It has been reported that an estimated 50,000 people are arriving in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) or Rio+20. The city, however, only has 30,000 hotel rooms with most already booked. An average hotel room rate of $818 per night has added to visitors’ dilemma. The increase in hotel rates has pushed the European Parliament to reduce their delegation.
As Rio de Janeiro tries to accommodate everyone, the mayor has appealed to the city’s residents to leave town and rent out their apartments during the duration of Rio+20. Rio’s schools, universities and even per-hour “love motels” have been tapped to fill the demand for rooms.
Amid reports of insufficient and exorbitant accommodations for Rio+20, a young group of 50 international participants from 20 different countries has arranged homestays and is staying with local families in Rio de Janeiro. They belong to the group Up with People, a non-profit organization which has been taking students around the world for 47 years.
Three participants are from Japan – Nozomi Yamazaki, Azusa Maruyama and Yukari Hanamura. For the duration of their Rio+20 visit, they will all stay with their hosts and experience how to live like a local on a daily basis. They will be busy with community service projects, musical performances, and youth dialogues during a U.N.-accredited side event called World Youth in Action and the People’s Summit or Cúpula dos Povos.
The host families live in different parts of the sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro. In return for their hospitality, they receive something priceless. Paula Rocha of Ipanema says she believes Up with People has a wonderful concept. “The students are giving their time to make the world a better place through music and volunteer work. I hope I will see the world differently after this experience.”
Paula, who is hosting Brenda Torres from Mexico, said she has been learning from her host daughter. “She is teaching me about her culture and values. I am learning Spanish with her. Brenda loves to draw, she even wrote a great children’s book about making a difference in the world. This international experience will be with me forever.”
Language has not been a barrier to the experience, as Nozomi is finding. Nozomi says, “My host family can’t speak Spanish or English. It's been fun to communicate using only gestures.”
Nozomi also shares that she is excited to have the opportunity to participate in Rio+20. She is curious about the opinion of world leaders, and how they compare with hers. Helene Magnus of Norway is interested as well about the progress that has been achieved since 1992. The renewable energies major says, “That’s why I’m here. I have been reading about the 1992 conference and I would like to know how countries will cooperate with each other this time.”
Thousands of other international youths have added to the experience of being in Rio de Janeiro. Young Up with People staff member Therese Carlbrand from Sweden attended the Rio+20 Youth Blast while preparing for the group’s visit. She says of the experience, “To have so many people my own age around me, with all kinds of different backgrounds, and everyone extremely passionate - it was definitely an experience.”
Yukari, who traveled on the Up with People Tour in 2010, decided to go back on the road for a different reason. For Yukari, the trip to Rio has a special significance for her as a Japanese. She says many countries came to the aid of Japan during the earthquake and tsunami that hit last year. She has returned to Up with People on this trip as a way for her “to thank the world.”
Luis Petzhold, Up with People Director General for Asia and Developing Markets and a Brazilian himself, says that the group is on a historic second visit to Brazil. Up with People was first in Brazil for the 1992 UN Conference. He adds, “On this visit, the group has 50 young participants from 20 different countries, from as far as China, Japan, and the Philippines. Europe and the Americas are also well-represented with participants from countries such as Bermuda, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Venezuela, Liechtenstein, and the United Kingdom.”
As part of their program, the group has initiated a sustainable development-themed campaign called “20 Days of Making a Difference.” They launched the campaign on World Environment Day last June 5. For 20 days, the young group is making little changes in their daily lives and encouraging everyone through social media to participate. During the campaign, the group has brought reusable food containers, water bottles and utensils to reduce their waste production in Rio, eliminating during their visit the use of more than 1,000 plastic plates, among other single-use items. They have encouraged others to join them by taking shorter showers, buying local and organic, and donating things instead of throwing them out.
For more info on “20 Days of Making a Difference,” visit www.facebook.com/upwithpeople.© Japan Today