An “irreplaceable” community leader
Daniel grew up in Rocinha, a favela—an intensely overcrowded and impoverished urban district—within the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rocinha is the largest of some five hundred favelas in Rio. An official census placed the population there at seventy thousand, but residents say that in reality, it’s more than double that. Alarming levels of violence, state corruption, and even brutality from poorly trained police victimize residents. Lack of sanitation poses huge problems, and higher learning is virtually unavailable. Often hungry, marginalized, and discriminated against, many have turned to narco-trafficking or other vices. Daniel de Oliveira not only didn’t follow that path, he became a tireless worker to make daily life better in Rocinha.
He began taking English classes at a local NGO center called The Two Brothers Institute and eventually became its general director, helping struggling people of all ages to develop socially, intellectually, and culturally. Daniel feels his best work is with children. Many were getting poor grades and suffering from low self-esteem, so Daniel offered four tutoring classes, working directly with the families and schools as well. After a year, grades improved, and the children learned that their hard work led to accomplishments that made them feel proud. He encouraged them to work hard and “demand a place in society, even if you have to fight for it.” Many began to dream of attending a university.
In addition to overseeing programs, intake of new people in need—many of whom migrated from outlying rural areas without ever having seen a computer—supervising other employees and volunteers, and managing crises, Daniel also takes time to run a community library and teach classes like creating art from recycled materials. When a group of Swedish architects completed a radical makeover of a dilapidated building, Two Brothers gained new community center. The architects invited Daniel to speak in Stockholm at an international conference on poverty.
If Daniel’s own goal was to earn a degree from a university, he has yet to succeed, but if his goal was an amazing “organic” education, he has strong credentials. He’s worked with and learned from as many as one hundred international volunteers, researchers, and interns a year who have collaborated to improve the center: Fullbright Scholars, author Robert Neuwirth researching urban anthropology, a political scientist from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, students from the Wharton School of Business, editor of the Harvard Advocate, SDSU International Business students as interns, filmmakers doing documentaries, and more. “Leadership is not just to lead or teach others, but to learn from those you teach,” he says.
Daniel especially enjoyed the Hansen Foundation and its opportunity to connect with people from other countries who share his interest in “building a better world for all of us.”