Rob’s latest blog sees him visit a project to assist people who are homeless. He lends a hand but finds that he gets more than he gives…
“7th November 2012
It´s a hot early November morning in Sao Paulo, the temperature is a sticky 28 degrees centigrade, and the Christmas trees are already out in force. On the way to Boracéa we drive past `Christmas Toyland´ where an inflatable Santa Claus waves at us from the shop window. I have never felt less festive.
Boracéa is run by APOIO, one of CAFODs main partners in Brazil and is a Welcome Centre. At first we make the mistake of calling it a Homeless Shelter but are quickly corrected. 1000 people a day use Boracéa. It provides accommodation for hundreds of homeless people, but it also has a day centre, library, community garden, laundry, arts room and an industrial size kitchen offering 2000 meals a day. In one week alone they use 1000 kilos of rice per week. And here people, all people, are made welcome.
In the art room paintings of Brazilian rural landscapes, in warm yellows and lush greens cover every wall. At one table a man is making Christmas decorations to sell. I am invited to sit down and help him cut a Christmas tree out of polystyrene and paint it.
Francisco marks the sheets carefully with a ruler and a felt tip pen. Then he shows me how to cut out two shapes using a Stanley knife and then slide them together to make a tree. He indicates that I should imitate what he has done. I am a 47 year old man with a post graduate degree (and an A level in Art grade C). How hard could it be?
Very hard. Even with his gentle but firm intervention, twice, my tree would have been the one still left in the shop on Boxing Day. When it is finished we look at it, leaning at a sorry angle. Francisco smiles kindly at me then leaves me alone with my green paint and wounded pride.
Homelessness is more on our radar at Christmas. As a society we think it wrong that people should spend Christmas Day on their own. A growing number of people volunteer to spend their holidays at soup kitchens and shelters, helping others during this time of peace and joy to the world. This morning I learned that sometimes when we think we are giving, we are actually the ones receiving. I went to Boracéa to see how homeless people are given shelter. What I actually received was a lesson in how to welcome a stranger and how as visitors from England, we can be taught by people ´less fortunate´ than ourselves.
A few minutes later Francisco comes back with a plastic bag. He wraps part of it round his foot and begins to stretch it into long, thin strips like string. I watch for 5 minutes as twists the plastic this way and that until a lattice pattern begins to emerge. Then he shows me what the finished product will look like and I can scarcely believe it. Within days a few plastic bags will be transformed into a beautiful hammock which APOIO can sell to raise money for Boracéa. A homeless man, making a bed for someone else out of recycled plastic bags; much better than any present you could buy in ´Christmas Toyland´.”
Rob is back in the UK, reflecting on his trip and on all that he witnessed. We hope to set up some presentations and we’ll let you know when these are in place.