On December 3rd 2014 I embarked on a six week life changing journey to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. I was tired, anxious and jet-lagged after enduring a 25,000 kilometre journey however I could not believe that I was in Brazil! Ever since high school I had decided that I should explore the world through the wonderful activity of volunteering during my time at university. Furthermore, what better way to challenge yourself than trying to fit into foreign country and trying to adapt to a new language, culture and a way of living?
So what did I travel 25,000 kilometres for? I was on a volunteering project called the ‘Driblando project’ which focuses on teaching local kids how to develop respect for each other and teamwork through sports, school-yard games and teambuilding activities. In a team of 10 people we worked in a holiday school run by an organisation called Casa-Rocha Jocum. This centre was located in the favela, the lower socio-economic area of Belo Horizonte. Our supervisors, Josie (South Africa), Nicco (France) and Alline (Brazil) lived on the premises and worked there full time. This was an AIESEC project and I thank the local committee in Belo Horizonte for letting us work with the organisation and our fantastic supervisors. Our team consisted of students from all across the world. Students from Germany, Poland, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Singapore and South Africa. All of us were keen to showcase our countries and did so by doing presentations. The kids were mostly interested in kangaroos and koalas when it came to Australia! In a country dominated by soccer, it was an eye-opening to introduce the game of ‘rugby’ to the children and were intrigued by the Aboriginal culture.
The biggest challenge was to communicate with the children especially during the early days. Local university students from Belo Horizonte were also volunteering as volunteers and helped out with the translation. Also it was easy to pick up on basic Portuguese phrases as they days went by, and we (the people from the non-Spanish speaking countries) were able to converse with the children especially when playing soccer or swimming.
Other than the volunteering, I was able to immerse myself into the Brazilian culture through my host family. I was lucky to have lived the most heart-warming family. The host parents treated me like a family member and treated me like as if I was their son. Christmas is celebrated all across Brazil as most of the population is Catholic. My host family, the Olivera’s, hosted Christmas for their whole family and it was an eventful event. Lots of music, dancing, food and love is involved creating an awesome atmosphere in the house. Family values is important in Brazilian households.
When in Brazil, you have to tick attending a live soccer game and visiting Rio De Janiero off your list. I was lucky enough to watch the final game of the season: Cruziero vs Fluminese at the Mineirao. The atmosphere was electric and because Cruziero, the local team from Belo Horizonte, won the competition there was an abundance of dancing, fireworks and chanting all night long. We were able to visit Rio De Janiero for four days and it was an amazing experience. The city has that ‘big-city’ feel and we were able to visit all of the main tourist attractions and beaches. I travelled with Sing-Shi (from Singapore) and Maria-Luisa (from Peru) and we visited the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, Maracanã Stadium and the world famous Copacabana beach.
It was a bitter-sweet time leaving Belo Horizonte. I had made so many good friends, had an amazing time with the children, and it was sad to leave my host family. However I had learnt so much during my time overseas and will use this experience to pursue my passion for travelling. I have learnt that travelling with an open mind is essential for the best experience. Things will not always go your way and you have to be flexible to adjust to new situations. And finally, opportunities like this not always come along, so make the most of these opportunities.
I want to thank UTS BUiLD and AIESEC UTS for opening up this wonder adventure for me. Also like to thank my parents for the encouragement they have given me. After this experience I am motivated to go out and explore the world even more, and no better way of doing it than volunteering.