Grassroots cultural initiatives for the Sustainable Development Goals in Rio

The 2016 Olympics are in full swing, with the first week of sporting events coming to a close. The Olympics are not just about highlighting the endurance and dedication of the world’s best athletes – it’s a chance for the entire world, those watching from all corners of the globe, to participate as observers and cheerleaders for their own teams.

Rio de Janeiro has a special role as the site of the 2016 Olympics, responsible for welcoming the world for the next few weeks as the Marvelous City becomes a stage for the competitions. Besides this host role, Rio de Janeiro has a particular responsibility for its own citizens, to ensure that the Olympics has a positive impact on the population as an inclusive participatory experience.

The legacy of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has left its mark on the geography of the city, with new transportation systems like the VLT, the Metro na Superfície, a brand new Metro line to the Olympic Village, as well as the renovation of Porto Maravilha and incredible additions to the city’s landscape, like the majestic Museu do Amanhã.

However impressive these creations in infrastructure and the expected surge in the tourism economy and foreign investment, Rio de Janeiro’s most incredible – and sustainable – development successes are its social programs which have begun as grassroots projects created by and for the community.

The “Carioca” people are consistently the most sustainable and impressive force the city has in developing a better life. On this urban scale, community members are developing programs that exemplify the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 UN Agenda.  From working groups that advocate for disabled children’s rights to urban permaculture clusters, to dance and music collectives, Cariocas are making strides in the reduction of inequality, access to quality education for all, promoting gender equality, improving health and life in cities, and creating more peaceful societies and institutions, among other challenges that affect the entire world.

The SDGs, created in 2015 to replace the Millenium Development Goals, are 17 different categories of goals that UN member countries are undertaking to make the world a better place to live and to address problems like climate change, poverty, conflict, and illiteracy. The Rio+ Center, a legacy of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, is taking a magnifying glass to the city of Rio de Janeiro to find people, projects and places that portray the SDGs in action.

The video in this blog is one such story. Ballet Manguinhos is a grassroots project that started in 2012 by the community members of Complexo de Manguinhos, a favela in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro, which has historically had problems with drug gang violence and crime, like many informal communities in the city. Manguinhos has risen above the stereotype by creating and sustaining projects that give at-risk youth hope and opportunities through dance, music, skating and other initiatives.

Daiana Ferreira de Oliveira, the creative director of Ballet Manguinhos, says the project gives young people ages 6-18 the opportunity to take ballet classes for free at five different public locations that they have secured for practicing. The Ballet also takes dancers on field trips to local museums, libraries and parks as cultural development.

Daiana: “It helps them with developing social skills and self-esteem, not only ballet”

Through a project called Dançando e Lendo, or Dancing and Reading in English, the ballerinas can take home books about dance, read with their families and then present to their peers, combining physical activity with literacy.

The Ballet has been invited to perform with other Carioca dancers and musicians, integrating the community of Manguinhos with their own city. With an annual performance showcasing the work of over 200 dancers, Ballet Manguinhos has developed a large audience beyond the boundaries of their community.

As a tool for social development, dance has helped community members like Luiz Felipe Moreira, 17, find a respite from the difficulties of life in a favManguinhos.jpgela and a way to identify himself in a positive way. He has a scholarship with another ballet school in Rio de Janeiro because of the progress he has made at Ballet Manguinhos, as one of the principal senior dancers of the school. By transforming individuals like Luiz Felipe, these programs are changing the community from inside out on a micro level.

Ballet Manguinhos is one of several social projects that the community of Manguinhos has developed and maintained with few outside resources, the most potent source of fuel being their own community members who dedicate time and talent. Guilherme Hadasha, a resident of Manguinhos for decades and an expert in Afrobrazilian musical rhythms and instruments, as well as a virtuoso in classical music, conducts a workshop with young people in the community that creates musical instruments made out of recycled materials.

“The project is a cultural, environmental and socially inclusive project with the purpose of valuing Afrobrazilian culture in a creative way,” said Hadasha. “We tell indigenous and African stories through percussion and oral history.”

With the three pillars of sustainability exemplified through the work of these two projects, Manguinhos has revitalized young lives. There are several other programs in Manguinhos that, while they don’t receive large amounts of funding, continue to serve the community, provide better quality of life for residents, and promote the SDGs.

Sustainable development requires policy at the top for a larger change, but Rio de Janeiro is a true example of how grassroots projects that involve civil society can be truly transformative.


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