RIO DE JANEIRO — They’ve been working since early August, from morning to night, acting as volunteer guides for Olympic and Paralympic athletes’ families and spectators at venues.

Volunteers, decked out in loud, short sleeve shirts and khaki pants, will watch the games end Sunday at the closing ceremonies for the Paralympics in Rio.

“Look, I have to be honest. This week, I started feeling that going home and sleeping wasn’t enough,” said Alexis Silva, a volunteer from Sao Paulo who has spent his days working in Olympic Park. “I used to go back home, sleep and then was 100 percent again.

“This week, I feel like I go home, sleep, and then I am 90 percent. Then the day after 80 percent, and so on.”

Olympic and Paralympic volunteers are unpaid. As compensation, they receive uniforms and meals during scheduled work days, while providing their own lodging.

“At the beginning of this journey, we thought we would need 100,000 volunteers: 50,000 for the Olympics, 50,000 for the Paralympics,” said Mario Andrada, spokesman for the local organizers. “This proved to be unmanageable.”

The Associated Press estimated in 2014 that, for a labor force of 70,000, the International Olympic Committee would save $100 million by not having to pay its workforce in Rio.

Early in the Rio Games, reports emerged that volunteers were quitting because of long hours and unfair schedules. Organizers said Thursday that 35,000 volunteers worked for the Olympics and 15,000 for the Paralympics.

For some, their duties have been exhausting. Whallace da Silva, a piping engineer from Rio, took time off from his job to do his part.

Da Silva worked 10 days during the Olympics, about 12 hours each day. That’s a pair of 60-hour work weeks. He also donated his time throughout the Paralympics.

“I promised to help this event, so if you ask me ‘Oh, can you stay two or three more hours’ I say ‘OK, I can stay.’ That is a problem for me,” said da Silva. “When I come back to my house, I am too tired.”

Da Silva believes his long days during the Paralympics have stemmed from fewer volunteers.

“There are many fewer people than the Olympic Games,” he said.

But Camila Santana, an 18-year-old Brazilian student, said she’s accustomed to the gig.

“(It was) a struggle in the very beginning because of a lot of working hours,”she said. “But now, after working the Olympics, I don’t have much difficulty with the long hours or talking to people I don’t know or helping others.”

Jasmine Coleman, who traveled from Los Angeles to help in Brazil — one of many international volunteers — arrived to work solely during the Paralympics.

“It’s really nice, I start my shift at seven o’clock and then end at one,” Coleman said. “Then we get an hour lunch, so it’s really easy. And then we get to have time to go experience the Olympic Park.”

Da Silva says while his personal contribution has been demanding, the games have brought positive changes to Brazil, especially in Rio.

“A few years ago in this area, there was prostitution, drug trafficking, violence, and now it’s completely different,” said da Silva.

Despite the demands, many volunteers feel their experiences interacting with fans from around the world has been rewarding.

“It’s pushing me to speak more Portuguese, but I’m also able to experience a world event with people from different cultures,” Coleman said. “I wouldn’t take it back for anything. I think it was fully worth it.”

Coleman’s sentiment was a common theme among volunteers around the Olympic Park. Da Silva said while he misses time with his family, he’s feeling nostalgic about the games coming to an end.

“There is this mixture (of emotions),” he said. “But I feel like the sad part is bigger than all the other parts.”


Allison Gasparetti is a journalism student at Penn State University. Penn State and Georgia are partnering with The Associated Press to supplement coverage of the 2016 Paralympics.