Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chegamos! (We’ve Arrived!)

By Renée Ferguson, Senior Direct Mail Associate for Christian Children’s Fund

After a long, full night of travel, the Study Tour members stepped off of the Airbus at 7:45 this morning. Groggy and blurry-eyed, but full of quiet anticipation, we had arrived at Pinto Martins International Airport in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil.

Just outside the airport we were welcomed by the pleasant, broad smiles of the CCF Brazil staff and our tour guide.

We boarded a van and rode to what would be our home for the next few days -- the beautiful Seara Hotel which is situated just across the street from the beach. The beach was lined by an inviting boardwalk brimming with walkers and bikers out for their morning fitness routines.

We checked in at about 8:30 a.m., unpacked, freshened up and convened two hours later for a quick orientation and an opportunity for official introductions. (Who needs a nap anyway?)

A little later, we moved on to lunch at Coco Bambu Restaurant, considered to be one of the best churrascaria restaurants in northeast Brazil. These traditional barbecue restaurants serve succulent fire-roasted meats cooked over charcoal. And the waiters deliver them to you in rapid fire succession, unless you have your special card turned over to the red side to indicate that you do not want any more. The delicious food was only surpassed by the outstanding service, pleasant camaraderie and rustic atmosphere.

After lunch we were on our way to the Jurema community and to Projeto Guadalajara. The project lies in the urban Caucaia Municipality, 15 miles outside Fortaleza.

The humble homes are made of brick and pressed clay with a tile floor. They generally consist of only three very small rooms with little or no furniture. The bedrooms contain hammocks for sleeping because they are much less expensive to purchase and maintain than beds are. No need for mattresses and linens. Even infants sleep in the hammocks.

The CCF Fortaleza staff escorted us to the facility where the children greeted us warmly. We separated into three groups with different staff and guides to accompany us on a tour of the facility. Sérgio, our guide, and our translator, David escorted my group.

We witnessed the evidence of CCF’s important work as we visited classrooms, dentist, doctor and nutritionist offices. Teachers in the classrooms talked about the studies and activities the children complete each day. In the arts and crafts classroom, the children presented each of us with gifts of pictures they had drawn or painted. In the computer lab, teenagers proudly demonstrated their use of computers and the Internet.

We stopped by medical offices where staff members explained the kinds of services provided: dental care, preventive health care and nutritional education and assessments they provide to the children, mothers and the community at large. Sérgio also took us by the Cantinho da Correspondência to see where the children receive help in writing letters to their sponsors.

As a touching finale to our day, the children presented us with a wonderful musical performance. The teenagers dressed in smart-looking matching green outfits and played their instruments. The young children proudly sang a sweet little song with all their hearts. And a girls’ group danced in their colorful costumes. We watched attentively like proud parents at a school function: snapping photos, applauding and cheering.

The "We Are the World" song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, was the final selection performed by the older children… in English. That’s when the tears really started flowing. At least they did for me. I really appreciated the weeks and weeks of rehearsal they had endured to perform such an appropriate song ― in English ― just for us.

Before leaving, we enjoyed a snack of fresh fruit and juices including freshly prepared guava juice. Then we extended our heartfelt words of thanks and said our good byes. Obrigado! Boa tarde. Tchau.

We enjoyed a little time relaxing before dinner at the Baltazar Restaurant at the Dragão do Mar Cultural Center where we dined outside on Brazilian pizza. We were serenaded by a live vocalist and watched a group of local art students create illustrations of models. Then we capped dinner off with a dish of velvety ice cream sold at a corner ice cream shop nearby.

Our first full day in Brazil was incredibly meaningful. It was a wonderful introduction to the beauty of Fortaleza. But more importantly we had an opportunity to see the children and witness CCF at work in a program area.

Tonight’s sleep will be unusually welcome.

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