“Art, education and culture are our three pillars to foster autonomy”: Casa Amarela, a Gymglish partner organization

In a faraway land, at the top of the Morro da Providência favela, a huge moon overlooks a village, a fitting symbol for the power of the favelas’s residents, capable of reaching their goals no matter how distant.

Under this sculpture lies Casa Amarela, an improbable building providing a home to children, adults, volunteers, and spaces for artwork and classrooms. Every day since 2009, Casa Amarela welcomes beneficiaries aged 3 to 70 in order to promote cultural awareness and to provide them with tools for a brighter future.

Today, we highlight this incredible institution thanks to Nina Soutoul, co-manager at Casa Amarela.

Hello Nina! Could you tell us more about Casa Amarela’s early years?

In 2008, a chilling story shook Rio de Janeiro. One evening, three teenage boys were kidnapped by local police and sent to a rival favela. The three boys were killed, and the police ensured that it would happen. Outraged by this news, French photographer and street artist JR traveled to Brazil and met with photographer Mauricio Hora, a native of Rio’s first favela, Morro da Providência. Together, they set up artistic projects in the favela, one of which is the stunning Women are heroes. To pay tribute to the women who play a significant role in society but who are too often the victims in wars, crimes, rapes and political or religious fanatism, JR decorated the outskirts of the neighborhood with photos of the faces of these strong women. In 2009, JR and Mauricio established Casa Amarela, a cultural center for Morro da Providência residents.

How does the Casa work? Who are your beneficiaries?

We live by three main pillars: art, education and culture. Today, we welcome 50 children and teenagers, as well as about 40 adults into our space. Volunteers offer our 3 to 10-year-old beneficiaries yoga, theatre and art classes, while boxing, art therapy, design, embroidery and cooking classes are available for teenagers aged 10 to 17. As for adults, they can take part in French and English language courses. Art classes are also a way for local artists to address issues like identity and tradition, all whilst fostering the artistic talent and their creativity of our community.

Our most important goal is to enable the youngest members of the community to take control of their own development and lives. When they reach the age of 12, many of them become involved in drug trafficking, young girls become pregnant. Our aim is to empower them and help them launch their own projects (making clothes or furniture, teaching cooking classes) and selling their products in a local cooperative for example.

For our adult community, especially women, our goal is to empower them thanks to the “Honor myself” program, which works to increase self-esteem. Attracting adults at Casa Amarela has been a significant challenge these last few years. Most of them are fatalistic and have given up hope on a future outside of the favela. Our literacy, management, communication, marketing and makeup classes aim to provide our adult community the tools to do so.

Why do you encourage your beneficiaries to learn French and English?

Each year, we welcome artists from around the world who don’t necessarily speak Portuguese. If the members of our community learn foreign languages, they are able to introduce the Casa to visitors and share their stories. Favela tourism is thriving. Locals want to become tour guides and need to be able to communicate efficiently to do so.

From a longer-term perspective, we know that mastering several foreign languages an undeniable advantage for career purposes. In Brazil, the unemployment rate is high, and employment discrimination persists, especially for those who come from favelas. Showing up at a job interview with some basics in French or English is a tremendous asset.

Casa Amarela is part of Gymglish’s Social Impact program, aimed at supporting actors in the field of education and integration by offering training at no cost. If you’re interested in the program, contact us via support@gymglish.com.

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