Rugby for Social Development in Rio

06 November 2018

OWs Will Wilson (S 15), Oli Wilson (S 17), Ben Savill (Pn 17), Meg Dennis (Hn 17) and Zara Bilimoria (O 17) are supporting UMRio:

In 2013, Robert Malengreau set up UMRio, a non-government organization in the isolated favela of Morro do Castro, located in São Gonçalo, two hours from central Rio, with one of the state’s lowest Human Development Indices. By virtue of its very setting, the community’s problems are evident, with desperate poverty and violence the most patent. Rob challenges these head on, developing an approach grounded in the needs and aspirations of the community and young people UMRio works with.

UMRio provides a rare safe space of hope and encouragement for young people aged between five and 18, somewhere they can access new opportunities, develop and pursue aspirations, and build confidence in their identities. Having developed the concept during his Masters at Oxford University, researching public security in Rio and sport’s role in challenging violence and exclusion, Rob has succeeded in growing the NGO (with almost no external funding) from a tentative venture into an organisation loved by the favela community and recognised across the city.

In understanding that the ability of young people affected by crime and violence to shape their futures is dependent on the way they see themselves, relate to others, and imagine their potential, Rob has created an enabling environment through UMRio’s four pillar methodology that has been the subject of research by Brazil’s foremost universities.

Rugby coaching sessions promote discipline, teamwork and boost self-esteem. Alongside the rugby runs UMRio’s education programme, ‘I Want To Be’, through which young people receive personal development training, English lessons, one-to-one mentoring, and vocational courses including referrals to relevant job opportunities through UMRio’s network. UMRio’s Human Rights and Community Action programmes equip young people with the knowledge, skills, and belief to lead social change in their community, ensure participants are fully aware of their rights and how to protect them, and give them the opportunity to propose and promote necessary changes in their community.  Finally, in a community with limited access to social services, UMRio has actively improved healthcare access through preventative care workshops and clinics run by local university partners.

The results emphasise both the enthusiasm with which the children view the programme, and Rob’s remarkable persistence and vision. Since 2013, through UMRio, he has supported 132 favela children, and provided another 200 with qualified dental care through a partner programme with the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Local schools report vast improvements in attitude and school attendance in children associated with UMRio, with children previously described as ‘unteachable’ showing greater belief in their capacity to achieve. UMRio bases its education in classrooms at a local state-run school, and has provided further motivation for the children to attend school. As a result, with dreams ranging from an orthopaedic doctor to a social rights worker, children at UMRio are broadening their horizons – and who knows how far they could go?

Rob has also developed an international volunteer programme, with 186 volunteers from 21 different countries travelling in person to Morro do Castro. UMRio also counts among its ambassadors Juliano Fiori (Brazil 7s) and Tom Mitchell (England and GB 7s). I volunteered myself in the summer of 2016 in what was one of the most inspirational experiences of my life: it is therefore not surprising that I remain so passionate about the project. UMRio secured six tickets for every day of the Olympics rugby sevens, which allowed the children to experience the event of a lifetime while their story spread around the Olympic Park, attracting athletes to meet the children and making national television. Since I volunteered, I and the UMRio network have worked to expand the net of support and volunteers still further, including affiliating UMRio successfully with Cambridge University. Furthermore, UMRio is now registered as a UK charity under the title of ONERio, facilitating UK funding sources and securing more credibility and support internationally.

What was most incredible, however, was the sheer love for Rob held by children, parents and staff alike in Morro do Castro. From the owners of the bar who prioritise use of their football pitch for UMRio training, to the five-year-old ‘Baby Blues’ who run smiling to greet him when he arrives, this is a man who has forged from nothing something far more than a run-of-the-mill charity. With rugby at its centre, UMRio truly has constructed a special family in an otherwise fractured, dangerous and damaged community, and Rob is responsible for this.

To volunteer to work at UMRio you don’t need any Rugby knowledge or indeed any sporting skills. Enthusiasm is essential, and I would highly recommend anyone to go. You certainly won’t regret it and I can guarantee a truly unforgettable experience. Rob can best be reached @

Facebook: UMRioONERio
Twitter: @UMRio_ONERio
Instagram: @umrioonerio


Article by Will Wilson (S 15)