Monday, October 1, 2012

BR-329 Projeto Nova Vida (New Life) Project Visit, Saturday September 29, 2012

I honestly can’t think of any adjectives or superlatives that would suitably describe the day that I’ve had. It was heavenly.

Before the day, I wondered how it would go. I had only been sponsoring Larissa (4), Alynne (17) and Monalisa (18) for four months. I had only written them one letter, and hadn’t yet received any from them.

I'd had a magnificent day on Friday visiting BR-110 and two of the houses, so before I left I asked God a rhetorical question: Could this trip get any better?

This question was answered as soon as I walked into the Project. Being a Saturday, it was filled with the hustle and bustle of teenagers with welcoming smiles and curious looks. We walked into the main area to see a band of young people set up and ready to play. This wasn’t just your normal guitar/bass/drum band, but they had flutes, clarinets, trumpets, saxophones and even a tuba!! I found out later that all these instruments are taught by two people at the project! I was impressed.

Those of you who know me even just a little bit, are aware that music is a major part of who I am. I teach it at school and I play drums, bass, guitar, keyboard and I sing. God has “ingrained” music into my soul, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing drums or bass guitar.

This is part of the reason why I chose to use the word “heavenly” to describe my day yesterday. It was like I’d walked into a little piece of heaven among the poverty and danger that existed outside the walls of the Project.

Before the band played, I was introduced to my three girls. I had a feeling I knew what would happen with Larissa (4), because my oldest nephew Archie is also 4, and he’s very selective about who he responds to (although he always loves seeing his favourite Uncle David!) Larissa wouldn’t have a bar of me to begin with. She gradually warmed up to me - just before she went home! I didn’t take it personally. I also met Alynne and Monalisa. Monalisa was in a wheelchair after breaking her leg three weeks ago. This has presented some challenges for her, which I’ll detail later.

The band played a couple of numbers for us, including one in particular that had a nice little funky Brazilian beat to it (pity I can’t dance, but more about that soon), then I was introduced and asked to pray for the group. It looked as though they were about to be sent off to their classes so I quickly mentioned to Isabela that I’d like the chance to get on the drums at some stage during the day (hint hint), so she talked to the director and they invited me to play a song with them. It was truly a highlight of my life – a talented band, and at least 50 Brazilian teenagers going nuts and dancing away. I just loved the whole atmosphere, and I never miss a chance to “show off” my drumming.

After I got off the drums, they played a couple of other songs and set up a dance floor (NOOOOOO!!!). I wished I could have made myself invisible at this point, but I couldn’t. In no time a couple of girls had come over and wanted to dance. I reluctantly accepted and quickly proved my incompetence in this area, and skulked away laughing, apologetic and embarrassed. They were very forgiving.

After this three of the boys practised their English and thanked me for coming to visit. My earlier concerns about the impact of my visit were unfounded. Through the whole day I was humbled by their gratitude and thankfulness.

A few of the girls asked me to pose for photos (Dang, if I was 15 years younger…), and they went off to their classes. At this point I sat down with the three girls and Isabela and we had conversation to get to know each other better. I explained why I had only sent them one letter to that point (because I only sponsored them a couple of months ago and knew I was coming to visit, so by the time I sent another letter it would arrive after the visit), but I made up for it by printing out every letter from this year that I had sent my other kids, as well as about 20 pages of photos – someone’s going to have a lot of translating to do!

Each of the girls had made me a birthday card with a sweet message on it (which I’m also going to have to get translated). After this, Monalisa stayed put in her wheelchair, while Alynne took me round on a tour of the Project. It is an urban Project that serves 680 kids, as well as another 200-ish who are part of a government youth program. Many Compassion Projects and churches open up their facilities to outside community groups, which is the best way to gain the trust and confidence of parents and others, rather than just remaining a closed shop.

At the moment they are forced to be economical with the way they use their space – most classrooms are used for two or three different activities during the week. However, they do currently have a two storey building extension happening, which they estimate will be finished by next June. That way they will be able to have all activities on the one property. They have music and dancing programs, as well as a full computer lab which is used by all age groups.

We went and visited the nursery for ages 2 to 4, which is on a separate property down the road. That is where Larissa spends most of her time. We also saw the church, who have set up a little shop to raise money for a missionary to go to Senegal, in Africa. I LOVE THAT!! With all the poverty in Brazil, these people aren’t wallowing in it and feeling sorry for themselves – they’re looking to other countries where people might not know Jesus, and sending people there – magnificent!

A definite highlight was getting out the FOOTY! Just for a laugh, I decided to pack a soft-touch Australian football and take it to each Project to see what they thought. I gathered up some of the teenage boys (and one brave girl) and explained to them how to kick and handball. They had a very limited space in which to play, so we had a bit of kick-to-kick.

At first they were all just standing around taking turns to get the ball, but then I explained that football is a contact sport, and you can compete to get the ball – no pushing in the back or tackling when they don’t have the ball. Well, you should have seen them – they loved it! It was great to watch.

Today I had my own personal photographer – his name is Wesley and he’s also a drummer (he showed me pics on his phone during lunch). He came everywhere with us during the day and was snapping away. I made sure to ask if I could have a copy of the photos before I leave Brazil. I asked about him toward the end of the day, and he’s part of the government youth program that meets at the project. He asked if he could be involved in media. So anything to do with the website, photos, music – that’s what Wesley does.

The teenagers of the Project were busy today because they were preparing for a community party to be held in the evening. I was impressed to learn they had organised everything, which shows me that Compassion is doing a fantastic job of instilling a sense of responsibility, ownership and pride in their achievements into these amazing kids which they probably wouldn’t get at home or maybe even school.

Lunch was delicious, as it was at each Project. Their hospitality and generosity was incredible and humbling. The winner of the most interesting dish of the week goes to this Project. The mother of one of the Project kids made this: banana, wrapped in ham and cheese, cooked in the oven for 20 minutes. It was surprisingly nice. I think I must have been so baffled that I went back for seconds. It’s just a combo that I never even imagined existing.

A word for people who are already sponsors: If you ever even have the slightest possibility of going to visit your child, DO IT! It could change their life. Met one beautiful young lady at lunchtime who was about to depart the program because her family circumstance had improved. Here’s how it happened: Her sponsor was in the army, and came to visit her one day. The sponsor was sharing with the girl’s mother about her experiences, and what she had learned about life etc. The mother was inspired to find out about joining the Brazilian army, she did, and as a result her family’s circumstance has improved to the point where they no longer need help. Sponsor visit = life transformed and changed!  

As you can tell, I just loved my time at this Project. At this point I don’t need any convincing of the legitimacy or effectiveness of Compassion, but this just re-affirmed it for me. The staff love the kids so much, and as long as there is a Compassion project in the community there is hope for the children and families. This is what they get: food, education, medical care, income-generating skills and most of all the HOPE and FREEDOM that comes from a relationship with Jesus.

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