Home to 12 million people, São Paulo is the most populous city in Brazil, as well as in the Western and Southern Hemispheres. Though São Paulo is Brazil’s wealthiest city, there remains a considerably visible divide between the city’s rich and poor populations. Due to São Paulo’s size, wealth inequality, and rapidly growing economy which perpetuates a variety of infrastructure problems, there is a great need for international volunteers.
São Paulo is a captivating, vibrant city to visit, offering many unique experiences for visitors. It’s full of energetic music, great food, beautiful beaches, and warm people. However, despite the attractions, daily struggles of many of the city’s 12 million people remain unseen behind the city’s wealthy exterior. Poor planning, floods, rising crime and drug problems have been growing troubles in the metropolis. Volunteers are needed on an ongoing basis for many project types, such as healthcare, youth support and education.
Public schools are free for all permanent residents in São Paulo, however, many children from low-income families do not attend, due to child labor. Still, there remains a dire need for teachers to provide quality education for the hundreds of thousands of children in the city, as well as an increasing number of adults who want to learn English. São Paulo, like the rest of Brazil, suffers from a lack of teachers and educational materials. As a volunteer teacher, you will have the opportunity to motivate children to stay in school and achieve an education, as well as help widen their views of the world.
Poor living conditions, lack of education, and other factors have contributed to health problems for a significant percentage of São Paulo’s population. Volunteers are needed to assist at mental health centers, to help with community health campaigns, and to educate patients. Volunteers will work very closely with patients, learning about the patients’ needs and providing necessary treatments.
Behind the rows of high rise buildings and luxury condos sits the dark reminder that two million of São Paulo’s residents live in favelas -- low-income ‘towns’ built on the edge of urban areas. It’s estimated that 70% of the housing in the city is substandard. Volunteers are needed to perform hands-on physical work with local and international organizations to help build - from the ground up - educational facilities, health centers, and youth centers, providing easier access to education, healthcare, and helping get youth off the street.
Planning Your Trip
Requirements to Volunteer in Brazil
US Citizens are required to get a visa in order to enter Brazil. Visas must be obtained in advance from a Brazilian Embassy or Consulate in your city. Visas upon arrival are not issued in Brazil, and entrance will be refused to anyone not possessing a valid visa.
Tourist visas have limitations and do not allow people to volunteer. Depending on the type of volunteer work you want to do, you will most likely need to obtain a temporary work visa.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Having a basic understanding of Portuguese will allow you to more easily communicate with locals and will make for a more rewarding volunteering opportunity.
- Brazil has a rich food history and is home to many unique and delicious dishes. Rice and beans are two main staples. Street food is very common but it can cause severe illness, as it is often cooked the night before in unsanitary conditions.
- Arriving in Brazil may be a culture shock if you haven’t extensively traveled. You will be confronted with poverty, homelessness, and a different way of living.
- Remember that what you’re doing may not be changing the whole world at that moment, but it’s certainly making a difference in someone’s life.
- Keep your goods close to your body and do not openly flaunt wealth.
- A welcome and goodbye kiss on the check is a normal social custom.
- Brazil isn’t as cheap as many people think, but you can save money by eating at local restaurants (or cooking your food), and taking local transportation (or walking).
Making the Most of Your Volunteer Experience
Meeting people are making friends is an important part of any trip or volunteering experience. Learning about and becoming integrated into the local culture will provide insight into daily Brazilian life. Enter new situations with an open mind and you may leave with new outlooks on life. Eat new foods, see new sights, and emerge yourself in a new culture before returning home.
São Paulo is a very international and globalized city, and it should have most of the resources necessary to accommodate all of your needs. Your volunteer program should have a direct support system if you find yourself needing any sort of assistance. If you require urgent political or diplomatic assistance, contact your local embassy in São Paulo. If you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask.
Questions to ask: Do I need to speak Portuguese? If I don’t, what’s the best way to communicate with local residents? Are there are areas I need to avoid? What vaccinations do I need? Are there any safety concerns of the volunteering work?
Health & Safety
Brazil has seen a rise in crime against foreigners in recent years. Unfortunately, pickpockets and street muggings are common. To prevent being a target, avoid wearing flashy jewelry or other items that may make you an unwanted target. Do not walk on the streets alone at night, especially in unknown areas prone to crime, and always practice caution. Keep an eye on your belongings, particularly at the beach and when on public transport, as snatching is common. As mentioned above, street food can cause travellers diarrhea and severe illnesses. If you do eat street food, only eat hot, freshly prepared foods from vendors where other people are eating, notably children and families.
Travelers visiting Brazil are urged to get a few vaccines. Be sure to get routine vaccines, such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), typhoid, tetanus, rabies, and hepatitis A and B. Depending on your recent travel history, you may need to get a yellow fever vaccination.