais to complete its work. Parallel power, which has been observed in the past few months, is of particular concern. There are two main reasons for the rise in alternate power in this period:

  1. Families don’t go to the police. Racist discourse by the government, coupled with other factors, erodes trust in the police. Additionally, they’re aware of the backlash they will receive from the traffickers.
  2. New laws passed during the pandemic state that there cannot be interference from the police in favelas. They argue that it is impossible to socially distance in the cramped alleyways.

These are the current challenges to EduMais’ operations in Rio de Janeiro in 2020. I have shared Gavarito’s “Playbook for Human Rights Actors” with Diana and some volunteers, as part of a long-term strategy. Simultaneously, we continue to evaluate the political situation. At present, EduMais’ best course of action is to continue its role as an educating force.

Future Foward: the Importance of Education

Education is the foundation for more options. For so many students, it has been a way of reaching further and expanding their horizons. To continue this role during the pandemic, access to the internet is crucial, thus the new campaign. The provision of basic food and sanitary supplies is equally important, which was addressed through the COVID-19 Relief Fund. Education is also the most powerful way in which EduMais can respond to the challenge of populism. Providing education to disenfranchised communities removes the feeling of invisibility. It also teaches locals their rights and to be confident in their abilities. EduMais should continue to keep a sharp eye on politics and keep affirming its role. It is needed now more than ever.


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