“Against the odds, a kind of magic remains in the Olympics.”
A fair statement, it seems, as I sit in my London apartment remembering an emotional Doreen Lawrence run past my Deptford apartment with the olympic torch around this time 4 years ago.
The “London 2012” olympic games was London’s best summer of this century, and perhaps i’m biased saying that as I was working on the olympics youth legacy at the time so I really felt it’s impact, but I have chatted to many people about that summer, and everyone I spoke to agrees the joyful energy was due to the spirit of the games.
Despite the political turmoil in Brazil, and the anxiety of the zika virus, all anyone has been hoping for is a little bit of the same kind of magic to filter through into Rio. We saw how it directly impacted people’s lives in London, and I’ve been working with so many people passionate about bringing a little slice of that to the urban communities of Rio.
Let’s ignore the isolated incidents to the contrary for a moment.
For the last 12 months _SocialStarters have been working alongside, collaborating with and skilling up around 30 or so young people determined to change their lives and the lives of others for the better. To us they are the next generation of social entrepreneurs in Brazil, they’re the poster boys and girls of a new way of doing business and they’re paving the way for a positive youth legacy of the games.
These young people; already running community projects, education programmes and making noise through activism or fashion – have been tackling problems in their communities, many favelas, the term used to describe the majority informal housing communities that dot the iconic foothills of Rio. Many of these communities are now pacified, which means are deemed “safe” by the police from, I suppose, gang war.
Having lived in Rio for 3 months last year I can vouch for statements that say some favelas are getting chic and trendy. People want to go to them. Airbnb have have many properties and rooms listed there now, offering an authentic experience to the Olympic tourist, whilst ploughing money back into the communities that need it the most at the same time.
Our partnership with Eixo Rio, a department in the state secretariat of culture, brought international business volunteers to encourage young people to get thinking about how they could scale what they do through enterprising models… thus being more financially sustainable, able to increase their impact and make their communities better. It’s not about leaving their old lives behind to better themselves, they’re proud of their communities and heritage, and that’s always come through very strongly.
Here are just three of these young people who _SocialStarters worked with recently:
Sheila Souza is an active and inspiring community organizer who has set up Brazilidade, a sustainable tourism company that works to address lack of awareness and education about the reality of life in favela communities and lack of social cohesion and understanding created as a result. Sheila has been exploring way to ensure her business remains sustainable once Olympics are out of the way and fragile stability in her favela may be threatened.
Denise Andrade is a mother based in one of Rio’s favela communities, who has developed a project and designed a methodology to support the development and education of children through use of traditional play and street games from Brazilian culture. Denise has been running a series of events for children under the banner of the ‘Olympics of Traditional Games and Play’
Elisa Almeida set up her community garden project as she recognised that many children did not have access to any green spaces or nature within the community as a result of living in a very urbanised area of the city. Elisa runs workshops for nursery aged children and works in partnership with public schools. Having set up her project at 18, Elisa will now be going to university to study environmental design and development
So whilst something so huge as the games will inevitably bring out stories of inequality, corruption, doping, lack of preparation or regeneration (and what with Rio being the tumultuous city that it is, violence on the streets) let’s remember that despite all the odds, and this isn’t to negate any truth in all of that; there are positive stories out there.
If London 2012 is anything to go by, what I do know is this: Rio 2016 will be incredible. The olympic and paralympic games will inspire even more young and older people to make a difference, whether in their own lives and/or the lives of others.
"Yet, for all their flaws, the Games can still bring inspiration and pride. There was doom-mongering before Athens, Beijing and London; once the sports began, morale rose and – rightly or wrongly – criticism began to sound mean-spirited. This year, spectators will be awed anew by the grace and power of record-breakers and humbled by the resilience of the first refugee team. Against the odds, a kind of magic remains in the Olympics. How much more there could be if the organisers truly sought to live up to their grand ideals."
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