Like many other favelas in Rio, Guadalupe is plagued by poverty, lack of public services, corruption, violence and a profound lack of opportunities. Former football champion Jorginho – who grew up in Guadalupe and saw many of his childhood friends die – decided to take action. In 2000, he founded Bola Pra Frente, an institute which creates new opportunities, through sports, education, art, culture and vocational training, for thousands of children and adolescents otherwise in danger of falling prey to the many dangers of the favela. This year, the Institute will have helped – free of charge – more than 900 youths between the age of 6 and 17. Football is the bait that brings the children in, but education is what propels them onto a better future. When Antoine was taken by Joyce – 14 years old and in the program since 2007 – through the narrow and dark corridors of the massive dilapidated building overlooking the Institute to the small apartment where she lives on the top floor, she opened the window and said: “Look! On a clear day, we can even see the statue of Christ the Redeemer from here.” Indeed, many of the Guadalupe dwellers turn to Christ in the hope of a better life. But they do also come to grips with their lives and for that, Bola Pra Frente is there to help.
Three times a week, either before or after school (in Brazil, overcrowding has forced the country to run public schools in of half-day shifts), the underprivileged youths go through the gates of the centre for a few hours of fun and education.
Joyce, 14 years old and in the program since 2007, lives in a small apartment on the top floor of the President Vargas Complex, a massive dilapidated building overlooking the Institute.
Luan, 11 years old, in the programme since 2006: “My role model is my dad. I want to become as good of a football player as he is and also go to college, just like him. He studied physical education and is now an instructor here at Bola Pra Frente.”
Before and after each practice, the coach gathers the students for a "lesson". At the end of the practice, the students have to self-evaluate themselves.
Bola Pra Frente uses their fascination for football and the image of renowned athletes to attract and transform the lives of the favela’s young. This year, for instance, the Institute will have helped – free of charge – more than 900 youths between the age of 6 and 17.
Football is the bait that brings the children in, but education is what propels them onto a better future.
Joyce, 14 years old, in the programme since 2007: “I feel better here at Bola Pra Frente than at school. There, kids are mean to each other, and sometimes violent. Here, it is completely different. I feel really safe."
Outside the Institute, the chances of success in life for the youth of Guadalupe are rather slim. Within its confines, they can find a safe haven where self-expression and self-esteem are valued.
After each practice, the students have to return the pair of shoes they have been given. The rest of the equipment is theirs.
The frontier between the Institute and the outside world is a two-metre wide gate made of steel bars.