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Volunteering Abroad in São Paulo

São Paulo is known for its most obvious attribute: its size. With the largest Italian and Japanese populations outside of their native countries, São Paulo has prominent representation from hundreds of ethnic groups. As the third largest city in the world, São Paulo has high energy around the clock; from bistros to clubs, cinemas to museums, there will never be a dull moment for those who volunteer in São Paulo. Unfortunately, along with development comes severe, widespread poverty. Along with poverty comes a population longing for social services, so volunteers will have plenty of opportunities to make a lasting impact.

Volunteer Programs in São Paulo

Opportunities to volunteer in São Paulo are diverse and cater to those of all backgrounds. With time commitments ranging from one week to one year or more, volunteer programs in São Paulo are wonderful for those wanting to make a school break purposeful or spend a longer term volunteering abroad. With placements surrounding the areas of community development and teaching, volunteer work in São Paulo is sure to be a perfect match for all those who decide to partake in the adventure. 

English Instruction is the most common type of volunteering in São Paulo. With locals who have a strong desire to develop English language skills, native English speakers are highly desired and admired. Since half of teaching volunteer’s time will mostly likely be spent in the classroom, they will also be able to develop their Portuguese language skills. Before teaching English in São Paulo, volunteers are usually placed in Portuguese classes determined by their skillset at a language institute where they are taught the skills of listening, grammar, oral, and written Portuguese. After extensive language study time, volunteers then engage in placements in the surrounding community teaching English. Teaching English in São Paulo will help empower locals and open up a world of opportunity that they would otherwise not have access to. 

Environmental Protection. Amongst many things, Brazil is characterized by its natural beauty. Yet, with the present economic situation the surroundings aren't always cared for properly. Volunteers could easily notice areas of environmental concern, including pollution, and detrimental conditions for animals. Volunteers interested in conservation and protection will find volunteer programs in São Paulo in environmental protection particularly appealing. Those who volunteer in environmental protection will be able to take strides to clean up their surroundings and rehabilitate local animals. In addition to this, volunteers will often develop methods for teaching students and community members about the ways they can make changes in their daily habits to protect their breathtaking surroundings. 

Youth Development. Do you consider yourself creative? Would you say that you have strong leadership qualities? Have you ever desired to be a youth leader? For those with a background in theatre, film, or graphic design, for example, there is a way to utilize your skills to better the lives of locals through volunteer work in São Paulo. With a number of at risk youth populations, there is a great need for rehabilitation, relationship building, and life skill training. Those who volunteer in youth development will have the opportunity to teach various sessions, empower youth, and develop future leaders! Activities may include, but are not limited to, drama, filmmaking, sports, and photography.

Life in São Paulo

Brazilian families place a high value on family and this will be reflected in any organization you volunteer with in São Paulo. Natives spend significant time not only with their immediate unit, but extended family and close family friends on a regular basis. This culture will carry over into whatever organization you volunteer with too.

There is an obvious cultural distinction between classes in São Paulo. An immediate divide is typically created between people based on money, but even more prevalent is discrimination based on skin color; the darker skinned an individual is, the less opportunity they will have in society generally.

Brazilians are very affectionate people, its not uncommon to receive a kiss on each cheek upon greeting; however, handshakes are also appropriate. In addition to affection, they expect formal appearance and base relationships on gift giving. There are sure to be many cultural norms to grow accustomed to, however find rest in the fact that this culture is known to be warm and hospitable above all else. 

For those looking to taste their way through the city, a visit to the Mercado Municipal should not be missed. This building is beautiful on its own, however, what is inside is the selling point! With local produce, handicrafts, and countless other Brazilians specialities, this is a hotspot for locals and international volunteers. 

During off times, volunteers with an interest in architecture will appreciate the intricate detail of the Theatro Municipal. Built in the early 1900’s, this building is the center of fine entertainment. From plays to ballets, this building is a site to be seen while volunteering in São Paulo.

Accommodation & Visas

Nearly all volunteer programs in São Paulo provide housing for volunteers, and it is usually included in program fees. Many volunteer programs in São Paulo also pair up incoming volunteers with a local host family whom they live with for the duration of their program. These families are eager to learn english and admire those whom have it as their native tongue. Homestays are one of the most sought after accommodations among those who volunteer in São Paulo since they allow students to enhance their language skills and gain a deeper understanding of Brazilian culture. The other common housing option in São Paulo is dormitory living, where volunteers reside in a common building near their volunteer work.

When considering volunteering in São Paulo, one should check to see if their home country requires visas to volunteer in Brazil. While some nationalities will be required to obtain a visa, others may only be asked to have a passport. If traveling to Brazil on a tourist visa, individuals will be allotted a 90 day stay.

Unlike many destinations, the visa process is not arduous in Brazil. It is highly recommended that upon arrival volunteers go to a Brazilian immigration office in person, which provides an almost instant turnaround. If conducted by mail, the process could take weeks. When going through customs all foreigners receive whats called an entry/exit card. This piece of paper will be attached to one's passport and is crucial. It is incredibly important to secure the document. This allows for smooth transition both in and out of the country. If the paper is lost, fines are charged and departure could possibly become more troublesome. To extend a visa, volunteers will only need to make a trip to the embassy to renew.

Many countries are also required to have a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate indicating that the vaccine was received. Any travel doctor or clinic in most countries will be able to provide more information on the guidelines and requirements for this certificate.

GoAbroad Insider Tips

Moderate Crime. Within the city of São Paulo, there is a large gap between the upper and lower classes. With inequality and discrimination, crime is inevitable. Unfortunately, foreign volunteers aren't exempt from the dangers. It is highly advised that volunteers be aware of the prevalent crimes in order to be aware and take the proper precautions. There is not a question that this highly populated city is well worth a visit. However, in order to assure safety, one must be aware and attentive to this reality. 

Language Barrier. Many of the native people solely speak Portuguese. While they desire to speak English, locals seldom speak English fluently. This barrier may present problems for some volunteers. With many of volunteer placements in São Paulo surrounding language study, it won’t take much time to develop the skills necessary to form relationships and communicate comfortably. 

Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in Brazil.

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Volunteering Abroad in São Paulo

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