Jones’ students report back on service-learning in Brazil

Kim Jones, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, and the students quoted below, are all eager to share these and other reflections on their experience with the Elon Community. Students will also will be collecting donations for the construction and furnishing of a 3rd floor classroom in the Two Brothers School in Rocinha. Donations can also be made on-line at Tell them you’re from Elon!

I am grateful that Elon’s strengths in Service-Learning, Study Abroad, and International Studies provided me with such an enriching experience.
— Michael Patrick (’09)

An Academic Service-Learning Experience

This summer I had the pleasure and joy of being able to participate in the new service learning study abroad program to Brazil that was focused on social development. This course mainly took place in the city of Montes Claros where the group, along with many community members, worked within the community to contribute to the goals of existing organizations as well as working together to leave our mark on the community.
– Lauren LaDuke ‘08

The course consisted of a focus on service learning in Montes Claros, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Before we left for the trip we did pre-course work which entailed readings that helped to prepare us for our trip along with language quizes to give us a taste of Portuguese. When we got to Brazil we worked with Instituto Laborearte and Hospital Universitario Clemente de Faria in order to redo the playground in the pediatrics ward of the hospital. Through these interactions we were to become more culturally aware and sensitive.
– Jessica Piazza ‘09

It didn’t take long for the ideas to begin flowing out of all of us. By the end of our time in Montes Claros, our visions for the playground became a reality that all of us had imagined. The fence was stretched, painted, and decorated with our flowers, the walls were fixed and painted into an amazing mural that included a rainbow, sun, a tree of life, and innumerous flowers, all the benches were painted, and the doors were refinished. As for the playground equipment, we painted the swing and fixed the leg, added a merry-go-round, welded wheels and a steering wheel to the concrete tube and painted it like a race car, attached a basketball hoop tone pole, and tied a tether ball to the other.
–Kenda Honeycutt ‘10

Social Development in Theory and Practice: Transformation

Service-learning was the perfect conduit for experiencing social development at its best. Volunteering and learning at the same time has taught me more about myself and what I want out of life than I ever expected. Specifically, I found a speech given by Adrienne at Laborearte to be the keystone to what I got out of my experience. To put it simply, I wanted to be transformed and in turn transform. I loved knowing that I was transforming garbage into art and that the same concept can be applied to life—that humans can change their lives and be reborn.
–Kenda Honeycutt ‘10

I really enjoyed what Anthony said today about the flower coming to life when we were creating it. When you hold the flower up to the flame it really does look like its growing. I think this is a good example of life, when you take chances and break from the norm, you expose yourself to the “flame”, growing and changing in unpredictable and brilliant ways!
–Michael Patrick ‘09

It wasn’t until I studied in Brazil that I realized the magnitude of what social development actually entails. I have come to understand that social development is the combined effort of a country’s government, people, and NGO’s both inside and outside of the country. As Fernanda, one of our lecturers, stated, “social development considers marginalized people” and works to ensure that these individuals are receiving the rights and benefits that they deserve. In addition, it was amazing to see how the concept of social development was being demonstrated by our own service work at the hospital.
–Kenda Honeycutt ‘10

This transformation was absolutely incredible and the joy in the children’s eyes (and actions) was instantaneous and extremely gratifying. Standing in the middle of the finished area, I could feel that this transformation didn’t stop at the physical, outward appearance but continued beyond that. During this project, we developed relationships with everyone who we worked with and who we worked for (such as the kids). The hospital employees came out in full force to help with the painting and the kids in that wing of the hospital were out there everyday with us. Having the kids out there reminded us why we were there and being able to play with them allowed us to develop a connection with them. We learned about their families, their illnesses, and their personalities, that all inspired us to work hard towards our final goal.
–Lauren LaDuke ‘10

Socio-economic Inequalities, Consumerism, and the Human Spirit

I met people in Brazil who worked three jobs, did not own a car and still lived with their family. By American standards this would most likely looked down upon, one might even be embarrassed by their situation, but the Brazilians I met walked around with genuine smiles on their faces, enjoyed the company of others rather than the designer purse they just bought and danced with little inhibition to the melody of three homemade instruments rather than the newest version of the I Pod. This also made me think about myself in the present. Rather than what do I want to be when I grow up, this made me ask myself the question, what do I want to be right now?
– Jessica Piazza ‘09

At the hospital there was a little girl named Luciana. Everyday she and her father would come out to see us. It was inspiring to socialize with a man who was indigenous, had very little money, and spent everyday at the hospital taking care of his sick baby girl and still found the energy and happiness to put a smile on his face. As for Luciana, she is a sick little girl and was always playful and giggling. Instances like this do not make me grateful for my car or my air conditioning, they make me appreciate everything that is intangible and it highlights that luxuries are not necessities.
— Jessica Piazza ‘09

Two of the students and I volunteered at a favela named Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro for two weeks after the completion of the course. There we had the opportunity to pass on what we had been taught to yet another marginalized community. We taught community members how to make the flowers and decorated a classroom in the school that is open and under construction by the NGO. In Rocinha and also in Montes Claros, we worked with a lot of inspirational, driven people. These people are working towards the social development of their communities. They are all extremely different types of people, yet they all have a passion for life and the projects that are underway that it seems the world would be a much darker place without them.

Rogerio and Vivi, from Rocinha, and Amaro, Adrienne, Fernanda, from Montes Claros, among many others, represent the most important lesson that I learned this summer – the thing that has changed my outlook on the world and will stay with me throughout my life. The tireless work they put in to their jobs, whether volunteer (as Fernanda at the HIV+/AIDs Foundation in Montes Claros or Rogerio at Two Brothers) or paid (as Amaro at the University Hospital) and their attitude about life seems different to me than anything I have ever seen before. Somehow, it is not exactly passion for the job they do, but rather love for the people they help. Brazilian culture is far less materialistic than the United States, and people visibly care more about each other than any material part of life.
–Samantha Stone ‘10

Feeling Empowered By Making a Difference

I know that this program not only made a difference in my life and those of other Elon students, but it also made a difference to the people of Montes Claros we came in contact with. Not only did we help others, but it also allowed us to unwillingly build close friendships with the people we met there. I now believe that the smallest efforts can make the biggest impacts. And it is more important for me to be happy in my career as opposed to making more money. I know I want to make a difference to people who may feel that they have been forgotten or will remember my aid or my organized efforts for years to come.
–Armella Crabbe Gilbert ‘08

I saw countless examples of what individuals and small groups can do for a country and its people while I was in Brazil. A social movement is waving over the country and lives are changing. I was lucky enough to be a small part of this change and see what my two hands can do. Although I am still on a path to finding where I can be most beneficial and be most satisfied in my future, traveling to Brazil truly gave me the spark to light up a passion for human service and global issues that I never knew existed.
–Ellen Davies ‘10

There is not, as you might imagine, a simple one-step process for eradicating poverty. But there is, as I came to find out on this trip, a simple way to begin dealing with it. Laborearte was taking that first step by simply showing at-risk youth that they could be a part of something positive. The idea is to give them hope, and keep them away from criminal activity. And the key to that is to look after our children. All of them. It really is not that difficult to do either; you just have to show them that you care. Just take a little time and show them how to make some plastic flowers.
–Anthony Warren ‘08

Adrienne (our community partner at Laborearte) said our project planted a seed. She told us that people would take notice of our project and continue to turn rubbish into something positive. Adrienne also told us we would be inspiring other people, and we probably did, but by carrying out our project we were inspiring ourselves, we planted more than just one seed. At the finish of our project, we wanted to add a part of Elon to our mural. We painted acorns with our initials written on them in different parts of the mural. The ten of us represented Elon in Brazil, left a symbol of our group behind, and planted individual seeds for ourselves in a place that is very special to all of us. This study abroad program gave us the opportunity to continue growing from an acorn to an oak tree.
— Jessica Piazza ‘09

Tie of Friendship and Human Solidarity

We were not tourists in Brazil, we lived among the people and did work that was meaningful and purpose driven. Our group was determined to use our able bodies and financial resources to make a positive change in the lives of the people around us. Throughout the three weeks that our small but mighty group of nine students spent Montes Claros I was touched and felt personally invested in every project that we participated in and all the amazing Brazilians who taught and led us. Whether we were listening to a lecture on the newly written Brazilian constitution or just talking with patients at the University Hospital, I continually found myself questioning and altering my own opinions and values, including those I had formed about my country and its government.
–Ellen Davies ‘10

Looking back on the experience I would have to say I took more away from the people of Brazil than anything else. They taught me a great deal about life and inspired me to live a more meaningful life. From the first day of the trip to the last I can remember saying how much I loved Brazilians. I have never felt so welcomed in a foreign country. They are by far the kindest, most accepting, and most beautiful people I have ever met.
– Michael Patrick ‘09

Brazilians know the importance of human relationships and they act on it constantly. From dancing at every opportunity, to transforming trash and lives into beautiful creations, to showing three American kids all over Rio for only the price of his food, Brazilians take care of other people. That quality shines through in every person we got to know and showed me the importance of that kind of love.
— Samantha Stone ‘08

In the end, though, it is always the people that make the country. They are the ones that made my trip unforgettable and they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for my transformation. There are no words imaginable that can explain just how utterly amazing the Brazilian people that I worked with were. Their warmth, generosity, willingness to help, dedication, creativity and passion for their work have inspired me. Without them, my trip would not have been the same and I can honestly say would not have been as fulfilling. From these individuals, I brought back a small piece of every single one of them—Fernanda’s compassion, Flavio’s quirkiness, Washington’s sense of humor, Amaro’s big heart, Rogerio’s dedication, Patrick’s kindness, and Adrienne’s creativity.
— Kenda Honeycutt ‘08

Lessons Learned

Looking back, I feel like almost everything we did at Laborearte had some kind of meaning behind it. The basic trash to something beautiful is one of many. If people are thought of as worthless then they will have no chance of growing, but if you are willing to take a chance and try to make something good out of them, you could be surprised with something remarkable. I like how you can also take this same meaning and turn it towards yourself. If you don’t take chances in your own life and push for change then you will never give yourself the chance to grow.
– Kenda Honeycutt ‘08