An Introduction To Brazil Before Volunteering

by Dana Carmel Bell

Brazil is the home of futbol, samba, Carnival, and beautiful beaches and  people. But these are just a few of many reasons why Brazil is a treasured travel destination and an excellent place to volunteer abroad.

As South America’s largest country, Brazil is both culturally and geographically diverse. Brazil is comprised of 26 states and its federal capital is Brasilia. In this former Portuguese colony, you’ll find deep-rooted remnants of Portuguese influence in everything from the language, architecture, the food, and of course, the people.

Brazil is a country full of contradictions: while it’s plagued by poverty, most Brazilians tend to possess a carefree attitude. In cities like Rio de Janeiro, the rich live in lavish condos adjacent to the poor who live in shanty towns known as favelas. The majority of Brazilians are ethnically mixed, but disparities between different ethnic groups persist.

Despite any negative attributes, Brazil’s positives far outweigh its socio-economic issues, making it an ideal country for volunteering abroad. 

Play soccer on the beach with the locals while volunteering in Brazil.
Play soccer on the beach with the locals while volunteering in Brazil. Photo by Alexa Kaufman

Why Brazil Needs You 

Poverty is an ongoing problem in Brazil as there’s a wide gap between the people who have it all and those who have nothing. Although the country is making strides in reducing levels of extreme poverty and income inequality, it still has a long way to go. Many of Brazil’s poorest citizens live in urban and upcountry favelas. Because of rapid urban development and population growth, there’s also a shortage of housing which is why many poor people build homes without proper utilities in favelas. Disparities in educational funding and poor school attendance due to malnutrition are other major problems in Brazil. To help alleviate these socio-economic problems, there are a variety of volunteer programs available in Brazil from teaching English to building homes to working with children

Itacaré beach, Bahia

Cultural & Ethnic Diversity

One of the great things about Brazil is that everyone fits in, because Brazilians are so ethnically diverse. In Brazil, you’ll find a small percentage of indigenous Amerindians who primarily live on reservations, but there’s also a large African influence due to the numerous amounts of slaves that were imported to Brazil at the height of its slave trade. Of course, there’s also a strong Portuguese influence in Brazilians’ ethnic makeup due to the fact that it’s a former Portuguese colony. Additionally, many other European cultures call Brazil home, including Italians, Germans, Jews, and Eastern Europeans. There’s also a small but present Asian population in Brazil with immigrants primarily from China and Japan. 

Weather & Landscape

The weather and landscape in Brazil are just as diverse as its ethnic makeup. Although the majority of the country enjoys a tropical climate, it has five major climatic sub-types that account for the country’s diverse geographic landscape. In the north you’ll find equatorial rainforests and semiarid deserts, in the south there are temperate coniferous forests, and in the center of Brazil you’ll find tropical savannas. 

Lots to See & Do 

Brazil’s diverse weather and landscape and its wide range of cultural and historical points of interest are indicative of the wide variety of things to see and do there. While urban hotspots like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Salvador, attract millions of visitors each year, Brazil has numerous smaller cities and towns that make for unforgettable travel destinations. 

Rio de Janeiro

There are several Greyhound-like bus companies that offer affordable transportation to many major cities within the country and to smaller locales such as Costa Verde and Buzios. Alternatively, there are reasonable flight options for faster transport to intra-Brazil destinations. In Brazil, your options for activities during your downtime are limitless. Whether you want to explore or stay in a favela (some favelas offer guest house accommodations), visit a former colonial Portuguese town, hike along fjords, explore the rainforest, or simply bask in the sun on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Brazil has plenty of options for every interest.

If you aren't convinced you should volunteer in Brazil yet, start browsing through programs and surely, something will spark your interest!