A Tale of Two Brazils
July 28, 2014. Volunteer Tiffany Fonseca (Harvard, ’15) compares her time with CAC in Brazil to her semester abroad in Rio de Janiero. Before I talk more about the final week, I should begin by saying that Brazil was not new to me at the start of the CAC program. I studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro for seven months last year, immersing myself in Brazilian culture and brushing up on my Portuguese. But even though I technically lived here, many aspects of my experience were lived through a tourist’s point of view. I hung out with the international kids. I heeded the university’s advice to stay out of the favelas, with the exception of one or two particularly pacified and gentrified ones. I stayed within the confines of Rio’s wealthy South Zone, home of the Rio postcard pictures, scenic beaches and nice houses- relatively absent of the abject poverty of the north. Even though poverty and wealth exist in such close proximity in this country, I managed to block out the poorer 80%, not because the Brazilian inequality issue didn’t appall me, but because for the time being I wanted to enjoy my quintessential study abroad experience. However, regardless of what I thought I knew, or what white Brazilians told me about how the other (more than) half lived, I was naïve and admittedly a little paranoid when we drove into Diadema on that first day, and needless to say I was seeing a Brazil I was completely unfamiliar with, a Brazil I had been warned against.
A week later that paranoia was out the window. In fact I don’t even think it’s possible to nicely encapsulate right here the wonderful experience that was my four weeks with CAC. Especially in these last two weeks in Diadema and Campo Limpo, I’ve met the most genuine Brazilians I’ve met all year. Their communities may not be perfect but they don’t deserve some of the labels they are given. These people are truly invested in the future of their community. They’re thoughtful, determined, and selfless. They have amazingly positive attitudes. They inspire me to do better.
As I was saying, words can’t do this experience justice. But here goes anyway: Our final week in Brazil went above and beyond expectations. I don’t think I could have asked for a better end to our time here. It was our second week in São Paulo, this time with our partners at Futebol Social in Campo Limpo. After an hour-long drive to the field on the first dreary, cloudy morning, we were greeted with a familiar sight: new faces, some smiling and some timid, many young men and women, and a few older guys as well. It didn’t take long after introductions and Circle of Friends for the skies to clear up. Feeling the sun shine through the clouds and watching everyone open up as they ran around, smiling and laughing like carefree children, I could tell this week would not disappoint.
The level of engagement we received this week was phenomenal. Wanting to tailor to the community’s specific needs, we asked what the biggest social problems were. Overwhelmingly the response was drugs and violence, among other things. As we tackled various issues throughout the week, I experienced some of the most rewarding moments of my CAC experience.
One coach came up to me right after a gender equity game to talk about the boys team and girls team he coached. Unfortunately, though the discouragement of parents due to cultural norms, the girls slowly stopped coming to the point where he didn’t have a team anymore. We had a great conversation along with Brian about the importance of getting the message of equality to parents in order to prevent sexist tradition from keeping girls off the field.
In another instance, after a game of “Can Adebayor see HIV?” one man stepped forward and talked about losing his uncle to AIDS. The dialogue this started was amazing. We stood there and witnessed the coaches educating each other about facts and myths of HIV without having to say a word ourselves.
These moments for me are so encouraging because they prove that the coaches are really taking the issues to heart and see the games as real solutions they can apply in their community. It took me 4 weeks to slowly understand the difference we were making. It’s one thing to know what sport for social impact is. It’s a completely different thing to see it taking hold in the minds of community and youth leaders on the field. That is the real reason the last day was so definitive for me. Not simply because it was the last day, but because I have never received more genuine thank-yous and hugs and handshakes before!
Thank you too, Campo Limpo. Obrigada!