Cycling to success

Bicycles old,new, begged, borrowed,  high spirits  and good humour  were in  plentiful  supply as  cyclists  and support  teams came under  starter’s  orders.   But not before  Joe  welcomed the  regular stalwarts and those making their first appearance, including visitors from the  ‘Going Global’ group who are  recently returned from witnessing the reality of life for children living  in the violence of the  favelas.

With five laps to complete,   personal bests to beat, and new records to set the experienced legs flew round in record time.  No less heroic were those less practised and new to marathon cycling who displayed great valour and determination on a  route not without its challenges.  The support teams came into their own supplying refreshments,  advice, copious amounts  of cheering and  encouragement.  We even had our very own Bradley Wiggins look alike, see if you can spot him below. 

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I was touched and moved by all the participants who cycled, supported and sponsored the event and created a wonderful atmosphere. The monies  we raise is vital funding for the children and their families living in the harsh conditions of the urban slums of Rio.        Joe Howson

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They put tyres round him and set him alight…

Carmel, a member of the ‘Going Global’ group has written movingly about  her visit to a nearby  favela and the reality of life there.

Yesterday afternoon was VERY challenging. A local man  took us around where he lives – the nearest favela community.  It is the best (safest/most upmarket) favela community in Brazil. He showed us his house, and a local project for the children etc. The favelas are little houses – big huts really – which are built on top of one another in the hills in Brazil.  The people live in them because it is the only option if they want to live in Rio, which is where the only jobs are. The children go to school untill they are aged 10/11 at which point most are still illiterate and then drop out of school. They either have two options then – get a minimal paid job in a supermarket or something ($60 US dollars a month approx) or work for the drug dealers ($150 per week approx) – children younger than Carys (my twelve year old sister). The hard part is that the drug dealers, although they are very violent and have better guns than the police and military, look after their community. They use the money they earn to pay for medicines for people, gas for ovens etc, and the funerals. The police here are REALLY corrupt – no one trusts them. They      are very violent and take bribes from the drug dealers. Haymundo  was telling me that a couple of weeks ago in a nearby community a young boy decided he wanted the drug dealers to stop – so went to the police about them. The police then told the drug dealers about the young boy, so when he returned home, they put three car tyres on him and set him alight. The killed him openly as an example. There is so much violence here. Another women who works at the local project said she could not take us to her community because it was not safe. The people here live in fear – of the drug dealers, the police, the violence. 

 It seems so against the setting here- the beautiful world – jungles, the huge statue of Jesus looking over them all the time. They have local churches – Armando’s local parish is Our Lady of Grace! – but they do not have love. They choose violence, money, guns, drugs and status over freedom, respect, love and safety. It’s hard to see it when I look out of the window – I just had no idea at all what was happening. The police are very different with the richer people – as though there are different laws inside the fuvelas. 

I have been praying about what to do with my knowledge. There is no immediate solution to this. It doesn’t seem like the same world as back home! I guess all I can do is help others to understand this, and maybe do some fundraising back home for Beth’s project or something which will help with their education. I know that I sound very stereotypical volunteer Christian here – but this is real. This is the life of Haymundo, of the taxi driver who is taking me to the beach, of the barman who is making my cocktails. 


Never underestimate the influence of  adding your voice.(Ed)

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Feliz aniversário to Rosalba’s Mum

 Happy Birthday  Dona Maria

From your  family and friends in England

Have a lovely time at your very special party .

On Sunday last, Joe waved Rosalba and her bulging bag of gifts off  on their  journey  back  to  Teresina, the capital city of the northern state of  Piau and sometime home to Rosalba, Joe and their two boys in the early years of their marriage.

 Ariving home a few days in advance of her mum’s 80th birthday  party this weekend  gives Rosalba   time to help the family  with organising  and putting the finishing touches to the celebration to which  almost  300 quests  are expected. I  hear that Rosalba is to be the Mistress of ceremonies; so things are in good hand.

Having had a small taste of partying in Brazil, one can only wonder and try to imagine,  the colour, music, excitement and happiness that is to come and be a little envious.

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Oh yes.. there are also the children

As Dave and Shelagh begin to get more engaged  with the children they  have found  time to  reflect on their first impressions.

 Its only been a week , not only do they speak a different language but they also talk very fast  using a lot of slang (apparently) so who know what is going on. From body language and watching how they play/inter act with each other they remind me a lot of some children we have taught in Wolverhampton and the poorer estates in Lancashire  and  the youths Shelagh has worked with in the Youth Service. They are all different in their own way. The young ones are  friendly, sometimes bossy and  quite tactile ( a definite brasilian trait) .I have already had my arm colour compared to theirs – in this case it was darker and I was also told that I had beautiful eyes – which is true.  There are conflicts, especially amongst the young ones,  resolved by shouting at each other, sulking and occasional blows.   The older ones vary – some are very guarded and at the moment  wary when spoken to, others are friendly and helpful. To the “cool ones”  we appear to be background/nothing out of the ordinary – just a few more strangers who happen to be there. It will be interesting to see how things develop. They are often loud,  especially the boys,  and have very short attention spans  (like many modern english children) but appear  more respectful than their equivalent. Reaction to something they are not keen on is not to be rude but to try and ignore it,  and hope that it goes away. Low expectations from home and teachers in the school means they easily give up thinking/complaining that something is too hard and that they are “stupid”. It is already obvious in this short space of time that they are not.  With the monitors they are well behaved and respectful so its a little bit like being a probationary teacher again without the powers of speech. Sarcasm and humour are after all two of our main defences.  I hope I have the patience to persevere and do some good but if not the tiling will be done ! !  Remember only first impressions ! !

Footnote : With the older ones – they are really into their music– they like (Gosto) Adele, Mariah Carey, Akon, Bob Marley,Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce, Katy Perry etc but they don’t like (Nao Gosto)  Justin Bieber !! So they  display taste and intelligence in this matter.

Shelagh & Dave

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Brazil kicks off on the 6th February

Husband and fellow trustee Keith had within hours of hearing the news of the Brazil v England match  begun  rallying support  for a VinB  trip to Wembly.  He  thought such an important sporting event should be published through this space !

The match   marks the  beginning of the Football Association’s 150 year aniversary celebrations. Of further interest is the news reported on the FA’s site that .. “While in Brazil, The FA and England squad will play an active role in developing and supporting a charity programme both in advance of and during the summer of 2013 and 2014 ”

It will be interesting to see more  detail of  the charity programme.

Football Association

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The day I sacked the Maintenance Man

A cautionary tale for learners of Portuguese.

The following story is based on hard fact  and  has a moral to go with it. Let us begin . .

A volunteer who shall remain anonymous but for the sake of the narrative lets call him Dave is about  to do some DIY work around the project. As a result  he was asked to “have a chat” with the Maintenance Man at the convent (lets call him Roberto because in reality that is his name). As a non Portuguese speaking person everybody has been impressing on the Volunteer (Dave)  the importance of using the language as much as possible no matter how bad it turned out to be –  here was his opportunity. Being a cautious man he spent a long time working out what he wanted to say and even wrote phrases and sentences down including the phonetics so he could pronounce the difficult words – which is most of them. Words he didn’t know (again most of them) he looked up in the dictionary.

On the day in question our hero sought out Roberto  and it was soon established that the handyman spoke no English and so Portuguese it had to be. Despite a few problems,  pleasantries such as name and occupation were exchanged with nods and smiles. It was finally established that there were indeed ladders available of varying lengths from grande to multi grande. Screwdrivers both Phillips and Chave de fenda were also available but a spirit level (nivelador) would have to be purchased. Why did Dave need a Spirit level asked Roberto (Por Que) – Dave explained that he was going to lay some wall tiles in the  kichen. Perfecto, Fantastico.

All was going swimmingly and even the word grouting came up –  then we come to the tricky bit…..   things became more technical. Full of false confidence our friend  explained the last issue i.e. could Roberto remove an unnecessary and dangerous plug from the room.  Roberto listened carefully to the pre-prepared pidgin Portuguese  and then with a worried look –  his face fell .  Que (what) – confusion rained as Dave tried to rescue the situation by repeating the lines. He even showed the written crib sheet thinking it would help. It did not. What was wrong ?   Then it was noticed that an English speaking friend (lets call her Lisa because that is also her name)  had been listening to the conversation and   was by now killing herself with laughter.

It finally  transpired that the word Dave had taken from the Dictionary  for “remove” actually meant “fired” (as in sacked). Roberto  must have thought that this  English volunteer  was going to take his job and that he had  just been told  that he was fired –  an extreme example of  down sizing ?  Dave was greatly embarrassed  but on understanding the mistake Roberto , now greatly relieved , was all smiles again. Of course to everybody’s delight (except our hapless volunteer) word flew round the convent community like a wild fire all about the Englishman that had tried to sack the handyman.   Dave   went into town to hide his shame in a glass of Cerveza and lick his wounds.

 Oh yes – and the moral to the story ? – well you decide.   Our friend , who you will remember we are calling Dave (because that is his name), has decided that the moral is  –  “If at first you don’t succeed get a friend (lets call her Shelagh) to do it for you”.

Fin – Tchau Shelagh

Come on Dave..have the last word, so to speak,  and send us an image of the tiling (Ed.)

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A little background…

Dave and Shelagh provide us with more  insights into the life of the convent and in particular the vision  of its founder.

Our new home – So the Convent where we are staying belongs to the Assumption Sisters – the order was founded by Santa Maria Eugenie in the 19th Century. She was originally from France and spent some time in England..  She was canonised (became a Saint) recently or as Sister Regina,head of the convent, says    “was recognised as a Saint as she had always been one”- an interesting point.   Maria Eugene had many ideas ahead of her time – she championed women as bringers of change as mothers and promoted education. Consequently the Assumption Sisters have established places for education in many parts of the world.

Even more singing  – The convent is used as a conference centre/retreat so groups of varying sizes appear to come and go. Recently a large group has arrived  – they are a Gospel Choir from Germany numbering about 50 – they have been travelling around performing concerts –this is their last stop before home. They have sung before lunch & dinner.

Other stuff – The food continues to be outstanding –  so much for our plans to lose some weight before Christmas although trips up and down the hill to Lapa and the Centre are helping.  The bus journey down the cobbles to town is quite intimidating and shakes every wobbly bit – visions of the opening moments of the film Frida (based on the life of the great Mexican artist – Frida Kahlo) flash before your eyes ! !  The old electric tram which used to take this route isn’t running as there was an “accident” some time back. Cariocas are however used to such hidden risks as the electric wiring in some of the older buildings demonstrates . On a more serious note the tram closure is having a detrimental effect on the local traders who are not seeing the same volume of tourists who used to love to ride the route. Local cars display stickers campaigning for its return.  Maybe in time for the next Olympics . . . .

Shelagh & Dave

Thank you for  reminding me  of  the debt we owe to  the courage of visionaries such as Sister Eugeni  who  bucked the conventions and thinking of the  time. Still an ispiration

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Slovakia, Chipping and onwards to Brazil

On Saturday  Joe and I met with  Martina, a volunteer who will begin her placement later in the year. Like all such days we  spent it  getting to know each other,  discussing the   placement, answering lots of questions,  sharing  anxieties and finally  getting excited about the potential to ‘make a  difference’.

After more than two hours on the train, finally I arrived to Preston. I don’t know how, but Joe managed to find me between all the passengers ! (He said that I looked a bit lost, so I guess that helped! )

To meet Joe for the first time was a big thing for me, no wonder as it was two years ago since we’d exchanged our first emails!
Chipping and the surroundings were so beautiful, I  couldn’t dream about better escape from London.  On this ocassion  I was the only volunteer;  all day was  very informal, relaxed and friendly.

Before our meeting my biggest worry was teaching English, but Margret and Joe showed me resource and explained that  Shelagh and Dave   will be there to help me and  I can attend their classes to see and be inspired.

I have become familiar with history, activities and different projects of Volunteer in Brazil Programme and I saw many pictures and videos from actual place where I’m going (that was very exciting) I would like to fly right now!  Joe inspired me with many many ideas of what to do and how to fully engage with the community.  I also have received
useful information and advice as well as assurance of continual
support throughout my year as a volunteer.


It was a lovely day and Martina’s enthusiasm was  an inspiration for us.

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We’ve arrived !!

Quick off the mark ! Dave & Shelagh the volunteers who flew out last Wednesday are busy settling in and discovering Santa Teresa’s colourful Bohemian side and giving an insight into life at the convent.

Arrived into a very busy Rio as lots of traffic as people leaving work early for the bank holiday. Met Beth and her husband Eduardo (very welcoming) who drove  us to Santa Teresa negotiating some very sharp corners up the steep hill to the Convent where we  will be having  our meals and the Casa de Volunteers where we will be staying. Once there we met Andrea a volunteer from Germany ( very good language skills) who has been working with the children already.

Today walked down around Santa Teresa – some very grand houses, interesting vegetation and amazing art work – graffiti & models made out of old car parts and metal. Walked around Lapa which is becoming known for partying with lots of bars with live bands and lots of different styles of dancing – Samba, faho, gaffeiro – looks like my type of place !!

Tiles from all over the world are used to decorate the steps.

Tiles from all over the world are used to decorate the steps.

Also went to see the Ladeiro do Segaro – which are steps  up the hill which a Chilean Artist has decorated with tiles that people have brought to him from all over the World and  wants to continue to do so until his death. The tiles also go up some sides of the wall too –it is very impressive.
There is a conference on at the convent with people who run similar projects to Beth from different parts of Brazil –so we met Beth for lunch which was very good with chicken,chop,rice beans,cous cous, manioc,some tasty green stuff ( no equivalent in English ) and then pineapple for afters.  Also staying at the Convent are some students from all over Brazil who are part of the Landless movement which is trying to get land which is not used for anything into production for people who need it. The students are studying at the University to learn Social studies to support this movement.
Our real work begins on Monday and will Blog when we have met the children.

Shelagh and Dave

Thanks for reminding me that the Assumption Sisters at the convent are supporting those working for social justice throught the provision of a venue and by adding its voice to that of the land reform movement.

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To the airport

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Months of planning and preparation is neatly stowed in the boot; a survival kit that includes a seemingly unremarkable large black bag but which is stuffed with  climbing equipment, art materials, activities for the teaching of English, music resources and a cricket bat for what Dave described as “for a little cultural exchange.

“Despite a tinge of anxiety with the vagaries of luggage allowance and check-in procedures our volunteers looked relaxed and ready for their adventures. They have chosen to fly via Portugal and will spend the night there before flying on to Rio in the morning.

We returned to Chipping feeling a little envious but confident that the children, and Dave and Shelagh have interesting and fun times ahead.

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