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JULIANNA de SOUZER RITTER

I had the honor to be one of twenty interns working with the NGO Catalytic Communities (CatComm) in Brazil this past summer. CatComm is an empowerment, communications, think tank, and advocacy NGO working since 2000 on behalf of Rio’s favelas. This organization wrote articles about favelas from the perspective of residents within favelas. Prior to going to Rio, I chose the focus of everyday spaces of female empowerment. However, upon arriving, this topic got narrowed down to being a historical profile and everyday stories from Rio das Pedras, a favela in the West zone of Rio. This was a community that CatComm had never written on so I was able to provide a perspective that wasn’t known by many fellow interns. The internship was reliant on self-guided work and productivity. With only weekly meetings at the director’s house and the typical understaffed NGO scenario, we had little guidance from our advisors. I was also worried about only building superficial relationships in the community by the end of the summer. However, my experience was vastly different than what I imagined it to be.

When I arrived in Brazil, I was immediately introduced to Rio das Pedras through a family friend who is from there. This allowed me to quickly be integrated into the everyday life there and it made it much easier to conceptualize writing articles about people that I had never met before. After a week, I made friends with women that worked at a beauty salon every day and I began doing the same. A beauty salon is the best location to build your network–every woman in Rio das Pedras goes to a beauty salon to get their nails done, get a wax, or gossip at least once a week. Pretty quickly, I already knew too much about my neighbors, the new militia laws, and the cheap places to buy groceries. Everyone I met in Rio das Pedras would slowly add to the network of family I made in Rio.

In the end, I was able to write an article about female empowerment through a dance class in the local gym, a historical profile of Rio das Pedras, an article about a female skater and the lack of leisure spaces in the community. Although I was able to go to Brazil because of this internship, being in Rio this summer was much more personal to me than these accomplishments. As someone that came to the United States at such a young age, I have always had a connection with where my family and I are from (Florianopolis, Brazil). Living there on my own this summer allowed me to define myself in my country and develop my own connection to Brazil independent of familial ties. I also developed a different vision for what life can be, a mindset that isn’t so driven by careers and financial excess but more so by one’s relationships. I left Rio already itching to go back to what became my “normal” for the summer.