Passos Mágicos transforms through education and takes young people to Canada

Philanthropic project partners with CCBC; underprivileged children in Brazil will receive support to reach university

By Deborah Oliveira

Education can transform lives. A powerful tool, it helps to develop and enhance an individual’s intellectual capabilities, critical thinking, and autonomy through school and interactions with family and social life. But, despite being a fundamental right, school education – and all the foundations that support it – is not always available to Brazilian children and adolescents. To change the reality of the young residents of the municipality of Embu-Guaçu and their families, Dimitri Ivanoff and Michelle Flues founded Passos Mágicos in 1992, an association that has been able to transform the lives of low-income children and youth over the past 30 years and has received support from the Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada (CCBC).

Initially, the couple’s work was limited to orphanages in Embu-Guaçu, one of the poorest municipalities in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, with an average family income of R$650.00, well below the state minimum wage. Over time, they expanded their work, always aiming to motivate children and teach them that the path of education would help transform their lives. In 2015, the organization was structured and now has 230 sponsors for 120 children. Among these sponsors are companies and organizations from different sectors.

Ranked among the top 100 Brazilian NGOs in 2023, Passos Mágicos began operating in the format of a social and educational project in 2016. At that time, in addition to offering quality education to students, it also provided psychological and psychopedagogical assistance. Today, the discipline of psychology is integrated into the curriculum for children aged seven to 17, to help them develop motivation and interest in learning. “Today, we have 700 children on the waiting list to join Passos Mágicos. For example, of the 11,000 students in the public school system of Embu-Guaçu, 10% attend our association,” says Ivanoff.

He emphasizes that the children go through the entire educational journey, up to college, and today some of the students study at ESPM, Insper, and FGV, and on scholarship programs in renowned schools such as Poliedro, FIAP School, and the High School integrated with the technical school of Hospital Albert Einstein. Children aged 14 start living in an apartment with the support of “Passos Mágicos mothers,” who are responsible for the children attending high school.

Out of the total number of students at Passos Mágicos, 36% have entered higher education. In 2023, one of the association’s students was accepted into medical school. Graduates from the institution can increase family income by 45%.

Christina Binnie, from Passos Mágicos’ institutional relations, finds it rewarding to be able to help and participate in the children’s development. “We are not just providing assistance. We believe that the children themselves have the potential to change their lives. Our students make a difference in college. Today we have four lodging units, and we are close to the children in the city so they can have easy access,” she points out.

With two adopted daughters attending Passos Mágicos, Monica Candoto, an assistant at the association, emphasizes the importance of the support structure for families. “Passos seeks to listen to families, parents, and mothers, and from there offers children the opportunity to fulfill dreams and develop social skills,” she comments.

English in Canada

Alongside Portuguese, mathematics, and psychology, English is another subject integrated into the educational structure of Passos Mágicos. Of the total graduates, 40% are proficient in the language. Teaching a foreign language is part of the association’s philosophy of helping to broaden the children’s worldview. And to contribute to their students’ education, the organization often promotes language study in Canadian international schools. Children spend a month in the country, with all expenses paid, in July, under the supervision of a teacher.

The average cost per child is around R$ 25,000, covered by the association’s partner companies. “In 2024, eight children will attend English courses in Canada and will be accompanied by two teachers. Today, we have 1,200 children and adolescents interested in participating in the program, so the contribution of companies and the partnership with CCBC is crucial,” he says.

The choice of Canada was due to the conditions offered by the country, and because it is a diverse country, with different educational systems in each province. “The partnership with CCBC could further expand our exchange program with Canada in the future,” Ivanoff celebrates.

Check out below some of the photos that marked the celebration of the partnership between CCBC and Passos Mágicos:

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