Mundo Real History

Introducing Mundo Real

Mundo Real was founded for the purposes of providing public health services and educational opportunities within impoverished communities of Latin America and the Caribbean. Our organization engages in a range of sustainable community development endeavors and we are dedicated to advancing the general health and welfare of all individuals, especially those individuals who are most impoverished and who reside within some of the most marginalized urban communities of Latin America and the Caribbean. To do this we strive to improve living conditions and reduce disparities, primarily in the areas of public health and education. Mundo Real is an independent organization without religious affiliations. All of our activities take place within the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. Our work began, and currently continues, within the urban slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Larger Issue/Challenge

Mundo Real works on the local or community level although the issues we focus on are widespread (macro-level) in reach. For example, recent reports from the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international development agencies indicate that there is a steadily emerging shift in global poverty, as poverty and inequality move from rural areas to cities. Urban slums are rapidly growing and expanding as the world’s poor (historically located in rural/semi-rural locations) increasingly move to cities in search of employment opportunities. As millions of individuals (migrants) per year crowd into preexisting urban slums or establish new squatter communities, they find themselves in highly dense urban communities with extremely scarce public services. A pioneering report by UN-Habitat (2003) indicated that as of 2003 at least one billion human beings (approximately 1 in 6 or 17% of humanity) lived in urban slums. In fact, 70 million people per year move from rural areas into cities. Most of this movement is taking place in the developing regions of the world where urban slums are growing exponentially. Migration/immigration is the leading cause of urban slum growth, but not the only one. Birth rates in urban slums are generally much higher than the rates found in non-slum areas of the city. This is primarily because of low educational outcomes in slums and because rural reproductive practices tend to follow migrants to the city. If the speed of urban slum growth that occurred during the 1990s continues (a 36% increase in one decade), then by the 2030s over 2 billion people will be living in urban slums according to the UN. According to the UN report, as of 2003 over 130 million people lived in slums in Latin America and the Caribbean, and this is probably a conservative estimate considering the great difficulties involved in conducting accurate censuses in urban slums. As mentioned above, our specific area of interest is the region of Latin America and the Caribbean with an initial launching of work in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are approximately 12 million people living in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, with roughly 800 urban slums (called favelas in Brazil) spread throughout the city.

The first urban slum community Mundo Real began working in is Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rocinha is widely considered to be one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest, most densely populated and urbanized slums. The community has a population estimated at anywhere between 100 and 200 thousand inhabitants, who live crammed into a steep and rugged landscape of only (0.80) square miles. Within this highly dense community the majority of residents subsist in conditions of abject or near abject poverty, residing in small shanties stacked one on top of another, sometimes as many as 8 stories high. Out of 126 official administrative regions within the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha ranked 120th or, 6th worst on the city’s Human Development Index (HDI) in 2000. That same year an official government census (IBGE 2000) estimated that there are a minimum of 6,000 residents of Rocinha who suffer from at least one health related disability. More recently, in 2008 a government census measuring the HDI of 510 of Rio de Janeiro´s approximately 800 slums found that Rocinha ranked 316th from the top, significantly below the average HDI of the 510 slums considered in the census. This is despite the fact that Rocinha is located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea. The disparities in public health conditions and education for these adjacent communities are startling. With this data in mind community leaders, scholars, and activists argue that when considering the size of the community and its low HDI that the real number of Rocinha’s residents who suffer from at least one health related disability is probably significantly higher than what the government estimated in 2000. Either way, this massive and overly congested community faces dire health-related problems without a single local hospital, or doctor for that matter, to attend to its residents. Not surprisingly the educational status of Rocinha’s residents is very low. Residents have an average of only 4.1 years of formal education, with less than 1% of Rocinha’s adult population having earned a degree above a high school diploma. Jobs that pay a livable wage in Brazil are all but strictly reserved for citizens with higher levels of formal education.

Beginning in late 2007, Mundo Real´s founders began to engage in community needs assessments oriented research efforts in partnership with local community leaders, residents, scholars, and community development professionals within urban slums in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through these efforts, we identified urban public health and education as the most pressing issues our work would strive to address. Unemployment, crime, substandard housing, inadequate garbage collection, sewage runoff, and a number of other specific issues stand out as well; however, we consider these other conditions to be a consequence of the severe lack of resources and opportunities in the two broader areas mentioned above. Mundo Real launched an inaugural project in Rio de Janeiro´s largest urban slum, Rocinha, called Projeto Primeiros Passos (PPP) in early 2007 to directly address these public health and education issues. Since the launching of this first initiative in 2007, we have been working vigorously with local volunteers and community leaders to improve the sad realities that the sobering statistics provided above represent through a series of intensive public health and educational service activities in the community. The beneficiaries of PPP’s public health and education projects all come from Rio de Janeiro’s urban slums and from backgrounds of abject poverty. back to top

Mundo Real´s Urban Health, Human Services, and Educational Programs

(Past, Present, and Planned Provisions)

Below is a comprehensive description of our current and planned activities. As outlined above, our organization operates in two core areas, urban public health services and education.

Current Activities

All of our current activities are conducted by Mundo Real’s all volunteer staff (see our site staff description at: ) and by community residents who volunteer with PPP in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (see them on our site at:). None of these current activities have been funded by any source and they are conducted on a completely volunteer basis.

Mundo Real: Urban Public Health and Human Services

Mundo Real’s current urban health and human services initiatives are centered on issues pertaining to substantial special needs of individuals, such as young children, the disabled, women, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses/diseases. Mundo Real is currently organizing and providing essential direct health-related services to approximately 100 special needs cases in Rio de Janeiro by engaging in:

  1. Community Outreach

With the assistance of a team of community volunteers Mundo Real performs community outreach. This community outreach is conducted for the purposes of acquiring information about special needs individuals – name, place of residence, contact info, nature of special need/disability, specific critical unmet needs, etc.- that will enable us to properly coordinate the provision of other services we currently provide (see below) and to develop initiatives that we plan to provide in the future. To date, Mundo Real has documented all of the above mentioned information for over 300 special needs individuals in the community of Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro. Each of Mundo Real’s three current staff members partakes in the planning, performance, and evaluation of our current community outreach work. This community outreach is a very important component of the package of services we currently provide to our target populations: the urban poor/indigent. In an urban slum community like Rocinha, most of the residences are without formal addresses and the living arrangements/structures are often so difficult to navigate that many special needs individuals, such homebound cases as a physically disabled person or amputee for example, could literally be living lost within a community and go for long periods of time without access to basic medical services. back to top

  1. Public Health Services and Government Benefits Advocacy

Mundo Real provides advocacy services for special needs individuals that increases their access to Public Health Services and to Government Benefits in two ways: directly and indirectly. Directly, we work with the same volunteer community residents mentioned above to organize community meetings and perform home visits that inform special needs residents about existing free public health services and about the criteria for accessing these services; for example, required forms of identification, medical history records, scheduling, etc. We also organize the provision of donated transportation services and accompany special needs cases on medical visits and other related appointments. We perform similar direct advocacy services that inform special needs residents about the existence of government benefits programs for the poor or disabled and the criteria and processes/steps involved in applying for these benefits. Indirectly, Mundo Real provides these same advocacy services by training and educating community residents to perform them. To date, Mundo Real has trained 5 community residents who utilize the knowledge they have acquired to work as volunteers with Mundo Real’s current project in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Projeto Primeiros Passos. Mundo Real’s current staff, working primarily with this team of five trained volunteers, has provided public health services and government benefits advocacy services to over 125 individuals with special needs in Rio de Janeiro. These services are provided on a completely volunteer basis as they are currently unfunded. Each of Mundo Real’s three staff members are involved in the planning, performance, and evaluation of our advocacy services. We consider these advocacy services to be in critical need within urban slums in Rio de Janeiro for many reasons, but perhaps the most compelling of them being the issue of access. It is an extremely compelling, unfortunate reality that special needs residents, particularly the poorest of the poor, cannot gain access to medical services and/or public benefits that exist for them due solely to barriers related to their physical condition/special need or access, education, or income/poverty. We consider such advocacy services – that Mundo Real provides – to be vital for these special needs cases under such circumstances. back to top

  1. Home based assistance

Mundo Real conducts routine home visits, arranges medical appointments, informs special needs individuals how to responsibly take prescribed medications, and organizes the provision of services provided by a physical therapist to stroke victims who reside in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro. These at home services are essential considering the large number of residents who are homebound or bedridden. As we discussed above, homebound special needs residents frequently go without basic health services for extended periods of time. As a direct response to this problem Mundo Real’s staff has organized and assists a team of community volunteers in accompanying incapacitated individuals on routine medical appointments and we also accompany medical practitioners to the residences of homebound or bedridden individuals. To date we have provided home based assistance services to over 200 individuals and families in Rio de Janeiro. Most of these individuals and families were existing completely outside of the public health system due to their inability to leave their homes without physical assistance and due to the unavailability of health outreach services to them. Mundo Real´s entire staff participates in the planning, performance, and evaluation of these services with the pivotal assistance of local volunteers. back to top


  1. Distribution of Medical Supplies, Medication, Food, and Clothing

Mundo Real organizes the distribution of medical supplies, equipment, and medication that have been donated directly to special needs individuals and families by various sources such as pharmacies, hospitals/medical centers, and private individuals. Mundo Real has organized the distribution of food packages, clothes, and essential medicines/supplies to over 100 residents of Rocinha as part of these efforts to date. Some examples of these donated items are medicines for treating diarrhea and reducing fever, Band-Aids, diapers, mosquito repellants and nets (to prevent dengue), wheelchairs, crutches, and oxygen tanks. Mundo Real firmly believes that the organization of the distribution of donated goods mentioned above represents a vital service that we perform for impoverished individuals and communities. Our ability to organize these types of distributions represents an important linkage or bridge that we are able to create between those individuals, entities, or institutions in a society that are can afford to donate essential goods and the special needs individuals, families, and communities that sorely need them. We believe this is a charitable service with a unique double bonus in that it addresses a direct charitable need and simultaneously enhances charitable activity within the society’s we operate—in this case Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. back to top

  1. Transportation for Special Needs Individuals

Mundo Real organizes the provision of transportation services that are donated by community associations and private individuals in Rio de Janeiro for use exclusively for the transportation of special needs residents to and from medical appointments that can range from routine check-ups to emergencies. The importance of these transportation services is almost impossible to comprehend for those unfamiliar with the infrastructural challenges of urban slums in Rio de Janeiro. In Rocinha, for example, approximately 70% of the community’s residents live in areas entirely unreachable by ambulances, cars, or even motor cycles. Rocinha’s housing structures sprawl up and over a small mountain range and the community is comprised of thousands of very narrow alleyways and steep stairways many of which are just frequently trotted slippery dirt pathways that also serve as raw sewage canals. This makes it impossible for handicapped/disabled individuals to leave their homes without literally being carried in the arms of volunteers. We have organized a team of 20 volunteers who help carry the most challenging cases through the steep passageways until they reach the street for vehicular transportation. At that point we place the individual(s) into the above mentioned voluntarily provided vans or cars and then take them to their medical appointments in other areas of the city. Mundo Real’s organizing of the services provided by these volunteers (carriers) and of donated transportation services constitutes an essential service because in Rio de Janeiro’s slums there are no public transportation services available for extremely disabled or elderly residents. Additionally, the cost of private transportation, such as a taxi, can be so expensive that special needs individuals, because they often have meager incomes, if they receive one at all, cannot afford to pay. Because of these stark realities we have come across heartbreaking situations where residents, usually elderly widows, have not left their homes and/or alleyways in years and therefore have not received any medical attention. To date, we have organized transportation services for over 150 special needs residents of Rio de Janeiro. We are fighting to change this senseless situation! back to top

Planned Activities

Mundo Real intends to continue to provide our existing services (outlined above) and expand our services into other areas in the near future. The continuation of our current services and expansion of services will both be dependent on financial contributions that we are hoping to be able to obtain from private individuals and foundations. We anticipate that upon being designated as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization we will be able to sustain our current efforts and implement our planned activities by engaging in successful fundraising efforts with these two source areas. Mundo Real aims to expand the Rocinha prototype public health and education work in the upcoming 18-24 months into other urban slum communities in Rio de Janeiro, where comparable social problems are encountered. We are particularly committed to expanding in order to be able to provide critically needed educational opportunities for children, adolescents and young adults in Rio de Janeiro´s most indigent slum communities. One of our primary concerns is the issue of violence. Considering Brazil’s, and particularly Rio de Janeiro’s, high rate of violence we plan to provide violence reduction courses. These courses would raise vital issues of conflict transformation and non-violence. Through such educational exposure young people learn to critically analyze the root and social causes of illness and disease, poverty, inequality, discrimination, violence and conflict. In doing so they come to the understanding that it is counterproductive to instigate, participate in, or encourage violent behavior, even when it is instigated against them or their communities. We demonstrate to the young how reacting towards violence through more violence only leads to a downward and destructive “spiral of violence.” We would strongly persuade and assist teenagers and young adults to stay in school or return to school by offering counseling, mentoring and tutoring. Additionally, we plan to offer remedial and practical life courses to assist young people in securing employment. These courses will include Portuguese language and literacy development, computer skills, arts, film, foreign languages (English and Spanish), and personal and professional development (e.g. how to make a resume, how to dress/conduct oneself during an interview, etc,). An additional plan Mundo Real has for the near future is to form partnerships between our educational programs and local schools. back to top

Mundo Real: Community-Based Education (Planned)

·Efficient Teaching Methods

We plan to provide courses on educational theories and methodologies, instructions on how to develop curriculums and lesson plans, as well as advice on how to improve mentoring, tutoring, and conducting successful classes. back to top

·Violence Reduction

For young men we are planning to offer courses centered primarily on conflict transformation and personal development. Conflict transformation is somewhat different than conflict resolution because rather than merely resolving conflicts, which is much easier said than done, it seeks to comprehensively understand the origin of the conflict and aims to transform it into motivation, as in working towards positive goals that can be attained peacefully. Coaching youths on personal development is done through discussions of aggression management, coping with impulsive behaviors, channeling negative energy, etc. These are important life skills that any person could benefit from. However, they are particularly important for young men in Rio de Janeiro´s slums who are otherwise completely normal but at a disproportionately higher risk of death or serious injury than most youngsters in the US, or even those from the upper social classes in Brazil, because of the dangerous nature of the environment they live in. back to top

·Female Health Issues

We plan to hold workshops for pregnant teenagers, young women and young mothers, in which we cover essential information on how to successfully/healthily endure pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood. This is fundamental in urban slum communities where very few young women have sufficient levels of formal education. For example, general knowledge  like the importance of abstaining from cigarettes, alcohol, or any other potentially dangerous substances during pregnancy, the need to regularly see a doctor during and after pregnancy, and other prenatal care issues that are generally not well understood. back to top

·Community-based Research Center

One of Mundo Real’s goals is to implement a community-based research center. The center will serve as both a local library where books, magazines, newspapers, and computers can be utilized, as well as an academic research center where high school and college students, alongside academics and professionals, will conduct intensive community-based participatory research on topics such as socio-economic justice, health, sustainable development and other key issues pertaining to the well-being of Rio de Janeiro’s urban slums. We also plan to expand several recreational activities within the community. back to top

·Computer and information classes

Using a planned community research center we intend to hold computer training and information classes where children and adults will learn essential skills such as Internet research, creating word and excel documents, writing resumes, and basic computer skills. The objective is to give residents an understanding of the power of the computer and Internet access in order to provide them with skills needed for professional development, as well as access to information previously unavailable to them. Children and adolescents will learn how to use the Internet to expand their understanding of web browsing, research educational opportunities, and learn local and world facts, other than using it for msn messenger and other social network sites, which many children only know how to utilize and believe that the internet was created for these purposes. back to top

Concluding Remarks

For the past year and a half Mundo Real has tirelessly worked alongside community members to develop and implement the five current activities mentioned above, and we are in the process of planning 5 future activities as well. Having the appropriate tax status will greatly facilitate Mundo Real’s ability to raise funds and acquire the necessary resources needed in order to continue offering, improving, and expanding these important services in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha, and beyond. back to top