“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King

We’ve heard this before: One person can change the world. Time and time again we see ordinary people rise up and become renown leaders and activists. And when you look at the community level, it’s more apparent than ever that we can all make a difference.

In this edition of Saturdays Around the World on EWC, we’re going to Brazil and into Morro do Adeus (in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro) to see this happening in a monumental way. Here in the favelas, fear surrounds the residents every day. But in the middle of it all on an old sports court, the world has been changing. A group of girls gathers together to dance as gunshots ring out minutes away from them.

Image: Four young ballerinas lined up and practicing next to a chain mail fence.

Courtesy of Frederick Bernas

To understand the importance of ballet in favelas, we need to begin with what a favela is.

You’ll find these communities outside large cities in Brazil (think São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). Encyclopedia Brittanica writes this on their history:

A favela typically comes into being when squatters occupy vacant land at the edge of a city and construct shanties of salvaged or stolen materials.

Some have identified the origins of the favela in the Brazilian communities formed by impoverished former slaves in the late 19th century, but it was the great wave of migration from the countryside to the cities from the 1940s to the 1970s that was primarily responsible for the proliferation of favelas in Brazil. Poor and confronted with exorbitant costs for scarce land and housing, those rural migrants had little choice but to become squatters. From 1950 to 1980 the number of people living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro alone increased from about 170,000 to more than 600,000, and by the early 21st century it was estimated that there were as many as 1,000 favelas there. According to the 2010 census, 6 percent of Brazil’s total population lived in favelas. 1

6 percent of Brazil’s total population lives in favelas.

These are communities where families live with little resources and a whole lot of stigma. Known for housing violence and drug trade, the place we’re focusing on today is no exception.

“Morro do Adeus is at the heart of a perpetual conflict between rival drug-trafficking gangs, which control different sections of Alemão – a vast network of communities with a population that may be as large as 120,000. Frequent police raids only escalate the tension,” 2 wrote journalist and filmmaker, Frederick Bernas in the description of the crowdfunding campaign for the ballet project Na Ponta dos Pés (On Tiptoe).

Frederick recently worked with co-director Rayan Hindi on a film for VICE to bring us into Morro do Adeus to meet Tuany Nascimento, the woman bringing light to the community by teaching young girls ballet.

Tuany is working to make sure girls in their community are supported. Her efforts are to ensure that future generations of women have the power to make their dreams a reality.

And maybe it all starts with a few pliés. This beautiful and heartwrenching documentary film, Ballet and Bullets: Dancing Out of the Favela brings us a piece of their story.

Via: VICE 3

If you’d like to support Tuany Nascimento and Na Ponta dos Pés, head over to their crowdfunding page by following this link: http://bit.ly/2Rme6iH. There’s a wonderful write up about what they’re doing and why from Frederick Bernas in the description!

You can also stay up to date with their progress of creating the safe new dancing space on Facebook and Tuany’s Instagram!

And I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Frederick Bernas, Rayan Hindi, and VICE for bringing their story to us. VICE introduces us to the world in amazing ways; bringing us deep into corners of it that often go unexplored and shining a light on what’s happening. No, it’s not always positive, but it isn’t sugarcoated—and that’s important. To see more work from VICE, check out their website and their YouTube channel!

You can learn all about how these filmmakers began working on this project and what went into making this documentary by watching this fantastic short video from the Pulitzer Center, who supported the film.

And if you’d like to see more from Ryan Hindi, make sure you follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

To see more work from Frederick, keep reading.

Image: A ballerina jumping in the air.

Courtesy of Frederick Bernas

“Ballet is one of the most beautiful and transformational art forms. With every plié or jump they make, it’s like a jump forward to enter college or to conquer their dreams. It gives them determination and focus in everything they dream about doing.”— Tuany Nascimento 4

Three years before the first video came out, Frederick Bernas also worked with Sebastián Gil Miranda on another beautiful film about Tuany and Na Ponta dos Pés for the Guardian. It introduces us to other dancers in the group and the realities Tuany and the girls face to make this happen. Take a look…

You can see more of Frederick’s amazing work by visiting his website, Vimeo, Instagram, or Twitter.

And again, if you’d like to help Na Ponta dos Pés and learn more about their story, head over to their crowdfunding page!

7 minutes

When Dance Creates Opportunities

Hussein Smko grew up in war-torn Iraq, and he's turned his experience into an opportunity. Through his performance, this dancer is not only telling his story, but making it possible for others to share theirs.

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The power of one.

One moment, one person, one interaction. We all have the power to create change. But the thing is, most of us don’t realize that the small things we do are affecting others around us. Look at Tuany’s story: she was practicing alone when girls began to come up to her. Just her doing what she loves and sharing it with others brought this amazing community venture into existence. Now, the lives of girls in this favela are changed forever.

If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, here are three great articles to get you started. Each one of these touches on how one person has impacted lives.

10 minutes

A Sanctuary for Costa Rica’s Strays

Territorio de Zaguates is providing care to nearly a thousand dogs that have been taken off the streets of Costa Rica. Their story is a testament to the impact the love and determination of one person can have on others.

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9 minutes

The Power of Giving People a “Lollipop Moment”

Heard anything about "Lollipop Moments"? Here's an amazing metaphor to remember how easy it is to fundamentally improve someone's life with just a simple turn of a phrase!

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9 minutes

How Cecilia Chiang Changed Food in America

If you’ve ever enjoyed Chinese food in the United States, like potstickers and Peking duck, then we’d like to introduce you to Cecilia Chiang. She's the "Julia Child" of Chinese cuisine, and the story of how she changed the way Americans eat is as remarkable as her influence!

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Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein

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  1. Wallenfeldt, Jeff. “Favela.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 July 2016, www.britannica.com/topic/favela. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.
  2. Bernas, Frederick. Help Raise £5000 to Help Build a Safe Community Space in the Morro Do Adeus Favela, Rio De Janeiro. Just Giving, Oct. 2018, www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ontiptoe. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.
  3. VICE. “Dancing through Gunshots in Brazil’s Favelas.” YouTube, VICE, 25 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=to0evRbb9lY&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.
  4. “The Ballerina of Alemão.” Vimeo, Frederick Bernas, 6 Jan. 2016, vimeo.com/150917561. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.
  5. “The Ballerina of Alemão.” Vimeo, Frederick Bernas, 6 Jan. 2016, vimeo.com/150917561. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.