Surprise and relief was my response to Martina’s chat, with two youngsters from the Living & Learning project, about growing up in a favela. Sometimes the day to day normality of favela life is lost in the media focus on violence. It is also important to bear in mind that the level of law and order in the favelas varies from area to area and one account does not depict all favelas.
This is Djalma and Jorge. Best friends. Ordinary teenagers entering into adulthood full of dreams and plans. With just one difference – they were brought up in a favela.
“It was the best childhood ever, I wouldn’t change it for anything!” they say in unison. “Our community (favela) was one big playground, we used to play all day – football, hide and seek and other games. We played ‘til our mums would shout at us “come back home, you have to wake up early for the school tomorrow!” They continue: “You know; it’s different if you live in one of those big buildings in the town – you don’t have such liberty; you don’t have that many friends; you don’t even know your neighbours! In the favela it’s exactly the opposite – everybody is on the street, chatting with each other and you have so many friends!”
VinB volunteer Martina has arrived in Rio to complete her placement in the Living and Learning Project and found time to reflects on her time in Cristino.
Cristino Castro became my home and I am very thankful to everyone, especially to my host family, my Brazilian mum Dona Maroca and her family, Miguel, Ronaldo and Marta and all the people who influenced my life in so many different ways. Along with the sadness it is also a time to celebrate, to be thankful and to move on with a hope to see them again! I’m missing my students. I learnt much from them, not just the language but also about the Brazilian culture, traditions and admirable hospitality. Sometimes they had been a challenge, but always an amazing challenge which helps you to grow. Now I am looking forward to getting to know everyone in the Living and Learning Project. Martina
Martina, our volunteer in the North East of Brazil, is now in Rio preparing to welcome Pope Francis to World Youth Day. Since her arrival, a little over a month ago, Martina has worked as a volunteer in a day centre for street children, run by the AMAR Foundation.
Every morning the AMAR minivan goes to the central station to collect the kids that are sleeping there. Then the bus takes them to the centre that provides showers, meals, arts and sports activities, but most importantly it provides them with love and support.
For the first few days I found it very hard, especially going out to collect them and seeing how many children are actually living on the streets. Many of them had to leave their homes because of violence, drugs and abuse.
It took me some time to adjust but soon I started to see them as normal children who still like to play and really enjoy being children…though there is no easy solution to solve this big problem. What I was able to see, was that even small acts of kindness make a difference to the children and provide them with the hope for the future. Martina
Last Friday evening students and teachers from the Agricultural College travelled to the Town Parliament in Cristino Castro to present the College, and explain its work to the MPs and townspeople. Martin explains why the College needs to find additional resources and support here.
For most of the students it was their first visit to the Town Parliament combined with a rare opportunity to visit the town. Almost all the students wanted to take part, so we managed to put 30 students in 4 cars to travel the 6 Km to town (yes, 30 students in 4 cars is possible). I was impressed by the effort they put into preparing it and dressing for the occasional. For a while I felt like we are going to the theatre to see an opera!
It was a surprise to me that so many people, including the MPs in Cristino Castro, did not know about Agricultural College which is just 6 km out of the town and which is so beneficial to the region.
The College Director made an impressive speech and our students were on their best behaviour. It made a great impression on the MPs who have arranged to visit the College and promised more support and co-operation. (And also, during the informal part of the evening MPs were joking about offering citizenship to me and Martin, so soon we might become Cristinocastrenses).
Do you know what the Brazilians from Piauí share with the English?
Surely there are other traits to compare, but commenting on the weather is a very important part of almost all social interactions. Even if you know only a little Portuguese, you can easily start up conversation with: Calooor, calor demais! (Hot, too hot!) And the advantage is that it is applicable for all the days of the year!
And another question: Do you know what the Brazilians from northeast share with the Slovakians?
Just to explain the connection – me and Martin are Slovakians, probably the most famous Slovakians in Cristino Castro.
It is said that we, Slovakians, like to complain. (There is always something to complain about, isn’t there?). Whilst we enjoy a wide range of complaints, Brazilians keep it simple- it definitely will be something about the weather. And most probably about the hot weather!
One would think that Brazilians are accustomed to the hot weather, and that they will not pay extra attention to it. But the opposite is true. They are as affected by the heat as we are. When I ask my students why they are so tired and sleepy, they will answer: Because it’s too hot today! Usually I am tempted to respond – well, as any other day – welcome to Piaui, but I just nod in agreement. It is true that they often find it quite difficult to concentrate, as do I. But then, when I check the weather forecast for Europe, suddenly I stop complaining and feel very grateful to be right here!
One of the pleasant duties of a teacher at the Agricultural College is to visit families of our students. As the College is administered by the association of parents and friends of the school, it is very important to get to know them, to build a relationship and connection between students, families, teachers and the College. So we decided to visit few families during our Easter holidays.
It is rainy season now, so driving to the interior might be a bit of adventure and indeed, our plans were slightly changed because of the flooded roads. But finally we safely reached one of the villages.
I find it really interesting to see how my students and their families live. I think the best way how to experience the reality of their everyday life is to not to let them know in advance that you are planning to come so they are not worried what to prepare. Families often live in modest conditions, but the hospitality is admirable.
One of the important gestures of Brazilian hospitality is to offer cafezinho to visitors and guests at home. Cafezinho is a strong black coffee served in a small glass and enjoyed with LOTS of sugar. I really like to have one in the morning and maybe one more after lunch. So I definitely broke my personal record when in order to be polite and not to refuse any of them I managed to drink six cafezinhos (it took a while to fell asleep that night!).
I am looking forward another interesting trips and visits, but I really have to think about polite and believable excuse how to avoid caffeine overdose!
What really surprised me was to find out that my students at the Agricultural College are motivated to learn English. Maybe you ask, what is so surprising about that? Everybody needs English nowadays! But you have to imagine a different reality. We are in the northeast rural Brazil, far away from the industrial south and the big multinational companies and where it is very rare to meet a tourist or a foreigner.
During the first lesson the students had to answer three questions – if they like English, if they find it useful for their life and finally if they want to learn and understand English. Just to help them to be as honest as possible, I didn’t ask them to write their names. I was expecting anything but the final result was a surprise. All of them (except one) want to learn English and they understand the importance of a new language, to improve better job opportunities, to travel out of Brazil (they mentioned Slovakia a couple of times; flattering and at the same time make me smile as not everybody in Slovakia speaks English). Or to marry an American woman – why not – it is said that love is the best motivation.
Indeed, I was surprised and happy about the honest answers those teenagers gave and I think this ‘revelation’ will keep me going for a long time!
Are you curious who is supporting VinB volunteers in Cristino Castro? Who is my Brazilian mum? Do you know how many Brazilian brothers and sister I have? Let me introduce you to the family Lopes Mendes.
Dona Maroca is an amazing lady who has brought up twelve children and has now taken me into her home. She spends her time producing arts and crafts and looking after her many grandchildren, which now number more than thirty. Day by day I am getting to know them.
Her house is very lively, often loud and almost always full of people; new faces every day. One of my first tasks was to learn and memorise the names of her children. Can you imagine twelve quite difficult names plus the names of their wives and husbands and of course, all in the right birth order. I can proudly announce that I have succeeded.
Families in Brazil are very strongly bonded together and the Lopes Mendes family is a great example, calling and visiting each other frequently. They are caring, affectionate and supportive, the solidarity within the family is admirable especially when there is a problem.
Each family member treats me as a regular part of the clan, so suddenly I am a daughter, sister, niece, aunt and cousin… All in one. I always dreamt of being part of a big family and now I am very glad to be a part of this special family.
After two weeks in Brazil, I can say I am a carnivore! This is a big change in my life. You should ask my parents who were trying to persuade me to eat meat for years. If they had known that it would be this easy, they would have sent me to Brazil much earlier.
Brazilians love to be with people and churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) is the perfect way for socialising with family and friends.
A variety of beef, or other kind of meat, is grilled on an open fire and served with rice, beans, salad and farinha (or most probably just on its own).
My option was to eat it or to be hungry and I chose to give it a go. I have already enjoyed a couple of them and I have to admit I love it.