Through my research project, I have had a really great opportunity to spend time with some very dedicated, inspiring people in the community of Nordeste, a barrio that is made up of three different neighborhoods and that is plagued by violence, drug trafficking, and a lack of support from the government. In looking into how community programs help to keep kids out of the negative influences, I have interviewed coaches of a community body boarding/ surf team and they have been so incredible to learn from.
All of these guys were born in the community and many of them still live there; they are very familiar with the lives of the kids they coach because they have lived that struggle themselves. They know what its like to have parents that are alcoholics or involved in drug trafficking. They have seen friends get sucked into gangs and have lost people close to them to the violence that surrounds the community. Despite their struggles, they all found a way to rise above their circumstances and have now turned around and invested back into this community. For many of them, the beach and body boarding was what kept them off the streets and they have gone and done the same by creating a community body boarding team that is free, open to all kids as long as you are enrolled in school, and gives them a space to have good roles models, be in a safe environment, and grow into responsible, caring citizens that give back to others.
I wish I could write up all of their stories and share them with you, but for now I'll stick with one.
One coach's interview struck me the most. One of the first questions that I typically asked them was, "What is the biggest problem that is facing your community today?" There being no right answer, many coaches said drugs, lack of education, mistrust of police, but his answer was just one word- Prejudice. The look in his eyes when he answered spoke more than any words ever could. His answer has begun to shape the way that I look at all the interviews and stories that I have collected throughout my second week of research. Those other problems- drugs, violence, lack of education- they are all just symptoms of a greater underlying issue.
I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the underlying issue is prejudice. Nordeste is an almost entirely Afro Brazilian population and race is a very sensitive issue in Brazil. Yes, there are gangs, drug traffickers, and a lot of bad things and people in this community. But, there are also good, kind, intelligent people who just need someone to look at them and say, "You are worth investing in because you are just as much of a person as I am". Sadly, this community is looked down upon; outsiders see everyone that lives here as being the same... thieves, vagabonds, hopeless. I have learned how important community programs like Amaralina Kids Body Boarding Team are. They are taking charge of the community's future and deciding that it is up to them to change the perception that people have. They are working tirelessly to show these kids that they are worth someone time, that they can be good people who change the way outsiders look at the community.
Instead of being upset, dejected, and angry about the lack of government assistance and the racism and prejudice towards their community, the coaches and kids of the team are doing their best to make a change. To some, it may seem like something small, but for them, its everything. This is their team, their family, their home. It has been amazing getting to know these kids, learning from the coaches, and seeing how they are making waves for Nordeste.