The toys from Brazil

Assuming I survive the rigours of the Canadian Arctic I am off back out to Brazil this coming October, to lead a team of volunteers into the slums of São Paulo. Now many might see that as a testament to a mind laid waste by Larium and swamp fever, but to me it sounds like the start of a whole new adventure.

I was last in Brazil 12 months ago, working in the north-east of the country for a company called Charity Challenge. The job back then was to look after a pair of teams working on the renovation of two crèches in the heart of the São Francisco Valley, near a town called Petrolina. I remember us arriving at work that first day, to be greeted with a series of concrete shells that were overgrown with weeds and littered with the broken reminders of years of neglect. The scale of the work was daunting to say the least. The playgrounds were a tangled mass of weeds, rusting metal and old car tyres, whilst the classrooms themselves were little more than a dingy collection of sombre rooms filled with cobwebs and mosquitoes.

Over the coming days though we cleared the jungle and removed the rubbish, built walls and sandpits and began to transform the walls of the crèches into canvases of colourful murals. We overcame heat and dust, giant toads and limping tarantulas. We cleaned floors and windows, tiled bathrooms and inflated enough balloons to launch a small car. We also had fun! Our mission had been to help create an inspiring and safe environment for the children and by the end of the project we were a mass of grinning smiles and grubby, tear-streaked faces.

There are few things in life more likely to raise the spirit than the sound of a child’s laughter, especially when that child has grown up in a community denied the basics that most of us have grown up taking for granted. I still recall my last day there, looking down at the grinning face of a small child covered in face paint and clutching a smiley balloon…

…Twelve months on and I have no idea what faces me in São Paulo, but if last year was anything to go by, it promises to be interesting…

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