3. Community Work for Bahia

Community Work for Bahia:
The focus of the fifth day was anchored around volunteering and community work in the region. The associates at the Mars Research Center engage with almost all local farms and regularly supply them with essentials, such as drinking water, rice, beans and other basic products. That day, I had the chance to go with the MCCS community team on another field trip to visit three farms and to speak to the farmers and identify their needs in order to help them most effectively. All of the farms we have visited were in a poor shape and it was truly moving to see the extreme poverty these people were living in. They didn’t have access to electricity, nor did they have drinking water or even the basic hygiene conditions. We visited derelict houses and witnessed how the locals get their water from a hole in the ground in the nearby forest, which was used as a rain water reservoir. This water was claimed to be ‘clean’ after the locals have thrown a peculiar fish inside, called ‘piavi’. This fish is supposed to eat the major insects in the water, so that the water becomes supposedly drinkable. This is a century-old tradition in the region and is considered to be normal.

All of the farmers live below the poverty line and it was alarming to see that some of them simply accepted the status quo. The children were also raised as farmers and were taught the traditions of their fathers. During our field trip we met Gilberto, a single father who was raising four children. His love and care for his offspring truly touched me. Despite his difficult situation, he invested everything he had in the education of his children. Gilberto has sent them to the only school in the region – the Virginia Mars Municipal School. He was a frequent visitor to the school himself, where he always eagerly enquired about their progress and what he could do to help his children with their homework. Having no education himself, he wanted to give them a better future. Gilberto explained that he was very happy that his children could go to school, but that he struggled with the materials they needed, such as pens, pencils and college blocks. Fortunately, I had my notepad and a few pens with me, which I happily gave to Gilberto. The family was very happy and I have spent some time with the children, teaching them how to draw houses and trees. In return, the oldest girl, who was ten years old and the only literate child in the family so far, wrote down her name and the names of her brothers with a small thank you note on a piece of paper and gave it to me. I could see that the father was very proud of her writing skills. This experience vividly demonstrated to me how even the smallest things can make a real difference.

In the afternoon, I was able to contribute my share to the education of these children by teaching English lessons at the Virginia Mars Municipal School. In spite of the language differences I could connect well with the children and tried to inspire them to be more assiduous in their studies of the English language. In Bahia, a decent command of English is considered a valuable and rare skill, and a real differentiator in the competitive job market. I started my first English lesson with an introduction and a vocabulary brainstorming session around the word ‘friendship’. The students were a bit shy in the beginning, but as soon as we started a role play, I could see that they were really engaging with each other and the language. The pupils of my second English class were a bit younger and not as fluent. That is why I have decided to focus on an easier topic: different countries and cities. Later on, we played ‘hangman’ with the new pieces of vocabulary, which the kids genuinely enjoyed. Seeing the children’s smiling faces was indeed refreshing. After the lesson, Alan, one of my new students took me by the hand and dragged me to the head teacher of the school. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to say, as he was explaining something to the head teacher in Portuguese in a very emotional way. Then, my translator said to me that he wanted to introduce me to the head teacher and that he said he would rather have me as an English teacher all year long, than all the other classes together. It was humbling and touching. I wish I could have stayed longer to share my time and knowledge with these avid pupils.

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