When I arrived at the periphery of São Paulo, in August 2009, I had no idea what to expect. I had celebrated my 19th birthday some days ago and I hadn’t visited any continent but Europe so far. Therefore, and for other reasons, I had decided to work and to live in Brazil, I had applied, and I had been accepted. And that was why I stood there, at the edge of a favela (slum), on a merely illuminated street.
It was already dark when I got out of the van and entered the building: „Here is the NGO where you are going to work for the next twelve months“, the driver explained me. Twelve months! One year! That sounded like an eternity in my ears, although I had longed so deeply for arriving here. Doubts rose in my head – would the habitants of the neighborhood welcome me warmingly or would they rather be disinterested? Would the children who attended the NGO really be lovely and tender – or rather aggressive and cold due to bad experiences like domestic violence?
As in many moments of my life, my worries turned out to be unfounded. I was received with profound smiles, and the children definitely conquered my heart, in about minutes. Yes, some had aggressive tendencies, but only a few, and even those ones preserved a sensitive side, sometimes pleading me for a hug seconds after trying to beat up each other.
The sense or nonsense of volunteer programs like the one I participated (that is, young adults from Western countries go to Asia, Africa and Latin America to work in a NGO for 6 to 12 months) is highly controversial, also for me, which may be an interesting topic for another blog entry. Nevertheless, in my case, I believe that my volunteer year was a positive experience not only for me, but also for the people with whom I shared so many moments.
Obviously, I couldn’t simply forget them after having gone back to my home country, because by then, I had already made up a second one. I travelled back to Brazil in 2011, worked in the NGO again, and now I’m studying in Rio de Janeiro (as you can read in my description). During my semester abroad in Rio, I had two opportunities to visit my friends, former colleagues – and of course the children. To hug them a lot, and, due to my brand new passion, to take portraits of some of them.