May 28, 2021

Adventists Share Color and Hope in Brazil’s Largest Slum

he idea of painting the Comunitá-Rio community center building with graffiti came up early in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, organizers Gabriela Alves Marques and Harrison Marques were forced to wait to move ahead from the planning stage.

Comunitá-Rio is an Adventist volunteer-led community center located in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With a population of around 100,000, the notorious area of Rocinha is Brazil’s largest favela, a type of slum. Comunitá-Rio has been in the area since 2010, providing initiatives to foster and develop social responsibility, organizers of the center said.

The painting project was assigned to graffiti artist Henrique de Souza Melo, who has 10 years of experience in such initiatives. “I love what I do, and I believe that the result was excellent,” Melo said. He shared that as he was painting, children living in the area approached, asking him questions and offering to help him paint. “No doubt, the whole process will be etched in their minds,” Melo said. “I believe graffiti changes lives and brings social transformation. It was one of the biggest projects I’ve had. I am ecstatic with the result.”

For Gabriela Alves Marques, the painting met all her expectations, centering around the representation of various brands and initiatives. “[You can see] the Adventist Church, our project, the Brazilian flag, and Christ the Redeemer, which is a magnificent symbol of our city,” she said.

Marques explained that from the beginning, they wanted to put the image of Christ the Redeemer on the façade. Melo brought life and joy to the community with much color. “Colors bring life,” Marques said. “The idea was that the children would come and feel the joy to be in such a beautiful place, and they were proud to be there to attend our various courses,” she explained.

Community Development Options

In Rocinha, lack of opportunity can be countered through community projects that foster culture, art, and leisure among children, young people, and adults, Adventist organizers said. Comunitá-Rio offers several courses and workshops, including choral singing, flute and guitar classes, sign-language teaching, and an Adventist Pathfinder club. On Saturdays (Sabbaths), the building doubles as a place of worship.

The feedback from those the center has encouraged and supported has been overwhelmingly positive.

Andrea Leda de Sá has a 12-year-old daughter, Alice, who lost vision in one eye. Doctors recommended filling Alice’s day with a variety of activities. “Comunitá-Rio entered into our lives to make a difference with care and love,” De Sá said. “Now, I can see the difference between my daughter and other children of the same age who have not enjoyed such an opportunity.” Alice takes a choral singing class and is learning sign language and playing the guitar and the flute. She is also a member of the Pathfinder club.

Volunteers Are Also Impacted

Thirteen-year-old Aline is part of a family group that has been involved with Comunitá-Rio. After being a student for years, she now volunteers in various workshops and classes. Her seven-year-old brother, Kauê, is participating in choral singing, flute, and sign-language classes. Aline learned about Comunitá-Rio through an aunt who had also been involved with the center.

She now says she wants to be a teacher. “Before, I had no idea what I wanted in life, but now I am sure of what I want to do.” 

Patricia Viana has been volunteering in various ways since 2001, even before the current project in Rocinha was launched. Currently, she teaches sign language and flute and volunteers as the center secretary. She is studying to become a teacher, thanks to the influence, she said, of the center. “Comunitá-Rio changed my life for the better, made me have a life perspective, taught me how to help others, and, mainly, helped me choose the profession I want to follow,” Viana said. “Today, I am studying to become a teacher because I love teaching the children attending the center. It was at Comunitá-Rio that the seeds of love for teaching were planted.”

Viana emphasizes the joy she feels in being part of the children’s lives, giving back something of what she received. “I have benefited from this initiative. It’s rewarding to know that when I was a student, I had the privilege of learning things that now I can pass on to other children,” she said.

The original version of this story was posted on the South American Division Portuguese-language news site.