Alumni Spotlight: Harm Jaap Hartmans

Harm is a Dutch communication professional who lives in Amsterdam. He speaks a dozen languages and is passionate about world music. One of the languages he speaks is Portuguese, and he is a big fan of Brazilian music.

Why did you choose this program?

Volunteering and Working in Rio

Rio de Janeiro has been on my bucket list for many years. It was a big dream for me to visit Rio during the Olympic Games. I expected an unforgettable party in the city of Carnival. Since the Olympics are quite expensive I could only afford to stay during the last three days. After the Olympics I wanted to see the real Rio.

Volunteer work seemed like a good opportunity to get out of the Olympic bubble and give something back.

Iko Poran is the specialist of volunteer work in Rio and offers a great variety of volunteer projects. I preferred not to work with young kids. Other options were Carnival preparation, nature conservation and NGO development. I chose NGO development and became more or less a communication consultant for Iko Poran.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Iko Poran has many years of experience of receiving and placing volunteers. Normally they pick you up from the airport, but since I was already in Rio I came to the hostel myself.

The atmosphere in the hostel in Santa Teresa is very friendly and I felt at home immediately.
On the first day, like all newcomers, I received a lot of practical advice and a tour through the neighborhood. The next day the staff of Iko Poran accompanies volunteers to their projects. Since I did not work on a specific project, I was able to come along and visit several projects.

Iko Poran also provides Portuguese language lessons to volunteers, but since my Portuguese is already quite fluent, there was no need for me to join.

Breakfast is provided by the hostel. Most volunteers use the kitchen in the hostel to cook dinner, but I mostly preferred to eat in a cheap buffet restaurant not far from the hostel in Lapa. Felipe, the director of Iko Poran, also regularly organizes great barbecues for the volunteers.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

There is an important piece of advice for your work as a volunteer: the more you give, the more you get out of it. Don't wait and see, but take the initiative.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Since I have a regular job, I expected to work in a small office during business hours. I found out that I had much freedom to organize my own working day. So I often went out during daytime and worked on my laptop during the evenings.

Other projects have a more specific timetables. Unlike other volunteers I also did not have Portuguese classes in the afternoon.

Before my arrival I did not know that Iko Poran volunteers are free on Fridays. That was a pleasant surprise and enables you to arrange longer weekend trips. I went to the Iguaçu Falls during my second weekend.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

Before coming to Rio I worried a lot about safety in Rio, but if you listen to the advice of Iko Poran and keep a low profile, you do not have to worry too much.

If you want to enjoy the nightlife scene in Lapa that is conveniently located near the hostel, it is best to go together with the friends you make among other volunteers. If you go out by yourself, it is best to take a cab after 10 PM.

How does volunteering affect someone's life?

When I go abroad, I usually take foreign language classes in schools. This was the first time I decided to do volunteer work. Since I have a regular job, I came with my Dutch working mentality to Rio.

Even though the work was related to my job in the Netherlands, my volunteer experience in Rio did not feel like work at all. It was much more relaxed and still my contributions were really appreciated.

I expected that in Rio I really would have to step outside of my comfort zone, but in the end it turned out to be quite comfortable and still it was a magic (or "maravilhoso") experience.