Thursday, September 29, 2016

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

Brazil Compassion Adventure blog series
Visit Day #2 (BR453)

Visit Day #3 Part 1 (BR110)

Visit Day #3 Part 2 (BR329)

Birthday Bash

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.

1 comment:

  1. I could really see your journalist mindset when I listened to the audio and was really impressed with the questions you asked. I'm saving them for when we eventually get to visit our kids because you were so purposeful with what you asked! I'm sorry there was pressure to perform, so to speak. There was really no failing possible because we were just overjoyed that our girls would get to spend time with you and any insight into their lives is a blessing! Thank you again for going on our behalf and I really look forward to reading the rest of the posts in the series!!