Surprising as it may seem, there’s much more to Brazil than just parties and soccer! Brazil is South America’s largest country, covering almost half of the continent. Its size entails access to vast and diverse landscape containing the Amazon Rainforest, waterfalls, beaches, and a semi-desert. Although Brazil is a lively tropical paradise, it’s also a developing country with an enormous wealth gap and a need for volunteers. Individuals who volunteer in Brazil will help locals to achieve social, economic, and environmental change and development.
The three most popular places to volunteer abroad in Brazil are Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Salvador. These three cities are the nation’s largest, and offer a variety of projects for those who choose to volunteer in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro is a city located just above the equator on Brazil’s atlantic coast. Rio is Brazil’s second largest city and is surrounded by beaches, coastal mountains, the Brazilian Highlands, and the Tijuca Rainforest. The most popular volunteer placements in Rio range from social work and youth development to child care and environmental projects.
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the third largest metropolis on earth, with a population of 20 million people. Located in Southeastern Brazil, the most popular volunteer placements are in teaching english and youth development. Certain programs in Sao Paulo offer a variety of opportunities for those who choose to volunteer in Brazil, from social work to law.
Salvador, known as “Brazil’s Capital of Happiness”, is famous for having the largest Carnival festival in the world. Located on a peninsula between Todos os Santos Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil and suffers from a significant shortage of jobs. Popular volunteer placements in Salvador include community development and social work, which allow volunteers to participate in a variety of projects geared towards community development. There are also programs focused on wildlife conservation and research, to help preserve Brazil’s natural habitat and prevent animal extinction.
Projects & Placements
The most common placements for volunteers in Brazil include Social Work, Youth Development, Child Care, Education, and Environmentalism. Brazil’s wealth gap is a serious issue that leaves many families without jobs, homes, or the basic necessities. It’s a challenge to keep children off the streets and give them a proper education. These issues lead to a variety of opportunities for individuals to volunteer in Brazil.
Volunteer placements working in orphanages and with children abound. There are also opportunities to volunteer in Brazil in public schools and community centers, where volunteers can teach English and other subjects to children. Knowledge of Portuguese is not required generally, but optional Portuguese lessons are sometimes offered to volunteers.
Schools in Brazil are often overrun, which means kids only attend school for half days usually. To keep youth off the streets, there are preventative community development projects that offer activities like art, sports, and music for youth from poor communities.
With Brazil’s diverse geography, including rainforests, beaches, wetlands and even a semi-desert, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in environmental and wildlife conservation. Placements typically allow volunteers to work closely with animals, gaining very unique international experiences.
It’s important to note that although many programs don’t have a language requirement, some require that volunteers have a basic or intermediate knowledge of Portuguese. Most programs have an age requirement of at least 18 too.
Costs & Affordability
Brazil can be a surprisingly expensive country to live in - both Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo were on Mercer’s list of the most expensive cities in the world in 2012. However, prices can vary depending on the category of spending.
Eating at restaurants is expensive in Brazil, but grocery prices are more reasonable. The most expensive category of spending is accommodation, especially in central locations. Luckily, many programs offer accommodation (sometimes including meals), making housing expenses one less thing to worry about!
Manufactured goods are quite pricey in Brazil - for example, the iPhone 5 sold for the world’s highest price in Brazil in 2012. It’s a good idea to steer clear of buying clothes, electronics, and other manufactured goods in Brazil. Travel with what you need!
One category with a lower price range is the service industry, such as beauty and repair services. Although the nation has a high cost of living in many areas, structured programs provide those who volunteer in Brazil with the ease of not having to worry about paying for additional items, since most costs are included.
Accommodation & Visas
Almost all of Brazil’s volunteer organizations have accommodation included in their programs. The most common accommodations provided are homestay arrangements, which are typically pre-screened local families who provide volunteers with home cooked meals and allow them to experience cultural immersion to the fullest extent. Some programs even allow volunteers to stay with a host family and practice English with them in exchange for room and board. Volunteers may also stay in dormitories or other private living arrangements. Regardless of accommodation, in some cases meals are also included in programs for volunteers in Brazil.
Visas are required to travel to Brazil as a volunteer. To obtain a visa, volunteers must apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate (Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy directory to find one in your home country). It’s important to apply for a visa well in advance, as it can take more than six weeks during peak travel periods for applications to be processed.
Benefits & Challenges
Safety. Those who volunteer in Brazil must be aware of potential safety issues. Crime rates are higher in Brazil than in North America, especially in poorer communities where violent drug-related crimes can occur more frequently. This is something that volunteers working in poorer communities will definitely have to be aware of, and something they should discuss with their program provider.
Carnival. On a more positive note, Brazil offers some pretty unique volunteering opportunities related to Carnival, such as helping samba teams decorate floats and prepare costumes for the Carnival parade. Individuals who volunteer in Brazil may even have the opportunity to participate in the parade during their program.