One of the courses I am taking at the IES Abroad Center here is called Service Learning. Through this class, we have a once-a-week academic seminar, and the required opportunity to volunteer with a local organization. I was so excited for this opportunity to get out into the city of Rio and be able to form relationships with local people.
After only one week of volunteering, it’s crazy to think about how many benefits I already have seen in my life here.
Disclaimer: when I was originally assigned this placement, it was not my ideal choice, so I was not looking forward to it. I was scheduled to work in the afternoons, between my morning class and evening class. It takes over an hour to commute from my school to the location in each direction, which only leaves about 90 minutes of volunteering per day. I was disappointed in the high ratio of travel:work time, not to mention the costs of bus fares. But it was my only option, so I gave it a chance.
The place where I volunteer is a daycare program organized in a church and community center. There are currently about 80 children in the program, all between the ages of 2 and 5. The program was founded for children of single mothers and/or low-income families who need a safe place for their children to stay while they work during the days. The children are divided into 4 classes, and I work with the same 1 classroom every time I am there.
Within 10 seconds of arriving on my first day, I was greeted with 20 little hugs around my knees and smiles and little Portuguese greetings. I immediately forgot any disappointment with scheduling or frustration with public transportation: I decided in that moment that it was worth it.
I have a specific purpose and motivation to speak more Portuguese: I want to make the most of my time there and learn about their lives. If I’m the slightest bit overwhelmed, stressed, or exhausted, being surrounded by those kids is the best treatment for cheering me up. Even on my happiest days in Rio, the kids always find a way to make me even happier during my time there. I always leave with a smile on my face and a feeling of belonging.
Rio is full of tourists and vacation-like options for activities. My first month here was extremely fun and relaxing, filled mostly with beaches, dance clubs, biking to parks, and visiting scenic tourist locations. Now, though, it feels indescribably good to be in a real routine and get a better taste of the daily life of Cariocas (native residents of Rio).
I look forward to many more days of playing with the kids outside, reading them books, teaching them English, and singing songs with them on my guitar. This volunteering opportunity seems too wonderful to be true. Besides the personal delight I find in working with kids and speaking with the adult teachers there, I feel like this entire Service Learning experience will help to shape my time in Rio. I hope to share more great stories about this place in the future!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am a junior studying sociology, public health, mathematics, and leadership at the University of Minnesota. I'm passionate about music and express that passion through an all-female a cappella choir on campus. In my free time, I enjoy playing classical guitar, percussion, piano, and writing music. During every summer, I work at a summer camp in northern North Dakota; I love outdoor adventures and working with kids.</span></p>