Thursday, September 29, 2016

Brazil Compassion Adventure - Visit Day #3 Part 1 (BR110)

As a consequence of wanting to fit all the visits in the space of a week, Day 3 had two Project visits, meaning only half a day at each Project. This is a mistake I won’t be making again. The day started off ordinarily, but progressed to a positive day of joy and celebration.

First Stop: Project BR-110
In the morning I re-visited Alice at BR110.

To start with we were 45 minutes late, which meant even less time to spend with Alice. I then learned that she still thought I was her sponsor, even though the Zimmermans had been investing in her for almost three years. I wondered how that happened, and we quickly cleared up this misunderstanding.

I learned that the Project had partnered with Coca Cola to provide employment skills to members of the community from 16-30 years old. We began by watching some presentations by members of this Program.


The most memorable part of the morning was the home visit. While not necessarily ‘positive,’ it was powerful and impacting, and God used it to put my petty frustrations in perspective.

Alice is 13, shy and quiet with a beautiful smile when it can be cajoled to appear.

Her personality hasn’t changed much since I first visited four years ago and despite my conversational ‘interrogation’ I had trouble getting much out of her. Alice and her three siblings live in one room out the back of her grandmother’s house. ONE ROOM.

A big double bed takes up most of the space, while a fridge, sink, stove and wardrobe sit against the walls. No bathroom. On previous visits we had only seen the grandmother’s place because they had been too embarrassed to show me their place.

Alice was unable to tell me what she was good at or what she liked to do. She didn’t immediately list a dream for her future. Nothing appeared to come to mind. The turning point came when I dug a bit deeper and asked about the challenges she faces in her life, and what she could change if she could. Her father was mentioned. Apparently he is a drug addict and has been absent from the family for a long time. This wounds Alice’s 13-year-old heart deeply and she started crying.

It’s situations like this where the role of a sponsor is extra important, to provide that voice of love, encouragement and hope to fill the gaping wound of abandonment and insecurity that affects so many kids. Letters are so important. The kids often keep them in a secret place.

I felt so helpless and my heart hurt for this precious girl. I thanked God for the opportunity to pray for Alice. It was a holy and powerful moment. I reminded her that God promises that He will never leave us or let us down, even when our family members do. I prayed for God’s strength and comfort, and encouraged her to keep her eyes on Him.  

We returned to the Project for a nice lunch prepared by the Project staff. I LOVE the generosity and hospitality of the Project staff. We played some Uno and I took a quick tour of the Project and got some photos before it was time to leave.

Brazil Compassion Adventure - Visit Day #2 (BR-453)

On Tuesday September 20th I visited Jasmiel at BR-453 on behalf of his sponsors Brian and Lisa Crawford.

I first visited the family in 2013.

It was Dad and three kids; their mum left the family, dad was unemployed. Jasmiel had an older sister and younger sister who was sponsored. Brian had kept me updated and from what I found out they had had a tough three years, so I wondered how the day would pan out.

I arrived, with my driver Renato and translator Davi, to lots of cheering and a confetti shower from the Project staff. Sponsor visits mean just as much to the Project staff as they do for the kids, possibly even more. We were late because of traffic and I was told later that the Pastor arrived in a taxi and they thought it was me, so they started cheering.

We were served an early lunch at the Project, then we walked to Jasmiel’s house. In the course of conversation we found out several things about the family’s situation
* Jasmiel’s father had a new partner, Julianne (six months). Jasmiel loves her.
* The house has been completely fixed up and rearranged.
* Jasmiel (13) now has a step brother Gabriel (12). They get along well.
* Jasmiel’s older sister (15) is four months pregnant and is now engaged to the baby’s father. Her father likes her boyfriend, which is positive.
* Jasmiel’s younger sister is a full time student, so she doesn’t have time for project activities. The Project staff are negotiating for her to stay in the program.
* Jasmiel’s father still has no steady employment; Julianne has tooth problems
* Sponsorship impacts the parents as much as it does the kids. When I asked Jasmiel and his father if they had a message for his sponsor, his father’s message was longer than Jasmiel’s.

The family’s pets also got actively involved in the visit. While we were talking, their cat came over and started clawing at my shoes. While we were praying, the dog came into the middle of the circle and joined in.

We walked back to the Project in time for the afternoon session just as the gates opened. There was a flood of kids and I was immediately engaged by curious and fascinated little ones. I got out some photos to show (Australian animals, my family etc) and was mobbed. Davi had to get them to sit down. The language barrier was a pain, but not insurmountable.

After a while we all went inside the church for a performance, where each age group from 3-12 sang a couple of songs.


I got up and sang “One Way, Jesus” while playing guitar. After I had finished, I sat down pretty pleased with myself only to see a little guy in the front row fast asleep.

I told them a bit about myself and I was also able to speak into their lives. I can’t recall the exact words, but it was along the lines of “Everyone has been given gifts and talents by God and even if you don’t know what yours are yet, your Project teachers love you and want to help you find them. God created you and loves you, and I am happy you are in a safe place, like the Project.”

It was a bit chatty when I was talking, but when I started to pray, a hush fell over the place. It was a profound and holy moment, as these words from God started to sink into their minds and hearts. Poverty is a beast, it steals any sense of worth, value, hope or dreams for the future. I am convinced that while the money we send is an important part of helping these kids, they need to know that they are loved and they have value, which comes from being created in the image of God. They need to know that there is Hope for the future in this life and the next, because what they see in front of them tells them the exact opposite.

For a snack we enjoyed some tapioca and then it was outside games time. The leaders had the unenviable task of wrangling 100-ish excited, crazy kids into groups in the hot sun and doing relay races. I’ve done my fair share of PE teaching and on this occasion I’m glad it was them and not me.

I’m not competitive or athletic due to my bad knees but I got cajoled into having a jumping race against the other leaders with our legs tied together. I lost but the kids loved it and it was good fun.

In my Compassion travels I always take a footy with me. At some Projects they take a bit of a look before going back to their soccer balls, but on this day it was an object of endless curiosity and fascination. I taught them how to handball and pretty soon there was a flood of kids lining up wanting to have a go. Eventually it would get a bit rough and competitive so I’d stop the game, then start again sneakily with a couple of kids before the others would descend like a flock of seagulls on a hot chip.

After a bit of a run-around it was time for classes. The kids are divided into age groups: 3-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-12. I popped my head into each class to have a bit of a chat, tell them about myself and see if they had any questions for me. I asked if anyone had a sponsor from Australia, and a few did. I said “Now you can say you’ve met an Australian in real life!” and their faces lit up. 

One thing I love about kids is their honesty and lack of filter. There were references to my ‘gold teeth’ (they’re not in good shape but I prefer ‘off-white’) and when I explained about the 13-hour time difference, someone piped up “Oh, so that explains your red eyes.” The previous day I had visited BR417 and made a bracelet, which I was wearing. I’m not really a ‘maker’ and thought it was pretty clumsily put together. However, one of the kids admired it and asked if I had any more. Unfortunately I had to tell them that this was the only one. I was flattered that they liked it though.

Over the course of the day there was a young teenage boy hanging around. We interacted a bit and I had assumed he was part of the Project and one of Jasmiel’s friends. However I was told later that he was a drug addict, his dad was in jail, his mum abandoned him and he was looked after by his elderly grandmother. He was not in the Compassion Project but they let him hang around for the day for my visit. I realised that this meant he sat in on the songs the kids were singing, heard my words to the kids about their worth, value and hope in God, and the words of God I prayed over the group of kids also fell on him and hopefully sunk into his mind and spirit.

How incredible it is to be used by God in someone’s life even when you don’t realise it.

The thing that stood out most was the way I was received by the kids. There was immediate trust and affection shown. Despite the language barrier. Despite the fact that many of them come from situations where they are abused, abandoned and taken advantage of. Yet this stranger comes in, plays some games, sings some songs and I was immediately treated with such love and joy. It was humbling and was a day I’ll never forget.

I have honestly never felt such love and acceptance as I did on this day. BR-453 is located in an industrial area which is dry, hot and dusty, and its residents do not see much evidence of hope in their daily lives. The church and Project are a beacon of Hope, Love and Joy in this community where their children are safe, loved and free to grow up dreaming to become the person God made them to be. I was also pleased that Jasmiel and his family seemed to be in a much better place than my previous visit three years earlier.

Brazil Compassion Adventure - Intro and Visit Day #1 (BR-417)

I recently embarked on my ninth sponsor visit trip with Compassion International. The original plan was to travel to Honduras and Brazil, but it ended up being too expensive. I had really wanted to go to Honduras, since it is the only Compassion country in South/Central America I haven’t yet visited and I sponsor three girls there who I haven’t met. However, if it was a choice between Honduras and Brazil (my love for the latter country has been well-documented), then Brazil was always going to win.

The original plan was also for the last week of September, since I wanted to spend my actual birthday (October 1st) celebrating with the kids as I had done on my two previous visits. However, two factors changed this. As part of the Olympics/Paralympics, Brazil was offering a visa waiver (save $250) if you arrived in the country before September 18th, and I also gained employment for term 4 and the term started on October 3rd, so I wouldn’t have arrived back in time to start my job.

So the trip was changed to mid-September. The other difference about this trip was that of the ten kids I was visiting, only one of them was actually sponsored by me; the rest were on behalf of friends, although four of them were previously sponsored by me but my friends kindly took over the sponsorship when I moved to the Philippines in 2014.

As well as taking all the kids to a special resort for my birthday, I would be visiting:
* Estela and Gizelle (BR417 on behalf of Hannah and Eric Hinojosa
* Sara (BR417) on behalf of Naomi Harrison
* Bryan (BR417) on behalf of Lindsay Makowski
* Jasmiel (BR453) on behalf of Brian and Lisa Crawford
* Alice (BR110) on behalf of Garry and Helen Zimmerman
* Ana Cristina (BR458) on behalf of Cathy Ward
* Jessica and Christian (BR458) on behalf of Amanda and Bruce Newton
* Larissa (BR329) who was my sponsored child.

So I left chilly Melbourne on the 30-plus hour journey (took the long way but saved a lot of dosh) for the sunny skies of Fortaleza. I had chosen to cram all the visits into the space of six days, which in hindsight was a mistake, but we live and learn.

My first stop was a church called “Igreja Planalto de Aeroporto” which I had attended during my previous visit to Brazil and had the strong desire to return to. They had inspired and challenged me with their incredible faith in the midst of very difficult circumstances. I had walked the neighbourhood with my friend Debora Silva and she had been pointing out how many drug dealers live in each street. I had felt despair, hopelessness and violence in the atmosphere like a roof over our heads and the enemy seemed to have complete control, yet these people were defiantly standing in the House of God and praising Him. It certainly challenged my comfortable little Christian worldview.

So I had planned to return there on this trip, but Debora had moved to another country. So she organised for a friend of hers to look after me. Denise, who is a freelance translator for Compassion, took me out and about in Fortaleza on Sunday afternoon before taking me back to the church and translating for me. Denise ended up also being my translator for three of the five visit days.

Visit Day #1 – BR-417 (Gizelle, Estela, Sara, Bryan)
I certainly didn’t ease myself into the trip, with four home visits on the first day. This was my first visit to BR417, whereas I was re-visiting the other four Projects. In the morning I met my hosts for the week. My translator Davi was being trained up and I was his first sponsor visit. My driver was Renato, who was also the Tour and Visits Specialist for Compassion Brazil. The people in this role have a massive job and they normally delegate the sponsor visits to others, but Renato had heard/read a lot about me and travelled from a couple of states away just to be my driver on the visit, which was pretty cool. It was awesome having two English-speaking people assisting me, since that didn’t usually happen on my other trips. 

We arrived at the Project and met the four little ones. The three girls are all eight years old and Bryan is six.

When they were asked who I was, they all shouted “My sponsor!” simply because I was there in person. They had a hard time comprehending that I was there on behalf of their sponsors. I quickly rectified the misunderstanding by giving them photos of each of their sponsors and explaining who they were.

We met the Project staff and had a bit of a play before embarking on the first of the home visits. In order to avoid the awkward silences of previous visits I had come well-prepared, with Uno, Dominoes, Memory, tennis balls, elastics and plenty of photos of life in Australia sure to keep them occupied. It was interesting seeing the kids interact with each other. I had visited four kids at once on a previous visit and they got along really well and there was no hint of jealousy or anything like that. On this day however, a couple of the kids were extra competitive and got a bit grumpy on occasions if things didn’t go their way. Normal kid stuff.

Because I was visiting these kids on behalf of four friends, I had approached this visit with a journalistic mindset. I was determined to capture as much information and take as many photos as I could. I put pressure on myself to provide a satisfactory experience for ‘my client.’ This ended up being my downfall, as there was simply too much information to process with four home visits. The one saving grace was that I recorded the home visit conversations on the sound recorder on my phone, which relieved the pressure of having to remember every little detail. I was able to send these conversations to each sponsor, which hopefully gave them some insight into their child’s life.

A couple of the families in particular were having tough times in relation to their fathers both having accidents and being unable to work. In the developing world it is still largely the father who is the protector and provider for the family and without insurance or sick leave, no work means no income. Both fathers had been in accidents involving motor cycles. One had a fractured leg and was on crutches, the other had been in hospital for two months and had only recently returned home in a bad way. I could tell it was tough for the little ones seeing their fathers incapacitated.

Once again due to my journalis
tic mindset, I had put a lot of thought into the questions I would ask; I made a conscious effort to engage each member of the family, the conversations were free-flowing and positive, and there were very few awkward silences. All the families were very open and honest, and I thanked them for sharing with me.

The Project is located right near the beach but is directly opposite a massive garbage dump, which means the community is hot, dry, dusty and it stinks. Apparently the garbage dump is illegal, but the government turns a blind eye to it. Bizarrely, discarded and dilapidated fairground equipment such as merry-go-rounds just lay on a vacant block nearby. It almost felt symbolic. Beaches and fairgrounds for those of us in the developed world symbolise fun and relaxation; in contrast the people in this community have both but life is so hard.

After the home visits we returned to the Project, had a play and some food and finished off by making bracelets. As part of Compassion’s long-term strategy for releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name, each Project teaches the kids income generation skills to enable them to assist their families. I was invited to join them in making a bracelet. I’m not normally a ‘maker’ but I wasn’t going to say no on this occasion.

I was given a block of wood with a nail at each end. Two pieces of string were tied around each end of the nail and with the loose end they showed me how to twist and plait it. “Over, under, under, over” was my mantra until I had run out of string and made an entirely serviceable bracelet. I have not yet taken it off and don’t plan to for a while.

It was a fun end to a positive day. I was suffering from information overload after the four home visits but left feeling that I had done my best to give the four sponsors an insight into their child’s life. There was some hard stuff, but before the trip I had made the conscious decision to not let the hard stuff overwhelm me as it had in the past.