Oct. 12 is a widely celebrated day in Brazil, a day when families revel in their children. This year, to mark the occasion, Hillel Rio, through their Tzedek program, brought 75 underprivileged children from our partner community in Vargem Pequena — a rapidly-growing urban neighborhood (favela) in Rio de Janeiro — to the mall for a day of movies and fun. The children ranged in age from 4 to 16 years of age, and the majority had never stepped foot in a mall before, let alone a movie theater.
Cloé Pochaczevsky, one of our Hillel leaders who attended the event, recalled how awestruck many of the students were at just arriving at the mall. “Even such things as escalators and mall-quality toilets was a wonder for a number of these children.”
The field trip to the mall and movie theater occurred on Sunday, Oct. 7, and despite being National Presidential Election Day in Brazil, 24 Hillel Rio volunteers dedicated themselves to making this day a special one for the children. The entire group saw “Smallfoot”, and everybody, adults included, enjoyed popcorn, soda and a special commemorative T-shirt. When Hillel volunteers brought the idea to the theater owners, they were excited at the opportunity to partner with Hillel and enthusiastically offered to help make it a great success.
These children and Hillel Rio’s volunteers are not strangers to each other. This event was possible because of a Hillel Tzedek project called Derech, which sends volunteers into the Vargem Pequena community on a bi-weekly basis to direct informal educational activities involving geography, history, civics, health and other important topics. In addition, during these service days, volunteers provide breakfast and lunch to the children. Vitor Malak, another student leader, remarked how “This is often the only food the children have during those days. It makes you feel grateful for what you have, and also appreciate the chance to give back to those who don’t have basic things like food.”
Hillel leaders also take the children for recreational activities during their time together where they play fútbol and other sports. The outdoor sports court that they frequent was renovated this past spring by a group of Hillel ASB students from Northwestern who came to work with their colleagues in Rio de Janeiro. Thank you Wildcats!
This year, due entirely to the loving work of Hillel volunteers, a day of contentious presidential politics in Brazil was also a day of joy, wonder and learning for 75 children and 24 volunteers.
This story was written by Hillel Rio professionals.