Being Brave in Brazil for the Sake of Others
I have always felt a need to help people, especially those in need, and those who are being oppressed. Living in Australia, being a white, middle class, heterosexual male, I am probably among the least oppressed people in the world, so I have often found myself working with minority groups, such as refugees. Living in a first world country such as Australia, it requires little bravery to help others due to the comfortable living conditions we enjoy. It was not until I stepped into another country, a developing country, that I experienced what it meant to be brave, and to amalgamate and use that bravery to make a difference and contribute to the lives of others who are in need.
In 2014, I spent 5 months travelling through Brazil, and was able to organize volunteer work in an area called Nova Contagem, located on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, one of the 2014 FIFA World Cup host cities. Despite the relative wealth and affluence of Belo Horizonte, Nova Contagem and numerous other outlying towns are ultimately slums, where it seems the people have been forgotten about by their government, apart from the strong presence of the military police. In Nova Contagem, children that choose to, or have the opportunity to go to school enjoy only a four-hour school day, which finishes by midday. This level of education, combined with scarce employment or higher education opportunities makes for a bleak future for these children.
The volunteer work I managed to organise was undertaken with a local Non-Government Organisation called ‘Casa de Apoio’ (‘House of Support’ in Portuguese). They had a room in which I could sleep which was on the premises, located behind 2 gates and with 1 security guard who would watch the property each night. Although many aspects of staying there were confronting, even overwhelming (such as the fact I was not allowed to leave the property alone at night time due to safety concerns), I wanted to help out where I could.
During my time helping out at Casa de Apoio, I dealt with a 10 year old crack addict, children approaching their teen years who were illiterate, and adolescent sports teams who have had team mates murdered as a result of drug related problems. Speaking very little Portuguese when I first started was also quite overwhelming, especially because no one in this area spoke any English beyond hello, and ‘the book is on the table’, which for some reason is the default English phrase all school children learn at school in Brazil. This forced me to speak Portuguese, and when you are forced to speak a language all day, every day, the rate at which you can improve is exponential.
All of these experiences I went through in Nova Contagem, Brazil were completely new and foreign to me. I was certainly outside of my comfort zone, especially when I first arrived. However, that is what bravery is about. Getting outside your comfort zone and doing something new, something different. This experience helped me grow as a person, and certainly changed my view of the world. Looking at the lives the children have in this area and the limited opportunities they will have in the future inspired me to be brave. The children who live in these conditions everyday inspired and continue to inspire me to be brave, and to do what little I can do to help them. To help give them some sort of future beyond drug addiction, jail or murder, which is the path of so many in the favelas and slums that cover Brazil.
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