Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who serves as UNFPA Patron to support maternal health, met beneficiaries of social initiatives at the Reference Centre in Cidade de Deus (City of God), a youth centre is run by UNFPA partner, Superintendence of Youth Policies of Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro – In a red-carpeted catwalk built in the middle of the street, 20 young models proudly exhibited the latest fashion collection, which was locally designed and produced for the huge crowd of spectators.
Among the spectators, two princesses were particularly captivated by the show: 7-year old Isabela, a local resident wearing a plastic crown, and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark sitting next to her. It was the Crown Princess’ first visit to Cidade de Deus (City of God), a vulnerable community situated 35 km from downtown Rio de Janeiro. The Crown Princess came all the way through heavy traffic to see the local Youth Reference Centre and to be introduced to its social initiatives, such as the modeling and fashion training courses.
Fashion, dance and martial arts in what was once a violent area
Cidade de Deus was known in the past for being a violent neighbourhood. “Not anymore”, said Antonio Claret, Secretary of Social Welfare and Human Rights of the State of Rio. He recalled that since the government began regaining territories previously controlled by drug lords in 2008, areas as Cidade de Deus could resume their normal lives. However, alternatives had to be offered to the young population, so they could cultivate life skills and find regular jobs. That was when youth policies had to be strengthened with initiatives such as the Youth Centres. “We are very proud of what we have achieved”, completed Mr. Claret speaking to the Danish delegation.
During the visit, the heat of Rio reaching 410C was only surpassed by the warmth of the local population, particularly the youngsters willing to share their skills with the Crown Princess. Before the fashion show there were a ballet dance and a capoeira presentation, an Afro-Brazilian mix of dance and martial arts - both being offered at the Youth Centre. After the presentation, the Danish Crown Princess received a berimbau , the traditional percussion instrument used to play the characteristic capoeira music; when she said she didn’t know how to play, she was even taught. When Davi, a 4-year old capoeira student at the Youth Centre, asked the Crown Princess if she lived in a castle like the fairy tale stories, she answered “yes”.
Centres provide a wide range of training opportunities
The Cidade de Deus Youth Centre is part of a network of 11 Youth Reference Centres created by the Superintendence of Youth Policies of the State of Rio de Janeiro, a UNFPA partner, aiming at providing professional training, cultural and sports opportunities for underprivileged youth. Currently 3,000 youngsters of both sexes are enrolled in the wide range of training courses provided by the Centers: besides fashion, they offer free courses in gastronomy, audio-visual, waiter / waitress, manicure, hairdressing assistant, administrative assistant, graphite drawing, painting and street dance, among others. They operate Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and on weekends, they organize debates, lectures and cultural events. Some courses are delivered by partner organizations like Escola de Moda Lente dos Sonhos (the Dream’s Lenses Fashion School), an NGO responsible for training the young models.
“Our focus on youth is to develop their citizenship in full, their basic competences and work skills”, explained Allan Borges, Superintendent of Youth Policies to the Crown Princess Mary; “We want young people to reestablish their confidence in the future and break up the vicious circle from the past, by sharing with them what they want to learn.”
It has certainly worked with Renato Malta Pereira, a young taekwondo student at the Centre. “This place is very important to my life; I can stay here learning good things instead of being in the streets doing wrong ones. Taekwondo is an Olympic sport and I want to be in the Olympic Games,” he said, referring to the Rio Games in 2016.
As UNFPA Patron, Crown Princess Mary also asked questions related to the ICPD mandate during the visit, especially on adolescent pregnancy (in Brazil, 20 per cent of all births still occur among mothers aged between 10 and 19). Allan Borges explained that the Superintendence is launching a new project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, designed to provide career development and coaching at the individual level, focusing on young pregnant women, among others. “We want to organize supply and demand in social policies for the youth; we want a young woman willing to start her sexual life, not to have denied her access to contraceptive in the local Public Health Service.”
UNFPA in Brazil
Improving the health and rights of youth in Brazil has been at the core of UNFPA’s work in the country. UNFPA contributes to the development of sexual and reproductive health policies for women, youth, people with disabilities and people living with HIV.
In terms of youth issues, UNFPA has contributed to the establishment of a national policy and mechanisms for youth participation and rights; UNFPA works closely with the Federal Government, as well as the State Governments of Rio de Janeiro, Federal District, Bahia, and the Municipal Government of Salvador to cooperate with the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies and policies to improve the health and opportunities of youth.
In Rio de Janeiro, UNFPA has established a partnership with the Superintendence of Youth Policies, Secretary of Social Welfare and Human Rights to support the organization of the 2nd Youth Congress of State of Rio de Janeiro, held in October 2011. The Congress brought together representatives from all municipalities, promoting youth participation in policy-making process and exchanging experiences such as the Youth Centres.