Low-income kids in Rio given their own Olympic Games

In the Campo Grande neighbourhood on the outskirts of Rio, a resident organised a mini-Olympics for local kids.
In the Campo Grande neighbourhood on the outskirts of Rio, a resident organised a mini-Olympics for local kids.

As the Olympic Games unfold in Rio de Janeiro, a kid’s version has been in full swing in the neighbourhood of Campo Grande, located on the outskirts of the Brazilian capital, complete with a track, basketball courts and, of course, medals and a podium for the awards ceremonies. The man behind this initiative is Jarbas Meneghini, a sports fan who didn’t want his low-income neighbourhood excluded from the Olympic festivities.

Every Sunday since the start of the Olympic Games, about 50 local kids show up at Jarbas’ home in the neighbourhood of Campo Grande. When Jarbas was younger, this 48-year-old mechanic used to dream of becoming a professional football player. He may not have made his love for football into a career, but Jarbas is still passionate about sports. For the past few years, he’s has developed a hobby of making miniature replicas of sporting trophies, which he displays at his home.

Since Rio is hosting the 2016 summer Olympic Games, Jarbas decided to organise a small-scale version of the games for the kids in his neighbourhood. His goal was to both help the kids to understand the history of the competition and to encourage them to try different sports.

“Here, in the poor neighbourhoods, we are excluded from the Olympic games”

It all started when several kids saw me making a model of the Olympic torch out in front of my house. The kids were so excited by the idea of the Olympics that they asked me to make a podium and medals. They wanted to be able to pose on the podium and take pictures.

The excitement over the Olympics was infectious, so we decided to decorate the neighbourhood for the start of the games. I painted the outside of my house white and we painted the Olympic rings on it. Next, I hung up garlands with the flags of several different countries.

Jarbas painted his home to celebrate the Olympic games in Rio. Photo by Jarbas Meneghini.

The neighbourhood kids were so excited about it all that I suggested that we organise our own mini Olympics. The kids were game, so I moved my cars from my garage and turned it into a 25-metre track. I also bought a ping-pong table and a basketball hoop. After each event, we hold a little ceremony. The kids get up on the podium and we give them medals and crowns of flowers and we sing the Brazilian national anthem.

Jarbas set up a track in his garage for the kids. Photo: Jarbas Meneghini.

"I want our neighbourhood to have a legacy from the Olympic Games"

I tried to contact the city hall in Campo Grande as well as potential advertisers to help me finance this little project, but no one responded to my inquiries. So, I pay for everything out of pocket. I’ve been trying to sell replicas of the Olympic medals to make a little money.

Jarbas has been making models of medals and Olympic torches to pay for his mini Olympics. Photo by Jarbas Meneghini.

Most of the children in my neighbourhood don’t have any access to sports activities: sports clubs are expensive and no one organises free activities in these poor communities. But I think that sports education is essential. It teaches kids to respect the rules, to be on time and to respect their opponents.

The “Olympic torch” is carried through Campo Grande. Photo: Jarbas Meneghini.

I also want our neighbourhood to have a legacy from the Olympic Games. In Campo Grande, we are excluded from the festivities. The stadiums are far away from our area and it is hard to get there on public transportation. Moreover, the tickets to attend events are much too expensive for most of the residents.

Kids stand on the podium and receive medals during a post-game ceremony. Photo by Jarbas Meneghini.

This little neighbourhood competition gives the kids the feeling that they are participating in the Olympics. It also lets them dream a little bit.

Awards ceremony. Photo by Jarbas Meneghini.

People in the neighbourhood are really supportive of my initiative. A lot of parents here have to work all week, even on Sundays, so they are happy to know that their children are supervised and in good hands. I’ll keep these games going for the duration of the Olympics, as well as during the Paralympic Games in September. I hope that we’ll be able to keep organising sports activities for the rest of the year and that this idea will also spread to other low-income neighbourhoods in Rio.

Even if in Campo Grande, Jarbas’ initiative has helped residents feel like they are a part of the Olympic games, many Brazilians have questioned why the money used for the Olympics wasn’t used to improve the country’s schools, health care system or security in the streets.

With a budget of close to 10 billion euros – 43% of which came from public funds – the Olympic Games does represent an astronomical cost for Brazil, especially considering that the country’s economy is in recession and is currently facing austerity measures.