Zumba with Margarita - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Video of Margarita leading Zumba at the Migrant Integration Center in São Paulo.

One of the most fun activities I have been leading as part of my ministries with immigrant and favela communities in São Paulo has been a twice-weekly Zumba class I have been offering for about three years in the favela of Haiti. After the city’s COVID lockdown forced a four-months-long interruption, we were able to start back up outdoors in July 2020.

Friday evening Zumba class

After seeing the positive impact of this exercise program, the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit who run another one of my ministries, have been wanting me to give Zumba classes at their Migrant Integration Center (Centro de Integração do Migrante or CIM) as well.

CIM is located in the central São Paulo neighborhood of Brás. COVID shut down their in-person programs for more than a year, but about a month ago, after the sisters were able to reopen the center’s doors, we could finally start our Zumba classes there.

We chose Zumba as one of CIM’s priority activities because we recognized the need to re-energize the adults — especially women — who come to seek services there. Zumba is an exercise program that combines basic dance steps with Latin and international music. Alternating between fast and smooth rhythms, it helps to improve health, maintain a healthy weight, strengthen the heart, reduce stress and improve mood.

With physical-distancing requirements still in place, we had to limit the number of participants. But because of the great interest among the immigrant women, we now offer two classes on Fridays — one in the morning and one in the afternoon, which is packed and even has a waiting list.

It is always great to see the women arrive with such joy, anticipation and open hearts to dedicate an hour of their week to themselves. Our hour together consists of five to 10 minutes of warm-up, about 40 minutes of dancing, and ends with another five to 10 minutes of relaxation and stretching. The sisters always prepare a coffee or juice with a dessert to send everyone off with “barriga cheia, coração contente” (a full belly and a happy heart).”

As an instructor, I enjoy the opportunity every week to provide an important moment of self-care to all the women who rely on our work at the Migrant Integration Center. I feel happy and proud of every smile that I see on Friday mornings after a difficult night or Friday afternoons after a full day of work. These women are warriors and inspire me to put my physical and mental health first to have the joy of giving that same energy to them.

We hope to continue firm and strong with this new movement that is bringing us much joy and hope for the days to come.


Margarita Durán
Margarita Durán teaches art, P.E., English and religious education to at-risk children and youth in São Paulo’s Haiti favela and at the Migrant Integration Center in the Brás neighborhood.