SERVE/St. Clements College Immersion Project in Brazil

Expectations before Travelling

Our expectations before travelling were about how we would survive with just rice and beans as our main diet.  We had been told during the training day that this was what we would be getting to eat.  The reality has been quite different and the food has been excellent.  Most of us were worried too about the accommodation and again those fears weren’t anything to be bothered about.  The twelve of us share a large room and we’re getting used to sleeping in Hammocks and trying not to fall out of them at night time.

Most of us expected to see poverty in Brazil and we did see many images of poverty but we also saw great wealth side by side with the poverty and the favelas.  One of the extraordinary things is that despite people being poor their outlook on life is still positive.  Everywhere we have been we have been warmly welcomed by the people we have met.  Before we travelled the group had been told some of the things that we might get a chance to experience including Brazilian Forro dancing, Caipoera which is a form or Brazilian Martial Arts, a chance to spend a day at the beach and the opportunity play a football match against a local team from the area where we are building the houses.  We didn’t really know what to expect with all of these extra cultural experiences but we did our best to engage with all of them and enjoyed them all.  In the 11 years since SERVE have been coming to Brazil our group came the closest to beating the local team in the football match; not too bad when you consider that most of the Brazilian team were in their late teens or early twenties.

Bella Vista

We visited two areas of Bella Vista.  It’s an area with lots of crime, drugs and violence.  The area is divided into two groups and those groups are very suspicious of each other.  The two places we visited were churches or local parish centres.  The gangs seem to respect these areas and allow them to get on with the work they try to do within the community.  Obviously within each group there is tension and fighting also.  We were told that most weekend’s people are shot and often killed in these areas because of the violence and drugs.  It’s hard to imagine how someone could survive living in a place like this without being drawn into a cycle of violence and crime but for some the work that’s being done within the Parish, which is run by the Redemptorists, has given them an opportunity to move away from the gangs and the crime and try to do something different and positive with their lives.

Praia De Futuro (Favela)

We visited two Irish Redemptorist priests living in a small shack just like everyone else in the community in Praiha De Futuro. Martin Murray and Ned Gowing have lived in the same small favela for the last 19 years. They have everything they need in their house, but we were still shocked at how little they had, but they love where they live.  They told us that they are part of a movement within religious missionaries who have chosen to live with and among those who are the poorest. People in the community have great respect for them. We couldn’t get over the conditions that they lived in compared to the conditions that all 12 of us live in at home, but that’s where they want to spend their lives and they are happy there. They gave us a tour of the area and brought us through the small narrow streets of the favela to their community centre. We walked a circuit of the area and there was extreme poverty all around.  Ned and Martin are both in their 80s and they have spent almost all their lives as Redemptorists in Brazil. They also do a lot of travelling to different communities within the month, they could visit up to 20 or 30 different areas in a month and say mass once in each community. Both of them drive a motorbike and they sometimes walk. They gave us a great welcome and were delighted to show us around the place where they live and work.

Martin is more the prayer man of the community.  He goes out to the different areas and has many different small prayer groups where people reflect on the bible.  Ned is a bit of an inventor and his most recent invention is a solar powered oven which cooks food using the heat of the sun.  It’s not the quickest method of cooking but it works and we got to sample some biscuits and cakes that Ned cook in his Solar Powered Oven.


Parnaiba House building

We arrived in Parnaiba on Thursday the 23rd of October. We were welcomed by Marcos Terto and Gerry O’ Connor. Marcos Terto is SERVE’s main contact person in Parnaiba. He is the person who organises all the logistics of the project. His son Lucas is our main translator and photographer. So far we have built every day except Sunday. This work involves demolishing the old house but keeping any material of value that can be used in the new house.

When we arrived on Thursday we were taken to see some of the house that have been built by SERVE volunteers over the last 10 years.  We then took a bus journey of about 25 minutes to a place called Parque Estevao (St. Stephens Park) where the house building project is taking place.  The money raised by everyone in our school, which is almost €16,000 will help fund the building of 16 houses.  Fourteen of them are already under construction and over the last number of days we have worked on almost all of the sites.

The process involves demolishing the old house which is made of dried mud.  If it rains the mud washes away easily exposing the house to the cold.  Although we find it hot all the time here in Brazil, the Brazilians would say that 27 degrees Celsius is cold for them.  The disadvantage of the mud house are that children living in them are prone to getting sick, particularly with chest infections.  This means that they miss days at school.  Not having a toilet inside the house also means that people get sick having to bathe outside.  SERVE has a policy of ensuring that the toilet and shower facilities are inside the new house.  One way they can measure the success of the house building project is by monitoring the school attendance of the children who have benefitted from a house.

Once the house has been demolished and the site cleared of excess rubble, a foundation is dug.  This is hard work because the rubble on the ground is often very hard because of the sun.  A way that the Pedreiro (Brickie) uses to help this process is to wet the ground first.  Once the foundation is dug huge rocks are placed all around the foundations.  These larger rocks form the foundation and smaller stones are used to fill in any extra spaces.  Once the foundations stones are in place a dry mixture of sand and lime is placed into the foundations and then watered and mixed in among the foundation stones.  This forms the foundation of the new house.  After the Pedreiro has laid the first layer of bricks some of us were shown how to lay the block and build the walls.  The work is tough, especially with the intense heat and humidity, but every one of the group has put in a great effort.  On Thursday morning we will have a special Key-giving ceremony when we will symbolically present keys to those families who are having a house built for them.