Summer Camp in Recife, Brazil
Beth Parker (2010, Linguistics)
My trip to Recife in Brazil this summer was organised by Latin Link, a Christian mission organisation based in Latin America. I travelled in a group of 12 girls to the north-eastern city of Recife in order to facilitate two summer camps organised for children aged between 8 and 16 years old. These are run by the local Presbyterian church. The aim was to aid relations between the church and the young children in the local favelas as well as creating relationships between children of all different classes in the area. As one of two team leaders I also had the job of liaising with the local Brazilian Christians to organise our timetable and raise any problems.
After a long and nervous flight on the 27 June, we all arrived safely in Recife to be met by local Christians who split us up into pairs and showed us to our host families and their homes. As we hadn’t been told much about our accommodation before our arrival, we were all very relieved to find that we were staying in houses with running water, electricity, beds and some even had maids. The next day we were given a tour of the local area and the church before getting started on planning for the camps. I think all of us were shocked at what we saw in the community at Porta Larga where the children we would be working with were living. The sewage ran openly in the streets and the houses all had bars at the windows due to such bad levels of crime in the area. We did get chance to meet some of the children that we would be working with though and they were so beautiful. To see the difference between this community and that in which we were living really shocked me and made me realise the great need to help bridge the gap between these two lifestyles.
Each morning of our trip we would meet together in order to share devotions for the day and I soon found that this was one of my highlights as we could share in praying, reading the Bible and listening to each other, sometimes singing a few English songs as well to remind us of home. On the first Saturday we travelled the 45 minutes in a bus to the campsite where the children’s camps would take place. When we arrived it was clear that the building we were sleeping in hadn’t actually been fully built yet! We didn’t let this put us off though and we quickly got on with building the beds, cleaning the floors and new bathrooms, and setting up tables and chairs in the new dining room. The site included a large house where we slept, a chapel for worship and teaching sessions, a swimming pool and an outside area to play football in. The following day we had our first experience of a Brazilian church service which was great. The music was lively and the sermons, although I couldn’t understand much at the beginning, were great. They seemed to be much longer than English services though, sometimes up to two and a half hours long!
On the Wednesday we left for the first camp. We travelled ahead to set up the camp and waited for the children to arrive on the bus. There were 20 children, most of whom were from the nearby favela. They were so excited to be there and it was great to be able to get to know some of the children well in just a few short days despite the language barrier. I was staying in the dorms with some of the girls as a ‘tia’ or ‘auntie’ and it was quite hard to get them to sleep at night! During the day there was a mixture of services (some led by us and others led by the members of the Brazilian team) and sports or activities. They loved going in the swimming pool and I think we could have left them there all day if we wanted! One day we went to the beach. This wasn’t planned but it didn’t seem to matter as there wasn’t much forward planning or health and safety involved at the camps. Despite this, the children were all really safe and there were no problems. Each evening we had a theme night; one was a ‘Ridiculous’ night when we dressed up as crazy as possible, another was a ‘Wild West’ night and finally an ‘Oscars’ night when a drama group from the church came and did some drama sketches. The best part was seeing some of the children come to the service on Sunday night for the first time which made us realise that we may have made some sort of difference being there. The next week we relaxed with a lovely morning at the beach with some coconut water and then spent all Wednesday at church planning for the next week of camp. When we finally left the room at about 6pm we were immediately faced with 40 teenage boys, some who looked much older and bigger than us, and so quickly turned back to pray! Later in the week we would look back at this first encounter and laugh at how intimidated we were.
We all eventually managed to squeeze on the bus and in true Brazilian fashion we left an hour late! We arrived and were glad to find that the Dining Room had finally been finished and the lights worked as well. But our hope was short lived as we found out that there wasn’t enough room for us all to sleep and so we needed to share beds. Luckily one of the girls managed to do some handiwork to fix the mosquito nets together so we could still sleep in peace.
Each morning began with a rude awakening from a number of the Brazilian team members who played heavy rock and shouted down the microphone at 7am. We only had to run one morning service this week at camp as the rest were run by the Brazilian Pastors Rodrigo and Morestino. After this, unlike the first camp when the kids were desperate to go in the swimming pool, the teenage boys were keen to show off their football skills. It took them a while to let us play but once the translators managed to convince them they quickly regretted it as it resulted in an intense battle between Brazil and the Rest of the World. The Rest of the World triumphed and all their fans quickly disappeared.
We were given the responsibility of the Friday evening entertainment and chose to run an ‘International Night’. We represented each nationality present which included a traditional Brazilian dance, a Polish story, Llama racing from Peru, an Eiffel Tower making competition from France, tea and biscuits from England and finally a Ceilidh dance from Scotland finishing off with Auld Lang Syne. The children loved the fact that it was interactive and seemed to really enjoy themselves, especially eating the marshmallows from the Eiffel Tower competition. It was a night of breakthrough when we finally felt we could be ourselves with the boys and that they enjoyed our company. Seeing them let down their guard and have fun like kids their age are meant to was a turning point in the time we spent with them.
Saturday was our opportunity to lead the service in the morning and it was great to be able to all contribute as a team. The highlight of the afternoon involved some water games which descended into a water fight and all 50 of us jumping in the pool. Two of the boys had their birthdays throughout the week so we used the last night to celebrate it in a British way with cake and candles. I got the chance to give these boys an English football shirt which they loved. The night finished with a talent night which allowed us to do a drama we had been working hard on and included some of the teenagers participating as well, showing off their musical skills.
Sunday was our final day at camp and we ended with a mini service in the morning when we sang a few of the popular songs from the week and had a chance to say what we enjoyed most about camp. It was really moving to hear some of the teenager’s favourite parts of the week and we talked about how this week we had all become part of a wider family. We took a team photo and then said our goodbyes to the children. Monday was our day off for the week and we went to a nearby tourist point called Olinda. We got to do some touristy shopping and a few of us tasted Tapioca for the first time and loved it! The following week we spent some more time with the kids from camp each afternoon for a few hours as well as visiting the local schools where members of the church teach. On our final day in Recife we held a reunion for both camps and managed to say goodbye to all the children one last time. The following morning we travelled to Porto do Galinhas (meaning ‘Chicken Port’ in Portuguese) for our team holiday for four days. Here we managed to relax a little and enjoy some time together before the end of the project.
After this we returned to Recife and half the team went home to Britain whilst some of the girls and I travelled to Rio do Janeiro for one week to stay in a hostel there and experience some of the cultural and tourist attractions that this city has to offer. There were many highlights for this part of the trip for me including seeing Christ the Redeemer, catching the cable car up Sugarloaf mountain at sunset and hang gliding off one of the mountains. We returned home safely on the 2nd August and I was thankful to see my family again after such a long time away.
The trip was such a great experience for me. I learnt so much more about myself than I thought I would and my Portuguese improved dramatically. I enjoyed travelling with a new group of people who I loved and I was so glad that we could make a bit of a difference in the community in Recife even though we were only there for a short while. I am so grateful for this opportunity and the support I received to make it possible.