Joanna Bridge worked as a volunteer dance teacher at our project in Medina for a month this summer. Here she gives an insight into life at the Pink House, and advice for anyone considering coming to volunteer with Meninadança in Brazil:
I was at the Pink House for one month with the girls and I was their dance teacher within this time.
I trained in dance at Roehampton University and since graduating my heart for giving dance back to the community has grown and grown. When Naomi, a friend of mine said she was going back to Brazil, I took the opportunity to save up money and go with her, travelling and volunteering for a total of three and a half months during the summer period of 2013.
We were both aware of Meninadança from reading Matt Roper’s book ‘Street Girls’ and in October 2011 I attended the Meninadança conference in London. Naomi is studying social work at the moment and we were both keen to visit Meninadança during our trip. I think we were the perfect pair, she is fluent in Portuguese and has already visited Brazil three times and well I was the ‘dance part’.
Volunteering with Meninadança was an invaluable, eye-opening time. Just hearing some of the life stories of the girls can break your heart and really challenge you on issues, such as, justice and the treatment of girls and women not just in Brazil but across the globe.
It would seem hard to believe that behind some of the smiling, joyful girls there could be such devastation and sadness.
It wasn’t about going out and seeing young girls on the road, it was about that short time each day you had with them, finding creative, active, reflective ways to demonstrate to these girls how much they are worth despite their past or what society, family, friends may say.
I did find my lack of Portuguese at times a struggle and would recommend people to learn as much as they can before volunteering. Luckily, I was travelling with a fluent speaker and had been in the country for two and half months prior to arriving at Meninadança which helped immensely. Despite the language barrier the girls loved teaching and correcting me which was very helpful.
Among my highlights was dancing alongside the girls at the opening ceremony of the Minas Games in Medina. This was a significant moment as it showed the girls in a positive way and helped publicise the invaluable work of Meninadança in Medina.
The choreography, created by Jenny (another English volunteer), myself and Valeria (Brazilian dance teacher) was received incredibly well and after this the Vice-Mayor’s wife of Medina asked if I would choreograph a piece with a group of her students from her school.
Another was visiting visiting the old people’s home with the girls and presenting some dance and theatre pieces. This was an opportunity for the girls to serve their community and it was amazing to see how important it was to the elderly people who thoroughly enjoyed the visit but also how some of the girls responded, their genuine interest and care for their audience.
If I was to give someone thinking of volunteering with Meninadança three top tips before going it would be:
1. Learn as much Portuguese as you can before going. This will help with the communication between yourself and the Brazilian workers who do not speak English.
2. Be open for your plans to change and to be flexible. What I had originally planned changed to suit better the interest of the girls and the performances which were only planned once I had arrived.
3. The girls like learning new styles of dance, especially Street Dance.
Here’s a video of Joanna leading the girls for a performance at the televised opening of the Minas Games: