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Global Justice Volunteers Share Stories from the Field

By Brenda Wilkinson

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Street children, Brazil.  
The Street children, Brazil. The "squigee" symbolizes the way some of the street children make money - by washing cars. Photo/Joy Freed

While many college students are moving away from the spring break tradition of recreational activities and opting instead to serve people in need, others yet are taking a whole semester/quarter, summer, or year off to do it. Generation Y, born between 1981-1990, view education as a life-long learning process and are in no rush to either start or finish college.

Global Justice Volunteers are provided mission opportunities through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to serve in places of need. For a period of 2 ˝ to 9 months these courageous and unselfish young adults leave the comfort of family and friends and travel to distant places to serve with, learn from, and live alongside others working through real Third-World justice issues.

As they respond to God's call, they share testimony of their spiritual journey and tell of the impact on their own lives while they work in regions of poverty and despair. Susan O'Neill (New York) and Angie Meyer (Texas), two GJVs serving in Brazil gave moving accounts of their witness in March newsletters to family and friends at home. Their stories are illustrated with photographs by teammate, Joy Freed (South Dakota). The three are assigned to Projeto Meninos e Meninas de Rua (The Street Children's Project), Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil.

Susan O'Neill shared:

So Many Lives, So Little Hope

...With local educators, we visited homes to remind families to register for government assistance. Very few people have phones in the favelas, so in order to get information to them, the educators must actually go to them ... Today we dropped off information to help get glasses for a little boy. I wish I could completely describe the favela for you. You climb up and up, over dirt paths, trickling streams, and occasional pavement. There are planks lined with old garbage bags and other debris to cross the sewage river. You pass plywood homes of various shapes and sizes–and little kids in dirty worn sandals feeding the chickens or running with friends. Favelas are so sad and so beautiful. How could you ever wish this, or make excuses for the existence of so many lives with so little hope? And yet, I really do believe that if you sat and watched a favela for a day, you could learn so much. I wish we could take the simplicity and remove the misery.

I almost cried the other day. Well, I did cry, behind my sunglasses and caught my tears before they spilled over. It wasn't in the street as I thought of my nephews while watching tiny, dirty boys beg for money and gulp down the water the educators offered. I wasn't while I was listening to Angie recount a visit with a woman whose whole body was covered with gigantic sores and her small daughter with the beginnings of the same, both unable to make the long trip to the doctor. It wasn't at one of the homes where flies swarmed around bags of trash and infants wore only a diaper or shirt, but never both– and children moved about with thick mucus collected under their noses and only other little children to care for them...

We were at a market talking to a group of boys who work there carrying bags and pointing to parking places in exchange for spare change. They were so little and I wished they were in school reading books or playing childhood games of imagination. I cried because the youngest was 17 and the oldest 26. I cried for these young adults among them, knowing that without an education this could be the only job many would ever have. It is a pretty sick feeling–especially as you get to know the young people as you move about the village ... when you know them, have talked to them, joked with them, and live with them. It is especially hard when you realize that the same fate awaits younger children who are missing school to work in the streets.

Today the Projeto is once again ringing with sounds of the bateria, samba drums clamoring for justice. We will have much to share with the church when we return home. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for us and the people of Brazil...

Angie Meyers shared:

Thanks Be to God

I have learned that Brazil [like our own country] has plenty to go around, but astounding unequal distribution. I have seen those who have everything they could ever need or want and have spent time with those who scrounge for their next meal. I had opportunity to spend the past two weeks working in the favelas. Along with fellow Global Justice Volunteers and educators, I visited families and assisted them in seeking out medical and educational needs.

One is faced with harsh realities in visiting the favelas . The shacks are built up the side of a mountain atop one another. The average number of people in these one room dwellings is twelve. Water from the bathroom flows throughout the village and is especially odorous when it rains (which happens every afternoon). The heavy rains sometimes become an avalanche and many houses are destroyed. I have seen many sick people who are unable to visit doctors. I saw a thirteen year old mother alone with four small children, a baby boy among them who the other children tossed about like a rag doll.

One day, as I struggled to process all that I witnessed, I met this woman. Her feet were blackened from dirt and her eyes were tired. I counted eight small children running in and out of her house–there could have been more. Upon conversing with her, I learned that her name was Gracious a Deus, which means thanks be to God over ten times. I did not understand just what she had to be thankful for. Could I be thankful in her situation? I truly do not know if I could. And so I am learning a lot about true thankfulness... I have come to believe that I met Jesus in this woman and see Him (or Her) often in the favelas. And even though I am not worthy to wash His/Her feet should they let me, they greet me with kisses and hospitality. So thanks be to God for bringing me here at this time and in this place. I have a lot to learn--and believe that I have some of the best teachers in the world among those I encounter. Thanks to each of you for your love and support and enabling me to be here. I could not be more grateful.

The church applauds the efforts of committed and visionary young people who are sacrificing personal pleasure for greater good--and celebrates anticipation of its largest class of GJV's (15 going to 6 countries) this summer.


April 16, 2001

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