September 24, 2021
We are currently accepting entries for the fifth annual Courageous Use of Sport Award presented by WWE. In celebration, we are catching up with past winners to give us an update on their important community work, and to provide words of wisdom for those applying to this year's award. This week, we spoke with 2020 Courageous Use of Sport Award winner Matheus Oliveria from Brazil.
Growing up in one of Brazil’s most disadvantaged favelas in Morro do Castro, Matheus has overcome adversity and his own challenges. In 2015, he joined UMRio, a local rugby and education organization that uses rugby to help create a safe and enabling environment for youth in the area. Since then, he’s become one of their ambassadors helping to shape positive futures for the organization's youth through education and programs to assist with extreme poverty.
The pandemic hit Morro do Castro hard, resulting in people losing their jobs, increased food insecurity and ultimately, sending an already impoverished community even deeper into poverty. There is also a lack of access to digital technology, which has meant that a lot of kids have been without any form of education for almost two years.
After winning the Courageous Use of Sport Award last year, Matheus has been on a mission to keep his community strong and connected through the pandemic, including with much-needed food support through UMRio’s food security program and teaching classes remotely to help kids continue their education and build confidence. He said that it was important that UMRio change its goals on how to help its community through the pandemic.
Matheus has played an instrumental role in the design, development and implementation of UMRio's remote programming (in sports and English language programs), and supporting the delivery of nourishment and digital inclusion initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Creating a safe environment for our students to thrive has been a priority for me. Last year I saw them sharing their end-of-year plans at the end of class and realized how important the space we had created was during these challenging times,” he shared.
“I've been on the frontline of the delivery of food packages, where we have delivered over 20 tons of food to the most vulnerable families in my community. Being on the frontline has been important in so many ways, at a time where students have lost contact with teachers. Being able to see my students in person for a brief period lets them know I'm here.”
Matheus has also made it a priority to make his remote classroom a safe and enabling space for his students to continue learning through the challenges of the pandemic. Currently, classes have been a hundred percent remote. Matheus says that as well as seeing his students' progress in their English, the weekly contact where his students can tell him about their week has been very important.
The biggest challenge he faces is in helping his 5–11-year-old students to understand what their community and the world are going through. However, this is where art and music have been helpful. Matheus says that to keep his students interested through remote learning, he has taken teachings and inspiration from being a musician himself and has incorporated art and music into his classes.
In addition, with the organization now planning a return to in-person programming, English and Art have been used to teach kids the protocols to follow when they’re back in the classroom. “We can see some light at the end of the tunnel now for a safe and much-desired return to in-person programming. The kids are all really excited about going back to in-person programming.”
Matheus describes winning last year’s award as extremely rewarding and he especially loved the opportunity to meet WWE Superstar Drew McIntyre.
“I'm a big fan of superhero movies, and the 2020 Courageous Use of Sport Award made me feel like one. In the interview, Drew kept referring to the work I've been doing as real-life superhero work. It's pretty amazing coming from someone like Drew.”
The challenges people face can sometimes be overwhelming says Matheus, but it is important that we keep an eye on what we can do locally to create change. “I believe the award, and the exposure it gave me and my community can inspire other young people, not just in Morro do Castro but around the world, to work towards the change they would like to see in their own communities too.”
Matheus encourages young leaders around the world to apply for the 2021 award, not only for the recognition but also because of the spotlight it shines on communities and the importance of locally-led work and development.
“You are what you do when no one is watching. Being self-aware of the work you are doing; what it means to you and the change you are working towards is so important. When you combine that with passion, the results will come.”
Entries for the 2021 Courageous Use of Sport Award are being accepted through October 15. Click here to apply.