May 30, 2012It has now been three days since my return from Brazil, and even though I've told stories of my week to countless friends and family since then, it has been much harder to try and organize my final thoughts and reactions in writing than I thought it would be. I saw things over the course of the week that although I had heard of before in class or on the news, I realize now that only after seeing them with my own eyes do I finally understand just how dire the circumstances are. I am speaking of course about the severity of the poverty facing so many individuals on a daily basis. Until you witness first hand the impact that a lifetime of hunger and sickness has on a child, or on a young mother, it is hard to be truly affected by such a harsh reality.
A lot of students voiced that they felt a great amount of guilt when visiting the favelas, so as a means of providing us with some comfort we were reminded that this was the only existence many of these families knew. We were judging their homes and lifestyles by how it would make us feel if we had to move to a favela from our comfortable homes in New Jersey. But I think what made me the most upset was that these individuals were being deprived of their most basic rights as human beings; the right to food, the right to security and the right to good health. No one should have to grow up in a home where they are not safe, or well fed, or even loved. For this reason, we were reminded how important our presence at the center was. Just by touching the lives of these children, by getting the opportunity to hug them or make them smile even once, something so simple, was in some ways better than any material gift we could give them.
One thing that I found particularly difficult during the week was the transition between spending the day at CREN, to going out at night where we would sometimes spend as much on our dinner as some of the families we would meet from the favelas would make in an entire month. I have never in my life experienced anything so emotionally draining, and by the end of the week it was hard some nights to find the will to even eat a full meal. São Paulo is unique in that the range of extravagant wealth and dire poverty is so extreme, that you can walk down one road and find a mother begging on the street with her children, and find designer shops and five-star restaurants on the next. It's hard to accept the reality of how unfair the world that we live in can really be, and it leaves you questioning if there really ever will be a solution.
All of that being said, this one week spent in Brazil has left a lasting and powerful impression on me that I had never anticipated. I remember first walking back into my house on Sunday, and the moment my mother saw me she said, "that changes you, huh?" And only then did I realize it was true. The culture of Brazil was absolutely beautiful; the exotic fruits, the crafts at the market, the traditional samba dancing... all of this I will remember. But it is the faces of the children, and their mothers, whose lives we touched even in some small but significant way, that is ingrained in my mind and that I will never forget.
- Jessica McKinley