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IMG_0109Well, I was sort of hoping that the past three months would culminate in a worldwide apocalypse that would render anymore updates futile. However, in light of a total lack of burning fireballs, biblical plagues or flesh-eating zombies, I am compelled to bring my earthly ramblings up to date.

A wiser man than I once wrote “…Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do”. That is probably still going to be true, no matter what I do, but the last 113 days has taken me from the northern shores of Canada’s Great Slave Lake and through the slums of Sao Paulo, before finally dumping me in a small Nepalese village close to the Indian border. It is a journey that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I have travelled by antiquated aircraft and bone-jarring buses, stood beneath the hypnotic majesty of the Northern Lights and shared an array of potent liquors with everyone from the ‘Snow King’ of Yellowknife to a 90 year old Nepali grandfather in the foothills of the Himalayas.

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What I need to do now is sit down, take a breathe and try to make sense of it all. I may be sometime!…

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Two years ago this month I was in Port au Prince, Haiti. It was a few months after one of the worst earthquakes in living memory had devastated the city, killing over 200,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless. The actual quake had lasted less than a minute, but in its wake it had left behind a city broken beyond repair. Before the earthquake, Haiti had already been the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with over 70% of its population living below the poverty line in tightly packed slums. After the quake the city and the country lay in ruins.

…I remember the day I took this photograph.

We had been stopped at a road block and I remember asking my driver about the significance of the flags fluttering amongst the twisted wreckage. It seemed incongruous somehow that this one building should stand out amongst a seemingly endless landscape of indiscriminate destruction. He informed me that it had been a maternity hospital. On the day of the earthquake there had been 125 women and children in there. They were still inside…

…For some reason this one image has always summed up the sheer hopelessness of Haiti’s plight for me. The relief agencies had taken the time to place flags in the rubble, but none of them had had the time or the resources to recover the dead from inside. Over the coming days I was to see far worse sights amongst the slums and refugee camps of Port au Prince, but somehow my thoughts always returned to this one emotive image. Two years on, it still exerts a powerful hold…

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…