Friday, May 30, 2008

From Fortaleza to Itapiuna and Back

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

We met bright and early, at 7:45 a.m. feeling refreshed and more like ourselves.

After breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we boarded the bus for the more than two-hour ride to the Itapiuna community, in the western portion of the state of Ceará. There we would visit a second project, Projeto Centro de Apoilo á Criança.

Our tour guide, Gleisa Ferreira ― also affectionately called “Gleisa from Fortaleza” ― welcomed us to our second day. She introduced a CCF Fortaleza staff member who offered a stirring prayer of thanksgiving to begin the day… something they often do.

Gleisa continued, explaining the history, geography and demography of Brazil ― Ceará in particular. Ceará, located in the northeastern corner of Brazil has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Fortaleza, its capital, is known for many of them.

This vast country is divided into five regions. Our 12-day Study Tour will cover four of Brazil’s 26 states. We’ll visit two in the Northeast: Ceará and Bahia; and two in the Southeast: Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro.

We drove from Fortaleza to historic Redenção City, where we stopped briefly to take photographs. Redenção, which means redemption or freedom, was the first city in Brazil to abolish slavery. It freed its African slaves in 1883, five years before the rest of the country.

Arriving at the program around 10:15 a.m., we were welcomed by children with the most wide-eyed little faces, each smiling bashfully.

The CCF Fortaleza staff escorted us to an area to refresh ourselves with a mid-morning snack of fruits, juices and a variety of sweet breads. (We seemed to eat every two hours, but I didn’t hear anybody complaining.) Then we again separated into three groups and went on a tour of the community center.

Our group’s first stop was a pediatric health care office. The practitioner explained how she cares for young children by regularly assessing their nutrition, growth, and development. Children are weighed each month until age 5.

Then we moved on to the prenatal care room. There, the health care providers help expectant mothers prepare for the arrival of their new babies. CCF provides maternity education and prenatal care to the mothers in the community. And breastfeeding is strongly encouraged.

Toward the end of the tour, we went outside to take a look at the lush medicinal herb garden. They plant and tend this garden to harvest plants to sell at the community market for the treatment of a variety of illnesses and ailments.

We were beckoned back inside because a group of young children was about to perform. We lined the walls of one room as we stood to watch. Creatively dressed as flowers, cows, bunnies and butterflies, the children in their painted faces danced around, proudly waving the Brazilian flag.

We broke for lunch, choosing from an appetizing spread of chicken, dried beef, fresh fruits, salads, rice and beans, corn, and juices. Guaraná, a popular soda made from the guaraná berries of the Amazon, was also provided.

After lunch, several elementary children presented a skit. Then teens performed a fast-paced, traditional salsa-styled couple’s dance, called forró.

When it was over, we all applauded heartily. Then suddenly the teens started toward us― hands extended, faces grinning. My soon-to-be dance partner wouldn’t take no for an answer. And before I knew it, I was on my feet, working hard to follow him, to catch my breath, and to maintain my dignity. This much-needed workout turned out to be a lot of fun.

Time was slipping away, so we thanked everyone and said our goodbyes.

To get to the next town, we rode a truck typically used to transport people, pigs and produce. We warily perched upon the narrow benches and held on for the gusty ride. About 10 minutes down the road, we met the bus for our trip back to the hotel.

We arrived a little before 7 p.m. After dinner, some of us shopped for local bargains across the street from the hotel, just off the beach on the boardwalk.

At night the boardwalk becomes the Night Crafts Market. Street vendors’ booths crammed the sidewalks, displaying their jewelry, leather goods, clothing, art, and other merchandise. There are also food vendors, mimes and musicians.

Exhausted from our shopping, we returned to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

No comments: