My experience with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as many others I am sure, began with a desire to do more than just live for myself, as a desire to give back to the community. But what I did not expect was the desire and passion that would follow.
Nearing the end of my studies in 2012 I had the desire to put myself outside of my comfort zone and also do something that would be for the benefit of someone other than myself.
Having heard about ABBA, from a friend who works as a missionary with them, and with a slightly more selfish motive of going there would give me the opportunity to finally learn Portuguese, I decided to apply to volunteer with them. My application was accepted and two months later at the start of July 2013, I arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil. When I arrived I was put to work straight away, but not with the kids, I had some physical labour to do; from painting walls and cleaning swimming pools, to driving around with non English speaking co-workers to collect donations. A week after I arrived, I was informed that the project I had initially applied to volunteer at had closed for the time being as all the young boys who were staying there had returned home. Subsequently I joined one of their other projects, a prevention project, Casa Semear, that is situated in the middle of three favelas (slums). Casa Semear is structured in such a way to allow the children to attend whenever they are not at school. They provide entertainment for the children in the form of arts and crafts, games and the weekly bible study.
During my five months of volunteering with ABBA and Casa Semear I was privileged to attend two camps, each for different age groups and a trip to the Sao Paulo Zoo where we took the youngsters aged four to six. The camps came with a great opportunity for the kids to leave their adult responsibilities in the favelas and have fun the way children should. It was an opportunity for me to get to know the children better and for them to learn to trust me and open up about their lives a little bit.
Although there was a lot of fun to be had there were moments of sadness as well. Hearing of and visiting the homes of some of the children in the favelas made poverty a reality for me, not just a horrible story I hear about. I hear of how the childrens' homes are flooded as a result of heavy rains, of rats that walk in their homes and seeing a family of five or six sharing one bedroom. There are also stories of children who became involved in the drug trafficking in the favelas as well as threats being placed on the children and the missionaries working in those areas. Five siblings who attend Casa Semear had lost their mother in a drug related confrontation and are facing the hardships of the favela without any parents.
My time in Brazil brought about so many opportunities for me to grow, to realise the realities and the hardships facing the NGOs and missionaries all over the world. I met such amazing individuals and families that have such a desire to see a change in the lives of those that are struggling to get their lives together and it created such a passion within me to be a part of their efforts wherever I find myself.
Should you want to find out more about any of these organisations, refer to the following:
- By Michael Allen