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So, it’s been a while since my last post, and that’s for a few reasons. Mainly, I wanted to give myself a bit of time before I posted a reflection blog because I wanted everything to set in. Today marks one month since I have been home from Brazil and I miss it more and more every single day.

It’s really funny because when I think back to the nearly 9 weeks ago when I landed in Rio de Janeiro I was so afraid. Fear of the unknown mostly. I remember getting picked up at the airport by a taxi driver who spoke no English who was holding a sign with my name on it. We awkwardly (and very interestingly) tried to make some conversation while he drove me to my new home of Rocinha. On my way back to the airport, I had a similar situation, except I was having a full out conversation in some basic Portuguese about the traffic, the rain, and favelas with a just as friendly taxi driver.

I don’t want to sound cliche when I say that Brazil changed my life, and I never want to be the girl who goes abroad, does some voluntourism, gets her Facebook pictures, and leaves. When I say that Brazil changed my life I mean that it completely changed my scope of thought.

The world to me, before Brazil was small. I had seen a few things worth noting, but never anything as incredible as the beauty of Brazil, and I’m not even talking about the landscape. Brazil is so special because its people are so happy. I met people who graciously opened their homes to me. They cooked me dinner, they brought me gifts, they gave hugs. We mattered so much to these people we hardly even knew. I often wondered how every single person I met there was so happy.

Maybe it’s something in their water. Maybe it’s in their healthy lifestyle. Maybe it’s in their overwhelming sense of community. Whatever it is, it made an impact, and I hope to take that same attitude with me where ever I go. I miss Rocinha every single day, and the favela and every single person I met there hold a very special place in my heart. I tell everyone, “Project Favela was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life,” and it is 100% true. But it was also the most rewarding, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to experience that overwhelming sense of pride in something ever again.
After finally recovering from weird stomach viruses and infections, readjusting to American life, and settling into my home again, I can wholeheartedly say that I will be back to Rocinha and the day I return will be very special.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to experience the real Rio de Janeiro. I hope more people take the chance to visit Rocinha because it will change your life. You’ll learn to love everything about your neighborhood and you’ll miss it like crazy. Even the stray dogs and the scary clumps of electrical wires that would often be far too close to puddles of water. You’ll miss the scary bus rides down tiny curvy streets and the way the sun went down at 4:30pm. You’ll even miss being awoken by construction workers every day at 5 in the morning (okay maybe I don’t miss that) but there is so much I miss about Rocinha that I would talk about it for a whole day if I could.

Thank you to everyone who was so supportive of me during my trip (especially those who had to deal with me when I thought I had lice.) Thank you to the Project Favela team for showing me my full potential, giving me chances to lead, and giving my life some purpose. Thank you to every single person I met in Rocinha for welcoming me with open arms and treating me like one of your own. A big shout out to the After School Clubs kids who I know will never see this, but they honestly were my favorite part of being a volunteer in Rocinha. Those kids are going to change this world and I can’t wait to watch them grow into incredible human beings.

Eu te amo, Rocinha. Muito obrigada por tudo. Ate logo.

-Abby

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Comfort Zones.

It is so hard to believe, but it looks like my time in Brazil is coming to an end. I leave for home on Tuesday! It has been the fastest month of my life. I saw amazing things, met amazing people, and taught amazing kids. The work being done with Project Favela is tough, but extremely rewarding and gratifying. I cannot even begin to express the impact this experience has had on me.

I grew up in a small, Amish town filled with country bumpkins and pastoral farmland. Now, I’m here experiencing the complete opposite. Rio is a CITY filled with beautifully fit people who are extremely invested in the arts, music, and dance. Almost every night I attempt to fall asleep to the sounds of Brazilian funk music blasting through my windows.At home, I would sometimes hear a horse and buggy drive by at about 10 pm. Here, there is not a square of grass to be seen. At home, I see agriculture for miles.

Most of my interests before coming to Brazil were focused on rural poverty in North America, but being here has given me the opportunity to learn about urban poverty in South America. All in all, I’m not entirely sure why Rio de Janeiro was even on my radar of places to go, considering my background and my interests.Looking back, I constantly wonder, “how did I end up in the largest favela in Latin America?”, but I am so happy I did.

I don’t want to sound like one of those volunteers who comes back from their time abroad and constantly talks about how changed they are. I knew coming into this project that I would come out “changed,” but it’s not so much that I am a completely different person.

Experiences like this can teach you so much more about yourself. This is something that I really struggled with during the first few weeks of my trip. I thought that if I was focusing my energy on becoming a better person, I wouldn’t be putting that energy into changing opportunities for the kids. It turns out, the two go hand-in-hand.

Every single day I learn from the kids. They’ve taught me tangible knowledge like actual Portuguese or a dance they learned, but they’ve also taught me more than they’ll ever know. They’ve taught me how to deal with frustration, how to be more understanding, how to make better decisions, the list goes on and on. These are kids who are living in a slum with limited opportunity, but every day they amaze me with the amount of energy and love they have. That goes for everyone here.

As for me, I would say my eyes are so much more open. I lived in a world where corruption impacts the lives of every single person. You notice it everywhere. These are not people who are privileged and handed opportunity. That alone will make a serious impact on any foreigner who comes here. I’ve been pushed to my limits. I never thought I would ever ride a city bus alone in Rio de Janeiro. I never thought I would walk alone in Rocinha, but if I’ve learned anything here it’s that progress happens when you step out of your comfort zone.

I would encourage ANYONE to come to Rocinha. Yeah, you’ll see and hear guns. Yeah, it’s dirty. Yeah, it’s lacking basic amenities that we’re used to at home, but learning how to deal will make you better.

I’m not learning about rural poverty in America. That’s what is comfortable for me. It’s what I grew up with and always saw. Now I’m here in a gigantic slum inside one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s different and it’s changing my scope of knowledge. It’s giving me so much more to think about and take with me. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned here because I never would have ever learned it living in Lancaster, PA. Your comfort zone can really limit you, and I encourage everyone to step outside of it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

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Change in Direction

I have to admit, my attitude towards blogging on this trip has been pretty negative. It’s not so much that I can’t find the time to blog, or that that it’s extremely inconvenient, but before this week I didn’t want to blog because I wasn’t living Brazil the way I should have been living it.

Before I came to Rio, a friend told me that I was going to be extremely frustrated with the the way the city works, and she was so right. The government in Brazil is extremely corrupt and the instability if reflected in almost everything. The most noticeable problem is the traffic. Traffic in Rio is constant. The busses fly down the road like rollercoaster rides and motorcycles weave in and out of the taxis and delivery trucks. The busses are overcrowded and too get from point A to point B it could take over two hours.

Another big frustration for me in Brazil is the lack of respect for teachers. When my friend moved from the US to Brazil in high school she told me that one of the biggest adjustments was going to a school where teachers were not respected. I can see the same problem where I am teaching. In the classroom, it’s often hard to command respect and receive it from a majority of the kids. They run, scream, fight, punch, and kick, which is something that we need to work on more with them. Even though the classroom sessions can be rough, the minute we see the kids outside of the school, they treat us like we are part of their family, which is really sweet and nice to know that they actually do care and love us. It took me a while to realize this part of the equation, but once I did, it made my teaching experience a lot more fun.

Because I am living in a favela, it is no secret that things are a bit dirtier than Lancaster or New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, which would really frustrate me in my first few weeks. We were constantly sweeping, mopping, dusting,and taking out trash (which can only be taken out at night). Our refrigerator broke about two weeks ago and is still not fixed, our toilet is leaking, and for some reason we had a mysterious animal defecate in our bathroom shower, trashcan, and sink. It seemed like nothing was ever clean! It’s moments like this that make me completely and utterly grateful for the cleaning staff at Westminster who constantly make sure we are sanitary and comfortable. I’ve learned that adjust the way I’m living to ensure that messiness isn’t a problem anymore (for example: my feet would ALWAYS be dirty, so now I wear sneakers everyday to ensure that this isn’t a problem anymore). I think we’ve all done a great job to keep things clean and nice in the apartment.

Safety is another large frustration here in Rio. It’s not so much that I feel unsafe all the time. It just can be very exhausting to always have to be on guard incase something potentially unsafe would happen. In Rocinha is feel very safe, even more safe than I do in the rich parts of the city like Copacabana and Ipanema. When I’m there I feel like I always need to be on the look out and have my guard up a lot more. But just to be clear, the favela is definitely not the safest place in the world either. As a mentioned before, gun violence is a large reality here and ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time could be potentially life threatening and very scary. The sound of guns and fireworks is never settling and I honestly hate every time I hear something like that happen, but I know that no one will steal my phone or money and that people are very respectful and friendly.

All of these frustrations completely ate me alive for my first two weeks. I didn’t go out, I didn’t try to get to know anyone, I didn’t walk around alone, I didn’t live Brazil the way I should have been living. But last week something in me took a complete 180 (maybe it was the fact that I figured out how to get from Rocinha all the way to Maracana Stadium without any real problems). But thank God, because I am so much happier.

So, If I can give any advice to anyone traveling to Rio (or any area with socioeconomic problems) it would be to let things go. Bad things are gonna happen, but dwelling on them and getting frustrated isn’t going to make it better. Embrace the differences and live. Understand that people live with these problems every single day and they can still be happy. I am so grateful to experience the REAL Rio de Janeiro and gain so much perspective. I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life.

I can’t believe I come home in 10 days. This trip has flown by so quickly!!!

See you all soon!!

-Abby

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Second Week in Brazil

Hey everyone! It’s been a bit since my last post, but life has been crazy and busy here in Brazil! I’ve done so much in these last few weeks! I went to Christ the Redeemer last Saturday with some of my roommates. The view was amazing and I felt like I could see all of Rio. If I ever go again, I would really like to hike to the top. I also went to the city of Niteroi, which is just across the bridge from Rio. While I was there I got to visit my best friend from childhood and check out some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was an adventure. To get to Niteroi, we took a ferry instead of driving across the bridge and it was VERY nice. We got some really great views of some very iconic scenery in Rio. I’m very grateful to be able to experience such a beautiful and cultural city. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Maracana Stadium to watch the two soccer teams from Rio play each other, and from what I hear, this game is going to be incredible.

The kids are great. For the past few weeks, a group of French musicians called the “Brasspackers” were teaching the kids music. They had a concert on Tuesday for the community and for the kid’s parents. It was great to see all their hard work and they were very proud of themselves. Since then, I’ve been teaching music! The kids are naturally talented in music and have a natural ability to dance and sing, which is really exciting!

The favela is very interesting to say the least! Rocinha is like it’s own little city. Everything is here. From the doctor, to the dentist, to the mechanic, everything you really need can be found here in Rocinha. There are mototaxis EVERYWHERE here. Every time you walk outside you need to be careful to not step in front of one. Like I said last time, the people are insanely friendly and the sense of community here is really special. If you ever need help with anything, all you have to do is ask and someone will help.

I’ll try to stay more on top of blogging as the weeks continue. I only have two weeks left here, which is crazy!! I do miss home a lot and am looking forward to readjusting to life. I’m working up at Westminster for the rest of the summer when I get back, so that will be something nice to return to! Missing everyone like crazy!

-Abby

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The favela has been very interesting to say the least

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First Few Days in Brazil

Hi everyone!! I’m in Brazil!!! There is so much to take in and it’s all so eye-opening and new. I live in the favela Rocinha- favela meaning “slum.” Rocinha is the largest slum in all of Latin America. In Rio alone, there are over 900 favelas. The contrast between the rich and the poor in Rio is very stark and very noticeable. Right as you walk out of Rocinha (probably like a 5-10 minute walk from my apartment) you’re in an affluent area, and the trend only continues. From the top of Rocinha there is a beautiful view of the city and beach as well as the million dollar apartments that are basically everywhere. You can see all of this from the slum that I’m working and living in. It is very sad and very heard to understand how the wealth gap can be so far apart while these people all live so close together. IMG_4737As you can see in this picture, the contrast between rich and poor is very apparent. Favela Rocinha on the left, the rich apartments on the right. 

The favelas, like many low-income communities, are often associated with drugs. Right now Brazil is attempting to do a “cleanse” of the favelas for the major world events that either have occurred or will occur within the next year (World Cup, Olympics). This process is called Pacification. I’ve not even been here for a week and I’ve seen the effects that Pacification has on the favela. Rocinha is a “pacified” slum, but in reality the situation is very grave. Just this morning, we woke up to about 20 minutes of straight gunfire between the police and the drug traffickers. Once I got here I learned quickly that the gunfire typically is just between the traffickers and the police, and that they are not interested in Americans or foreigners or even other community members. But this reality is still very daunting for people who are just victims of circumstance and live within the areas of typical danger (I don’t so don’t worry!!). IMG_4731Favela Rocinha at night

As far as my job goes I work for an NGO called Project Favela. We are partners with multiple organizations throughout the community that all strive to promote education and opportunity. We are partners with a place called Chamengo da Vovo aka “the creche”, which means daycare. I just found out thatI will be working with the 3 year olds and 4 year olds as well as assisting with 5 year olds. I’m also helping out with some theatre and music classes as well as helping run the after school program for the kids who live in the neighborhood who don’t go to school. So I officially start that tomorrow, which will be very exciting! I’m more than excited to work with the kids. They are so sweet and say hello when they see you out and about. They’re very smart and quick and SO funny. It will be very interesting to work with them considering my Portuguese isn’t the best, but already I’mpicking up on a lot!!

IMG_4740View from the top of Rocinha

The food here is INCREDIBLE and so cheap. There is a place down the street that gives you the best home cooked Brazilian food all for about 10 reals (that’s like three American dollars). It’s sooooo good too. Actually one of the most interesting parts of this trip so far was going to the grocery store and seeing all the different foods. There is a fruit that is very popular here called guarana and they use it in a lot of the drinks like soda and juice and it’s so good. Acai is another fruit that is really popular and really good here that is also used in many drinks.

As far as the culture here I cannot say enough. The sense of community is beautiful, really. The locals treat us like we are their long time friends, inviting us to parties and just being very nice and welcoming. I love that about Rocinha, it’s so great to know that communities like this exists in the world. The US needs more of it for sure.

I will keep you all updated with pictures and exciting news! I have a meeting tomorrow at 8am, so I’m gonna get ready for bed!! Boa noite!

PS: Some fun facts about Brazil
-Their big party night (at least in Rocinha anyway) is Sunday night
-The beef here is really really good!
-Stroganoff is really popular here and not at all like it in the US (I’ll take a picture and post it next time)

Tchau!

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The Journey

Hi everyone! As promised, I’ll be writing a blog for the next few weeks I am in Rio de Janeiro. I can’t believe the time is officially here for me to set off on this adventure of a lifetime. It’s been almost a whole year of planning and fundraising, and I am so utterly grateful for all the support I’ve received from you all. Whether it was financial support, academic assistance, or even just simply lending an ear, you all have been such wonderful friends to me during this process.

Right now, I’m feeling very anxious. I’ve never been abroad, so I’m pretty nervous about the basic idea of traveling, but I am very excited to work with the kids and teach them some great new things.

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Newark, New Jersey awaiting to board my flight to Atlanta, which will then take me to Rio. I’ll arrive at about 9 in the morning their time. I’ll continue to keep everyone updated on my adventures, but first I have many people to thank for this opportunity.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Project Favela. Without their international volunteer program, I’d never have the opportunity to volunteer abroad.
Next, without a doubt, I would like to thank my parents, They’ve supported this crazy idea of mine even when they didn’t necessarily want me to go abroad. They funded my entire plane ticket and their constant belief in me is what makes me feel confident in my own abilities and skills. I love you, Mom and Dad and missing you is going to be one of the hardest parts of the next month.
I would also like to thank my incredibly supportive boyfriend, Ben. Without him, I never would have even thought this trip could be possible. One conversation almost a year ago showed me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Thank you, Ben for all you do for me. I love you, and will miss you incredibly.
Liz and Sarah, you both have shown me the support that I absolutely needed to make it through the year. Thank you for being my best friends. I will also miss you guys too throughout the next few weeks. I can’t wait to have tons of fun up at WC.
Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who donated to my trip. I’m getting emotional just typing about this, but I could not have made it this far without the kind generosity of family, friends, and even strangers. You all have contributed to something very important that will change lives, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

This is the first of many blog posts throughout the next month. I’m very excited to see how life is going to change for me and the people around me. I will miss everything about Pennsylvania in the next few weeks, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing everyone as soon as I come home.

I love you all.
-Abby

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Planned Blog, Unplanned Outcome.

A week ago I took a trip up to New York City to visit some friends from high school. We did a lot of exploring, adventuring, and sight seeing (we even ended up visiting the Museum of Sex…?, which is a whole other story for another time), but while we were in New York we got the chance to visit the Brooklyn Bridge. When I returned back to the apartment I turned on the news. I never would have thought that absolutely deplorable crimes of violence were being committed just across the way from where I was standing that afternoon.

I am sure you are familiar with the issues permeating through this country for the past few months. If not, 1. Where have you been?? 2. I will try to sum them up as quickly as I can. Basically there have been a series of deaths (i.e-Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner) committed by police officers. All of the victims were black men who, according to accounts, were really not doing anything wrong in the time of their confrontation with police. All of the police officers were white males who claimed that their lives were in danger. Many of these cases were taken to trial and none of the offending police officers have had to serve any time or really do, well…anything for the murders they committed. A majority of the US population believes that these murders are a result of racial profiling and that these men were initially targeted because of their skin color. These issues have made a lot of waves in the US, especially in the past few weeks. Riots broke out, bridges were shut down, but worst of all, a lot of Americans turned their backs on police forces. The most extreme case being the execution of two Brooklyn NYPD officers (Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu) who were sitting in their patrol car during a shift just last weekend. The gunman’s motive was to supposedly avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Now, I have tried to make a conscious effort to not express my opinions on political (I guess this political?) issues with my blog, but I need to get a few things out of the way here.
I, in no way support the act of racial profiling, or murder, or burning down businesses, or shutting down bridges. These crimes (to me anyway) are much worse than racial issues. They are basic human rights issues. And no matter which side you are on in this giant argument there is no excuse for a country that has made so much social progress to completely retrogress into a world that I thought we marched out of almost six decades ago.

What our world lacks right now is respect. Most notably, cultural respect. And in a country that has made so many leaps and bounds in other areas of alternative lifestyle we should be an example to the rest of the world. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
It is my hope that as you read this that you are even more compelled to be the light, to coexist, and do nothing but show kindness to all people.
_______________________________________________________________

So it was not my original plan to write a blog of this nature…I actually was planning to write about how Brazilians celebrate Christmas (which I still am gonna do : ) )
However, I would not be doing my job if I did not slip in a little reminder about my trip to Brazil. Go to www.gofundme.com/Get-Abby-to-Rio for more information and, if you are so kind, to donate to my volunteer experience!

-Abby

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