Rob’s Story: The Challenge of Taking a New Sport to Brazil

Written by Rob Melangreau, founder of youth development NGO, UM Rio/ONE Rio.

Three years ago, we founded UMRio in Morro do Castro, an isolated favela two hours from Rio’s city centre. Based around rugby, education, community action and healthcare, UMRio’s vision is to provide young people with a safe space and an enabling environment, where they can access and forge new opportunities, develop and pursue aspirations, and build confidence in their own identities.

In 2013 our work was very rugby-centric. It may well seem strange that in a country as famous for its inequalities as it is for its football, we chose to base the programme around rugby, a relatively niche sport in the Brazilian context. However, the sports novelty factor and increasing popularity ahead of Rio 2016 (where Rugby was about to be introduced as an Olympic competitive sport for the first time in history) provided us with a unique opportunity to create a new sporting culture grounded in the sport’s inherent values, without the baggage more traditional sports might hold. We were introducing a new game, new rules and a new culture that would not only generate interest, but also provide us with a platform to build from and achieve results beyond sport in the future.

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Within a year our team of volunteers was expanding and the four pillar development cycle we had sought to implement was starting to take shape. Several children had told us that they had been discouraged in the past from pursuing academic and professional goals that can deemed unfit for children of their background. In reaction, we launched a social media campaign that would become the slogan of our educational department, #EuQueroSer (or ‘I want to be’ in English). Our young boys and girls would spend 15 minutes before training discussing what they wanted to be in the future, and after recruiting Jiselle Steele as Education Coordinator, 15 minutes of articulating ideas and ambitions became 30-minute workshops on the paths to achieving these goals, 1 hour personal and professional guidance workshops, and 90 minutes academic and career fairs.

The launch of our community action programme ‘UMRio Community’ represented the launch of our third pillar. Through UMRio Community the children are involved in project-based education, setting up their very own project, grounded in their very own research and engaging and proposing their own solutions to the challenges faced by their own community.

Suddenly the children found themselves going to rugby practices, but spending half the time learning how to read maps, conduct interviews and draw-up a CV. Human rights workshops were run to ensure the children are aware of what their rights are, and how they can guarantee they are protected. By popular demand, following the recruitment of two English teachers we are now able to run English lessons twice a week. Indeed, with no financial investment, one day a week turned into four, 28 hours a month turned into 120. More recently, a partnership  with the State University of Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Monnerat, has already provided 200 children free dental care, a figure we hope will increase in the years to come with the growing support from local dentists. We are currently in the process of establishing more partnerships of this kind, addressing pressing issues related to sexual health, substance abuse, as well as general health check-ups.

Over 180 volunteers from 21 different countries have contributed to UMRio’s mission, exposing our young people to different cultures, ideas, experiences and professions. Contact with experienced professionals from a range of fields has worked to broaden our young people’s confidence and capacity to articulate their own ideas and ambitions, and begin the path of working towards their goals. Every semester _SocialStarters consultants participate in professional development workshops, listening to the children’s ambitions and questions about what it might mean to be an entrepreneur, to work in finance, or marketing, professions they often simulate in both our project-based education programmes and within their UMRio Blues Youth Council.

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We have  achieved important results with no funding, gaining local and international recognition in the form of the 2015 RFU Presidents Award, and being the subject of research of local universities. Thinking of what we could achieve in Morro do Castro with limited funding is an exciting prospect. We have laid out our 2017/20 Strategic Development Plan to secure sustainable funding streams by 2017, develop a replicable model, build a fixed UMRio Centre in Morro do Castro and create 3 paid positions. To move forward we need your help. Your donations and support are crucial to the programmes continued success and will contribute directly to the exciting future UMRio has ahead.

One of our volunteers set up a GoFundMe page which can be accessed here: www.gofundme.com/UMRio2016

For information on how to volunteer at UMRio please contact: contact.umrio@gmail.com

Wanna head to Brazil for 6 weeks and share your skills with a social entrepreneur like Rob? If the answer is YES, then great! But Hurry – applications close on December 11th so get your application in now and tell us how you think you could make a difference. APPLY HERE. Visit for more information www.socialstarters.org.

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