It is interesting how the “new“ and the “scary/exciting/strange“ can become a part of a normal everyday life with time. When I started Portuguese classes the second week of my stay here, it felt like something I had been waiting for for ages. Now I am able to communicate without great difficulties. Even though the kids I work with seemed to be very loud and hard to discipline (they still are), they soon found a way to my heart. By the time of our Christmas celebration, I would already speak of how proud I was for “our kids,” and shed a tear when it was time for some older ones to leave the project. Many people have asked me, “So, how is life in Brazil?” I can speak about how beautiful and difficult and sweet the kids are, but I also feel obliged to shed a bit of light on the reality they are living in.
I live and work in a poor neighbourhood called Liberdade. Due to social inequity, people try their best to find income. Some are creative and open beauty salons, shops, or car wash service stations in their own homes; others commute to the nearby city of Belo Horizonte. Many parents work long days and have very little time for their kids. It is also not uncommon to be raised by a single parent or grandparent(s). The school day is about 4 hours long, meaning the children and teenagers are left on their own for most of the daytime, many spending it on the streets. There, however, they get exposed to crime, including drug trafficking and prostitution. They are definitely not a priority for the local government. During my 11 months here I have heard gunshots on my street, and stories of robberies and assaults in daylight. Lately, I also picked up some unused bullets from the project grounds (someone probably left them while running from the police at night), even though the grounds are surrounded by a stone wall topped with barbed wire. Sadly, Liberdade is just one example – there are tens of thousands of children living this way in Brazil.
Sombra e Agua Fresca (“Shade and Fresh Water” in English) is a network built by the Methodist Church of Brazil that offers after-school activities and character-building programs, infused with Christian values to youngsters aged 6-14. It is trying to make a difference among these at-risk kids. Thanks to the program, the kids have at least a chance to spend few hours of their day in a safe environment.
At the beginning of this week, I accompanied my Global Mission Fellow friend to visit some local people in order for her to say goodbye to them, as she has just finished her service here. During that time, it dawned on me that there are quite a few people who are glad I am not going yet. After missing dancing classes or not going to some local shops as often as usual, I have been asked why I had disappeared. All of these people were strangers to me just a year ago. Also, living in a neighbourhood where guns and drugs are an issue, was strange for me. Now it has become my home. The many familiar faces on the streets, in the church or dance classes, kids calling my name and hugging me on the streets, having some friends, good colleagues, and new “adopted” parents, and just understanding most of what is going on around me (be it because of the language or the way of life), are some of the things that make me feel a bit more at home here. Amazing what 11 short months can do.
Projeto Sombra e Agua Fresca, Brazil
GMF International, Class 2015-2017