A charity that uses rugby to help provide educational support in one of the poorest favelas in Brazil has become the second organisation on the 2021 Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award shortlist. 

UMRio was set up in 2013 and works within Rio’s Morro do Castro favela where 87% live beneath the poverty line and 61% live on less than US$1 per day.

Rugby is the funnel through which UMRio brings young people in to help support them with their educational needs. The organisation not only helps deliver the values of the sport, but also provides catch-up educational courses (including support for entrance exams, one-to-one tuition and English classes), job readiness training, individual mentoring and healthcare services (which includes psychological support, as well as dental and general health consultations).

The brainchild of former Oxford University RFC player Robert Malengreau, UMRio has helped more than 1,000 young people. Trustee and current Gloucester coach Dom Waldouck, who went to Rio as part of his Masters course, said of the scheme: “UMRio essentially uses rugby as an attraction tool to bring people into a productive education space.

“The sport itself teaches great values, and there’s a great community within the rugby network, and from that basis UMRio makes a real difference. There’s a lot of organisations that talk a good game, but UMRio not only makes positive change with individuals through their research-led work, but then constantly monitors the outcome of the participants.”

Waldouck has seen first-hand some of the people to benefit. “We had one gang member who joined UMRio and was pulled back to the gang, but then came back because, he said, ‘UMRio was his family’. In the favelas, one of the reasons people join gangs is for that sense of belonging, and that UMRio was able to provide that is huge.
“The other need [for joining gangs] is money and UMRio have also been able to provide stipends to vulnerable children, so they’re also trying to address the other issues too.”

Even during lockdown, UMRio reached out to those on the programme, distributing tablets to those that didn’t have a digital device and continuing the coaching and education online, including remote fitness sessions led by Team GB sevens captain Tom Mitchell.

“UMRio makes a tangible difference,” continued Waldouck. “When I first went there my guide was a former UMRio member who was now studying at university to be an English teacher. As he gave me the tour of the favela, we walked past a man smoking crack and he said ‘that’s my dad’. To see what he achieved was amazing, and when I met him again, he said his dad is now drug-free – he’d inspired his own father to make a change.”

UMRio is now the second nominee for the 2021 Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award, joining Chew Valley RFC. RegClark, CEO of Rhino, said: “It’s incredible what UMRio have achieved in eight years, significantly changing the lives of so many people in the poorest of conditions.

“They’re fully deserving of every recognition that comes their way as they are considerably changing the lives of those they work with for the better.” 

The Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award, now in its seventh year, recognises clubs, organisations and individuals globally who show the true spirit of rugby at community level.

Past Winners:
2015: TAG RUGBY TRUST (UK)
2016: KAMPUCHEA BALOPP (Cambodia)
2017: SKRUM (Eswatini/Swaziland)
2018: SHIBUYA INTERNATIONAL RUGBY CLUB (Japan)
2019: KHELO RUGBY (India) 
2020: RICHMOND RUGBY (UK)

October 29, 2021 — Alex Mead