The infamous Cidade de Deus favela in Rio de Janeiro was made famous in the 2002 film “City of God,” which was titled after it in English. The film was widely praised for its portrayal of pack savagery in the favela, and today, life there is still staggeringly risky as the police and posses wrestle for control.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, there were 768 violent deaths in January and February of this year, an increase of 6% from the same time period in 2022, according to Brazil’s Public Security Institute (ISP).
Marcelo Modesto, a native of the City of God, is using golf to try to change the lives of the children there against this violent backdrop.
It is impossible not to be struck by the harsh realities its residents face upon entering the favela. A gloomy backdrop to people’s day-to-day lives is provided by drug dealing, checkpoints, and motorbike-riding armed gang members.
Nonetheless, in the midst of this disheartening climate, Modesto’s golf foundation remains as a safe-haven, offering trust and security to the kids inside its limits.
From the brief plot that serves as the program’s foundation, Modesto tells CNN, “People initially think that Cidade de Deus only has criminals, illiterate people.”
“The work we develop… is to demonstrate to society, Rio de Janeiro, and the world that the City of God also has people who make a difference,” the organization states.
Modesto devotes his time and expertise to teaching golf to 20 to 30 favela children at a time on a small patch of grass. Without public or confidential financing, Modesto began the examples in 2019 enthusiastically for golf and the point of getting the youngsters locally off the roads. Every club swing, every lesson about discipline, and every lesson about respect all have a significant impact on the game.
Beyond golf, Modesto is working to provide these children with other opportunities. He continues, “I’m sure that in the future, maybe five to ten years from now, we will truly have champions.” They can be great doctors, lawyers, coaches, and businessmen, regardless of whether they are great golfers.
Modesto’s love of golf started when he worked as a caddie in his early years. There, he learned not only the intricacies of the game but also important life lessons. Social etiquette was first taught to me through golf, named for my mother. He elaborates, “I learned how to dress, how to speak, how to act, how to sit at a table, and how to make money.”
He set out to share these experiences because he was aware of the game’s transformative potential. He is now able to take his students to Rio’s Olympic Course, which was built for the 2016 Olympic Games. We take these kids to the Olympic Course every 15 days and train with them twice a week at my mini center, he says.
“They will certainly have more awareness of the competition, of the space, if we can take these children to a course,” says the author.
According to Carlos Favoreto, president of the Olympic Course, social inclusion is a significant part of the Rio Olympics legacy. According to him, “social projects are the biggie for me.” We live in a nation with a wide financial divide—you can be very poor or very rich.
“It’s important, who knows, to give the very poor a chance to see a place like this where they can also play golf. We might be able to get a golf Pele from one of our disadvantaged communities.
According to Modesto, worried parents welcome the golf academy because it keeps children off the streets, where they run the risk of being scouted by drug gangs looking for messengers and couriers.
Tiago Albuquerque, a retired English teacher who volunteers his time to teach Modesto’s students English, says, “The outside people respect this space here.”
Albuquerque says, referring to the gang members in the favela, “They have kids who are their relatives.” They want these kids to steer clear of evil and not follow in their bad footsteps.
UNICEF estimated that nearly 1.1 million school-aged children and teenagers in Brazil were not attending school in 2019, with 90.1% of those children coming from families earning less than the federal poverty line.
Modesto describes the difficulties families face in the favela as follows: “There are fathers here, there are mothers here who don’t have [their own] room… there are fathers here, there are mothers here who go to the market to try to get produce that has expired so they can provide food for them to eat.”
The children’s parents lack education, and the father may be an alcoholic or drug user at times. We have to be psychologists and social workers in addition to teaching golf, Modesto explains.
“It’s changed my life”
The golf academy offers opportunities both on and off the course, which can be transformative for the children enrolled there.
According to 11-year-old David Loreno Marcelo Moreno, “Marcelo told me to put my name down, my mom signed, and everything changed in my life.”
Alexandre Gomes Goncalves, who is 11 years old, claims, “My teacher let me come here, and I am improving.” It has greatly altered my life. I no longer have anything to do.
Modesto doesn’t have any money, but he wants to make his project a success. He intends to establish additional golf centers in Rio and to organize a community golf championship for children from the entire state. He also hopes that this will lead to the establishment of a sports exchange program with the United States and Europe.
Modesto is unwavering in his commitment to his cause, despite the difficult circumstances. I no longer fear gunshots. He states, “It’s normal for someone to die today or tomorrow.” Thus, our reality is extremely sad. What should I do? With the work I’m doing here, I just try to show these kids that they can be different, that they can be a part of society and help make the world a better place.