Canadian woman teaches English to the homeless in the streets of Rio

Canadian woman gives classes to Rio's homeless
Canadian woman gives classes to Rio’s homeless

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s no secret that there are plenty of homeless people in Brazil as there are many other countries. But what is intriguing and inspiring about this story is how this young lady didn’t allow generally accepted perceptions of the homeless hinder her desire to reach out to people that are usually forgotten or ignored by society. In Brazil, the color of one’s skin immediately divulges a certain image of value (or lack thereof) which also contributes to how people treat this population. As the homeless people in the photos are black (negros or pretos and pardos as they would be classified in the census), they most certainly don’t receive the privilege of being perceived as “beautiful” as someone of a European appearance might receive. The story is interesting in that there are probably thousands of white Brazilians who look at them with disdain each and everyday.

Canadian woman gives English classes to Rio’s homeless

Courtesy of Metro Rio with contributions of Fernanda Pontes

The Canadian Candinal Melina, 19, teaches English and mathematics on Gomes Freire street  

Melina Candinal shows a small blackboard to students: The Canadian has lived in Rio for three months
Melina Candinal shows a small blackboard to students: The Canadian has lived in Rio for three months

At the beginning of the afternoon, the homeless huddle in a small space on the Gomes Freire sidewalk in the Lapa area of Rio. Unlike what happens in the evenings, when they are concentrated beneath canopies for shelter against rain and cold, what motivates the agglomeration are the classes offered by the Canadian Melina Candinal, 19.

The young woman, who has not yet entered college and learned to speak Portuguese in the three months that she’s lived in Rio, teaches English and mathematics to students who live on public streets in Rio “After watching the film on the case of Ônibus 174 (meaning bus 174 by director José Padilha) (1) I decided to come to Brazil to volunteer and do my part,” Melina says.

Adored by all, she calls each of her students by name. She distributes notebooks and pens and starts class.

“Today let’s talk about family. Each one write at the side of the name,” she says, while distributing sheets to students.

Jefferson, 19, proudly shows words written by him in English as green (verde), blue (azul), red (vermelho). The young man, who claims to be from the Belford Roxo area and studied up to the sixth grade, is one of the most dedicated in the class. He pays attention to everything and does relatively well in the exercises.


Less than ten minutes after the beginning of class, however, one of the boys, sleepy and completely oblivious to everything, grabs a blanket and goes to sleep. The only woman in the group, who refuses to give her name or be photographed, gets up and leaves. Four remain.

A 16 year old, who preferred to attend the class from a distance because he also did not want to be photographed, says that he hasn’t used drugs for over a month. He asks people not to give money to members of the group, “just food”. A former resident of the Jacarepaguá area, he says he left home when his mother died after hitting “her head on the cobblestone” two years ago. His father died after being stabbed a long time before, when he was eight years old:

“I’m used to living on the street.”

The greatest interest of about 25 beneficiaries in daily lessons are the numbers. The Canadian, who also lives in Lapa, still worries about feeding the students, since usually they do not have a satisfactory meal routine.

She said she initially didn’t take food to students of Gomes Freire because she couldn’t afford the daily snacks. This was when she had the idea of ​​doing crowd-funding with Canadian friends. After a few days of the campaign through social networks, she managed to raise the money.

“I bring food that I managed with donations and always before classes they have a meal. This helps in performance in class, it’s very important,” says Melina. The classes attract the attention of passers-by and also the internet: one of the postings about the situation already has more than 19 thousand “likes” on Facebook.

Melina stays in Brazil with the money she saved while working in language courses in Quebec City where she lived. She plans to return to Canada in three months when her visa as a foreign tourist expires.

“I don’t see these people as society sees them. They are not trash. I’m not afraid. I prefer that the classes happen in the street. It’s better for them,” says the Canadian.

Asked if she has hopes that her students will actually learn the language, she says this is the least important:

“I want to strengthen their self-esteem. I want to show them that you can learn new things, they sleep on the ground, but they are not a waste, as many people think of themselves. Since she began teaching English to street people, the question that she most often responds to is she is not afraid of them, since some are drug users.

“I’m not afraid, they respect me. I can walk around at dawn in Lapa because I know everyone. They even defend me when a man says something to me. I also don’t judge them if they use drugs or not, I try to stay away if they are using, but who are we to judge them? They are people who live on the streets and often don’t have enough to eat. Have you ever thought about how they get by on rainy days?”

Majority are men

According to a census conducted by the Secretaria Municipal de Desenvolvimento Social (SMDS or Municipal Department of Social Development), today there are 5,580 homeless people in the city. According to the survey, 75.11% of these people claim to have attended elementary school. Only 2.11% said they had any college experience. The study indicates that 81.8% are men.

In conclusion, the Canadian revealed, “I know I can’t get them off the streets, but it’s important to get things moving.”

Source: UOLO Globo


1. Bus 174 (Portuguese: Ônibus 174) is a Brazilian documentary film released on October 22, 2002. It is the debut film of director José Padilha and co-director Felipe Lacerda. Sandro do Nascimento, a young man from a poor background, bungled a robbery and ended up holding the passengers on a bus hostage for four hours. The event was caught live on television. The movie examines the incident and what life is like in the slums and favelas of Rio de Janeiro and how the criminal justice system in Brazil treats the lower classes. Within the film, Padilha interviews former and current street children, members of the Rio police force, the highly regarded Rio BOPE police team, family members, and sociologists in order to gain insight into what led Nascimento to carry out the hijacking. See the film below. Source

Ônibus 174 (with English subtitles)

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. Way cool! I am in Rio for two months every year and being able to help ANYONE in that city is incredibly humbling and fills me with gratitude. What an awesome woman! Where is the Facebook page? Be great to run into her this year and donate something.

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