In 2004 the United Nations (UN) invited Viva Rio to participate in its peace mission in Haiti, due to our experience mediating conflicts in the communities of Rio de Janeiro. We arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Caribbean nation, to deal with armed clashes between rival gangs and a population suffering from precarious services in the midst of a war zone.
Our mission was to reach out to the opposing groups with a proposal for resolving the conflict, which led to some peace deals. We had to find methods of dialogue, as well as entering places that seemed impenetrable, which we did by sharing joy, cheerfulness and a positive attitude – powerful devices where hopelessness is dominant. We were able to establish communication with the most violent neighborhoods by bringing music to the youth, supporting popular festivals and bringing communities together on occasions ranging from traditional ceremonies to carnival parades.
Standing up against violence means providing alternatives. We opened a community center in the most troubled area of the city and we are still working there today, offering sports, culture and education programs. We also promoted water and sewage treatment initiatives, clean-up efforts and professional training in tourism. It was in Haiti that emerged the Black Pearls Academy, a pioneering football club founded by Viva Rio. The club serves as home, school and training center for young people seeking a better future through football.
Our team also provided first aid on the recovery efforts following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. Our familiarity and experience in the country was crucial in supporting international humanitarian bodies that arrived with no knowledge of the local streets. When the emergency teams left, we stayed to help people rebuild life and the country in the aftermath of a catastrophe that killed more than 250,000 people.
Our experiences in Haiti and Rio de Janeiro helped us develop a kind of social technology that can be applied in other vulnerable areas. It involves an ability to deal with local social agents and engage in communities affected by poverty and violence, acting as a mediator between them and the world outside these regions, always aiming to improve the quality of life of residents.