How a Scholarship is Helping Me Study International Relations and Make the World Better [PROFILE]

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João Victor Teodoro, a resident of Pavão-Pavãozinho, has actively worked in his community to make the world a better place. Awarded a scholarship from the federal Student Financial Aid Fund (FIES), he studied International Relations at Estácio University, broadening his horizons. Learn about João Victor’s story in this profile, and check out the profiles of other affirmative action beneficiaries in Rio de Janeiro published on RioOnWatch here.

João Victor Teodoro, 26 years old, was born in Pavão-Pavãozinho, in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone. When he was two years old, his family moved to the middle-class neighborhood of Botafogo. João decided to return to Pavão-Pavãozinho when he was twenty years old after conflicts within his family drove him away from home. By that time, João’s father, a community leader, had passed away but was still loved by residents of Pavão-Pavãozinho and neighboring Cantagalo for his efforts to unify the favelas during his years as the head of the Residents’ Association.

Moving back to Pavão-Pavãozinho in 2012, João noticed many issues in the community: “When I came to live here, I said, ‘Wow, these people have been suffering for so long. Someone has to do something.’” So he took to Facebook, where he began to demand the fulfillment of residents’ rights, infrastructure improvements, and basic sanitation and to promote community meetings and cultural events in the favelas. According to João, his goal was also to bring people together from all across the city: “I’m very much from both the favela and the ‘asphalt’ [formal city] because of my upbringing. So I always try to link the two together and break down the clear-cut, invisible barriers that still exist between the two environments.”

But one social project wasn’t enough for João. The following year, he decided to create a Facebook page to assist workers who lack fixed workplaces, to facilitate conversations about improper waste disposal, and to generate greater collective awareness. At the same time, he helped coordinate a project through the Favela Museum of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho (MUF). Later, in 2016, João began to work for the State Secretariat of Youth, Sport, and Recreation, specifically with the Caminho Melhor Jovem (“Better Youth Path”) program, where he aided socially vulnerable youth. “We helped many of them leave trafficking and start their own businesses,” noted João. “So it was really horrible when the government ended the program. Some of those kids went right back to trafficking and others went missing.” They were not the only young people hurt by the closing of the program. João, too, now unemployed, delved into financial crisis and depression: “People who we’d been able to pull out of drug trafficking, I saw them fall right back into it. It felt as though our hard work had gone down the drain.” Following the first semester of 2016, João spent two years without stable employment. It was during that time that he was invited to be a collaborator at community media outlet Voz das Comunidades.

While working informally and applying for other jobs, in July 2017, João started an International Relations program as a step towards achieving his dreams: “I want to understand how conflicts happen in other parts of the world. I think that my mission in life is to help people.” His matriculation at Estácio, a private college, was made possible by the Student Financial Aid Fund (FIES), a federal scholarship program administered by Brazil’s Ministry of Education. The aid covers 80% of his monthly expenses, which he will need to pay back after graduation. João is grateful for the government support, which he views as essential: “The least they can do is offer financial aid because that’s how we all grow—both the people and the government.”

In college, João found exactly what he was looking for. “My favorite classes are African Regional Integration and Conflict Resolution,” he noted. He applied and was selected by the United Nations to join the Brazilian delegation in Bonn, Germany for the Global Festival of Action, a forum for young people to debate issues related to sustainability and global development. Unfortunately, due to the cost of airfare, he was unable to attend.

Financial concerns affect João’s daily life as well. Despite the aid he receives from the government, he has struggled to pay his 20% of the monthly education fees in addition to his other living expenses. He reflected, “If it weren’t for my family, I don’t know what I would have done. I might have gone hungry.” He recounts that there are other difficulties with gaining access to higher education, beyond financial concerns: “I thought about dropping out of school because of the frequent shootings in Pavão-Pavãozinho.” Still, he stuck it out.

In October 2018, João finally found a new job in Cantagalo at Favela Hub, a project dedicated to developing social activities for young people both in the favela and on the “asphalt.” “I had to knock on a lot of doors to get this job. I made friends with doormen, cleaning people, and receptionists. I came here every day until an interview opportunity opened up and I got the job,” he said. He’s now a “networking guy,” visiting a variety of sites to discuss the project and encourage favela residents to visit. João recounts that he was moved upon learning that his boss is black: “I told him, “You’re my first black boss. If you can do it, so can I.”

Now, João has his eyes set on working with Doctors Without Borders following graduation. For those who know João, this does not seem impossible. As he says, “‘No’ doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.”