Planting Seeds in Brazil
The small evangelical church which was the site for the project is perched on the edge of a non-descript middle class suburb next to a 'favela’ - an assortment of small shacks in a marshy area on the outskirts of the town leading down to the river. A small plot of land had been donated on the side of the church for the 'Seeds Project’, which would extend a social support programme initiated by Lea and Vagner, the pastors of the Church and our hosts.
It was soon obvious to us that Lea and Vagner provided inspirational leadership to the small community here. It was their dream for the church to be able to provide a homework club, health education, a small library; as well as English, IT, music, drama and adult literacy classes, mainly for the children of the area. Children living here are exposed to great risk – abuse, violence, drug and alcohol-related crime, prostitution, poverty, homelessness. The 'Seeds Project’ would provide them with somewhere to go to seek help, advice and support as well as educational help and loving encouragement in the difficulties facing them everyday.
The construction was organised by a local builder, Claudio, and his energetic assistant Francisco. We were extremely fortunate in the way Claudio was able to integrate us into the work on site despite the language and cultural differences. I often wondered what he made of a group of foreigners with limited skills turning up to help! Only Jackson, a foreman in a Jersey building firm, had real experience of construction, but very soon we all had jobs which suited our abilities. Jean and Jenny spent much of their time forming steel frameworks for reinforcing the concrete pillars and ring beam. Mike and Jarlath became experts in block-laying and scratch-coursing, while Jackson was able to assist with more technical items such as erecting shuttering around the concrete pillars.
When we left, the walls were up to ceiling height on most of the classrooms and the toilets and the ring beam around the building had been started. Progress had greatly impressed Claudio! Our admiration and respect for him and Francisco had grown enormously for their ingenuity in making the most of basic tools and equipment and their constant cheerfulness. They earned a pittance compared to wages back home in Jersey, but would be outstanding workers in any environment.
On a few occasions we had some heavy showers of rain, despite the fact that the rainy season had not yet arrived, and we became aware of a serious problem of living in the 'favela’. Just outside the church the road gutter system stopped and an open drain wound its way past the shacks. The soakaway system was overloaded and blocked and large pools of surface water covered the paths. The local council was largely unconcerned about the problems this gave the residents. We discussed various solutions and opted to dig another soakaway, but this also soon filled as the water table was so high. It was our one great disappointment in the project that we were unable to make any difference. Lea and Vagner were determined to put further pressure on the council and we hope that our attempt will at least make them think again about what they could do.
For me, the project in Brazil was very different to previous experiences in Africa where the sights and sounds of living in remote bush areas contribute to the excitement of living in a very different world. In Mossoro though, we found ourselves in a modern city with several supermarkets and shops just around the corner and all goods easily available - just like being at home really. One member of our group even went to the hairdressers one afternoon and had a manicure! Not quite the rough conditions I had been used to in Africa.
Yet I came away from the project thoroughly convinced of the value of what we had been doing in Mossoro. The Seeds Centre was clearly going to be well used once it was it was up and running. The community was excited about its potential and showed their appreciation at the end with some wonderful gifts - we all received Brazil football shirts, of course!
We were highly impressed by many of the young people we met - they were bright and friendly, full of energy and ambitious. Yet we knew that many of them faced very challenging home conditions - fathers were often absent or addicts; some of their mothers were prostitutes and neglected their children; or their mothers worked for long hours under Brazil’s poor labour conditions; often their brothers and sisters were from different fathers; some of the girls were likely to follow the same lifestyle; abuse in families was common; drugs and alcohol caused the usual problems. The Seeds Centre would provide an environment which would nurture a more positive way of life and a better future. We felt privileged to play a small part in getting this off the ground.
Mike Haden, team leaderLast Updated: 16/01/2009