Pela Vida Committee (For Life Committee) was created by Maria Bourgeois in 1993. For more than 20 years, this NGO has offers free hospitality classes to Brazilians coming from favelas to help them to get an education and find a job in Rio’s hostels and restaurants. Financed by donations and public funds, Pela Vida educated 15,000 Cariocas in customer services, cleaning, room service, reception, restaurant services, cooking, etc.
Maria Bourgeois is a colourful, tenacious and warm lady with an unusual life journey. Born in Brazil, she was chosen by Pierre Cardin to be his first top model. She travelled around the world with him until she married a Swiss citizen. She then lived in Geneva and was dedicated to raising her family. After her husband’s death, she successfully fought cancer. Thankful of what life gave her, she decided to go back to Brazil and to dedicate her life to others.
She founded a hospitality school to develop people from very poor Brazilian communities. The city of Rio provided the space, where she established the school. All the materials come from donations. The school contains a “fake” hotel room and a full professionally furnished kitchen. The students receive practical classes that teach them how to manage customers, how to talk to them, what discipline and behaviours are required in an hotel, and all hotel and restaurant services such as cleaning, room preparation, cooking, etc.
Every three months, 60 students benefit from the professors’ teaching. After this education, and thanks to Maria’s network, 80% of the students find jobs in bars, hotels, and restaurants in Rio.
I think that I must do this. The most important is to feel good in our mind and body and to make the world a better place
Maria Bourgeois, founder of Pela Vida
Word of mouth travels fast and residents from all the favelas are hoping to join the school. Maria tries to find a solution for all who appear at her door. A psychologist takes care of each new student. Today, Maria is proud to say that the school saved about 15,000 Cariocas, even if some of them gave up on the way.
The House of Switzerland associated with the Swiss General Consulate financially supported the school. They hired the best students to work at the House of Switzerland during the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2016, offering them a unique experience and hope for the future.