So last year, from July 5 until December 23rd, I was away from my home in Toronto to participate in--to use a cliche--something unlike anything I'd ever done before. After being randomly chosen and then going through a day-long selection process, I was allowed to participate in the Brazil-Quebec program with Canada World Youth and their partner organization in Brazil, Projeto Rondon. First, though, I had to fundraise the sum of $1950 for CWY, no small task in itself. So I sent out letters to friends and family, explaining my situation: I was graduating high schol in June, and, put simply, I did not know if I was sure of my choice to go into international development, or of how I would use it. I hoped that the experience would shed some light on that--which it did, though in ways different from what I had expected. Here's some of the story--to tell it all would take me another six months (and, in all likelihood, I will be talking about it for far longer than that)
The first thing that comes to mind when I see these photos from the beginning of the program is that those first few weeks were busy. Meeting the Canadians, getting briefed about the program, leaving for Brazil, meeting the Brazilians, heading to the community of São Francisco de Paula... everything happened so quickly. And every new development took me miles away from my normal life, both physically and mentally. I suddenly found myself in a country living with people who did not speak my language, where the only people who did were people I had known for a week prior to arriving in Brazil etc etc. To say the least, it all took some getting used to.
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|The first bus ride of what was to become a two-day affair involving planes, buses, taxis, and many, many delays. We look excited now...||The first day there. The difference between this landscape and the Laurentians, where we had been just 48 hours before, was enough to convince us that we were on another planet.||The group, beginning a long and proud tradition of taking as many pictures of ourselves as humanly possible.||The first night not spent in transit since leaving Canada. The trees are arucarias, a type of pine native to that region of Brazil.|
If I were to try to give you a complete picture of the communities of São Francisco de Paula and Saint-Jérôme as we saw and experienced them, I could talk your ear off for hours (already, some people have found out that this is not an exaggeration) I'll try to abbreviate here, just by saying that spending three months in the community as we did living with families there and working in the community made us so much more familiar with the communities than simply visiting ever could. I learned what it is to be involved in a community: not just to be familiar with the people and places, but also to have a hand albeit a small one in the way the community develops. Rather than recount all the different stories, here are some of the photos that we took.
|A churrasco (barbeque)--the state of Rio Grande do Sul was founded by cattle herders, and due to the abundance of cattle in the area, beef is quite the staple. The barbeques they have there are like nothng here--so. much. meat. Also, things you don't see everyday, such as chicken hearts and roasted onions (eaten whole, with vinegar).||The gym where we played indoor soccer. At first, we wondered why we only ever played with the girls of the city. Then we played against a male team and found out. Brazilians are really good at soccer, no joke! I was next to the only Canadian not to wuss out of these games.||Our first volunteerting project on top of our normal work projects. Normally we get the weekends off, but this weekend we went into the rural areas of the municipality to paint one of the schools there--a one-room thing the size of a small house, for about 20 students. It was quite the experience, trying to work as a team while we still barely spoke each other's language.||The internet cafe. We came here so often that some of our best friends and strongest ties to the community were with the people who worked here. I doubt that our experience would have been the same without them--they showed us where we could play football, always helped with the parties we organized, et cetera.|
|My workplace in Brazil--no, I wasn't actually doing anything remotely medical. I was doing an inventory of all the materials the hospital had. At times, pretty boring work, but sometimes a really eye opening look into another region's health care system and its own challenges--like seeing their two surgery rooms barely used because they couldn't keep surgeons in the city.||If you didn't believe that soccer was big in Brazil... These are the celebrations that broke out after one of the teams from Porto Alegre, the state capital, won the championship of South America, the Libertadores. The party started after the game ended at 10:30 and continued--on the street, in cold rain--until 3 or 4 in the morning. Later, the same team beat FC Barcelona in the world championships... unfortunately, after we left.||Our mid-project camp. Once during each phase, we went out for a weekend to a camp to discuss problems and areas to improve in our group. This produced many... interesting discussions, and quite a bit of stress. (I had the happy task of leading the discussion at the camp in Canada, which I actually kind of liked) Luckily, there was always the beautiful scenery to distract us....||...like here, for example. The morning after our big discussion I went on a dawn hike with another participant (the only other one crazy enough to get up at 7 AM). Being in the city's national park, we got to see the beautiful highland rainforest at dawn, all to ourselves and the wildlife.|
Our second host family in Brazil (we had to leave our first one for a number of different reasons)--here seen sitting down to a meal of fresh-cooked poutine, in an effort to show the Canadian cuisine to our hosts there. Also, being in a student house, we were expected to do things like cooking dinner pretty regularly. Also, being around these guys was incredibly fun. We had so many good times in our month and a half here--the students here become everyone's second family, pretty much. To them, if they ever read this--Bah! Foi tri legal tche!
|One of the really neat things about the city we were in was that it was famous in the region for being the most "traditional"--meaning that the regional dances, songs, food and so forth were abundant in the city. This concert happened around the celebrations of the area's succesful rebellion against the Brazilians. (though they stayed part of Brazil) It was a night of song and dance, all special to the the state and even the city specifically. There were also things like parades and a hospitality house specially for the commemoration.||One of the biggest problems in Brazil was that our project lacked a whole lot of funding. The host families, for example, got a measly $25 a month to compensate for ALL of the expenditures (water, electricity, food) that they took on because of the participants in their home. So, to raise money for them as well as to have a good time with the rest of the community, we organized a couple parties in one of the town's two dance clubs.||So one day in São Francisco it actually snowed--not real snow like we get in Canada, but a little layer as you see here. Beti, one of the people in our host family, was in the shower when the snow started falling. People yelled at her frantically to gt out, as this was the first time many of them had seen snow. So, as you can see, she rushed out in her bathrobe and towel to behold the sight of the snow. Then we made a snowman... but there was only enough snow for a head.|
|Our group was randomly selected to pay an official visit to Canada's capital, Ottawa, to talk about Canada World Youth to our Members of Parliament (mine is Joe Volpe, and our talk was over pretty quickly, he had more important places to be...)||Our host family in Saint-Jérôme, and a far fling from our host family in Brazil. These guys were one of the best parts of our time in Quebec. They showed us so much of the region, helped me and my counterpart and Maikon (left), immensely with our French. If ever they end up reading this, merci beaucoup pour tous!||Our group entering Saint-Jérôme, with the flags of Brazil and Rio Grande do Sul-- a veritable invasion!||The second birthday of the granddaughter of our host family. They had two grown-up sons who lived in Montreal--we stayed at the elder son's apartment when we went to Montreal for a weekend.|
Now that it's all over, the million-dollar question gets to be answered--was it worth it? Did I get what I wanted to from the program? Do I get to tell donors that their money was well-spent? That last one, at least, is easy to answer--and in the positive. I learned a great deal from the program, from my work placements, where I learned to find ways to make myself useful in an organization, and to question and to understand just how the organizations themselves are useful in the communities; in my host families, how to become a part of a family I had never met for three months, and to respect and enjoy the different culture that I found myself in; in the group, how to work, live, and enjoy myself with an incredible variety of youths from across Canada and Brazil. As to the other questions, to be honest, I am still answering them. The simple, non-agonizing response to the woes about my future are that I will find what works for me, one way or another. I'm just better suited to do it now... and I'll settle for that.
...and Adam's family self-portrait, parts one and two, and his take on his education.