João Victor Chaves, 17, had everything to become a statistic as just another young person whose life was destroyed by drug trafficking. A resident of the Cantagalo favela in the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro, he had a problematic childhood, full of rebellion and confusion. Despite the unfavorable conditions, however, he was saved by empowerment and his own creativity, changing his destiny for a promising future.

It all began when he was still a child. Instead of worrying about common childhood play, the boy caught his parents’ attention with constant problems he caused: “I had to mature very quickly. I saw things that other young people didn’t usually see, so I ended up having a lot of malice in my heart,” says João.

Even school had no effect in reversing this situation. Instead of education and good grades, the young man ended up getting involved in various troubles and was expelled from a public school when he was in the 6th year of high school. He ended up going to another school, where the situation was even worse: “There I only hit and got hit. I did everything except study. It seemed like I was in a reform school. I learned many wrong things,” he says.

Until the moment when he was already planning to drop out of school, João Victor found Solar Meninos de Luz. As a partner of the organization in the neighborhood of Copacabana, it showed the young man a very different path from what he was used to observing, going far beyond the classroom. Between March and July 2020, he took the courses “Introduction to the Digital World,” “Hacking Your Future,” and “Project Management and Impact Applications,” all offered for free by Recode and with certificates recognized by Microsoft.

But the pinnacle was yet to come. When the institute was facing serious financial problems and the risk of closure, the young man led a project to reduce the electricity bill using recyclable materials. The idea not only worked, but also earned João Victor recognition for a job well done, being even invited to give lectures on the subject at private universities.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, another obstacle arose. The pandemic arrived and with it, social isolation had a devastating effect on mental health: “I thought I wouldn’t make it. I had anxiety attacks and even dropped out of school. I needed to seek psychological help,” he says.

João Victor works in the Operations team at Recode.

Fortunately, with the help of family and social organizations, this scenario changed again. The student not only returned to school but also in October 2020, he got a professional opportunity: he joined the Recode team as a young apprentice.

João Victor still has a long journey ahead of him. He dreams of one day joining the Navy and helping the community where he lives. After overcoming so many difficulties and barriers, however, the teenager can move forward with the awareness that choosing education and technology as weapons for social transformation was the perfect choice. His reputation as a problematic person is a thing of the past. Now, he serves as an inspiration for other young people, who see him as an honest, intelligent, hardworking, and talented individual.