Sun, Cement, and Surprises: The End of Week One in Chapadinha, Brazil

We arrived to Chapadinha Monday afternoon after a redeye bus from Sao Paulo. Dona Dada, who had been the host mother of Luiza five years ago, welcomed us with open arms and four dogs barking at her feet when we arrived by pickup truck with the local priest, Padre Kyti. The farmhouse that Dada lives in with her husband is unlike any building I’ve ever seen. Painted bright blue and made even brighter by the Brazilian sun, the house framed by glowing red, countryside soil, leafy banana trees, and an always clear sky. Mostly open air, one can do the dishes on the porch overlooking miles of the rolling Minas Gerais hills. Luiza and Juliana are living with Dada throughout our stay, while Paulinha and I are staying in Analia and Nilson’s spacious farmhouse about an hour’s walk from both the center and Dona Dada’s. Lots of frantic chickens and the dogs who playfully antagonize them make for perfect alarm clocks at sunrise and the TV is the perfect size for the four of us to crowd and watch Brazilian Confederation Cup games. I’m lucky to call this place home for these several weeks.

Construction

Nilson was pleased to show us the work they had begun at the community center the first day we arrived. He and other Chapadinha residents requested the skill of a mason for two weeks from the mayor, which was granted to our surprise. Construction so far has involved separating rocks from sand, mixing cement by hand in a hole, making scaffolding out of nearby trees, and plastering the newly raised walls. We help the workers in any way we can, but our cement-mixing stamina is nothing compared to any of theirs, including the much older men.

Community meeting

With Nilson, we organized a community meeting on Tuesday night. Padre Kyti led a thanksgiving service, and then we formally introduced ourselves. We then invited people to sign up to help with the construction and to prepare food for the construction workers. We were absolutely delighted when men quickly volunteered to work for various weekdays. A problem arose, however, when we asked for volunteer cooks. We had planned that we would buy ingredients (beans, rice, salt, chicken, oil, and vegetables) in town, and then have the cook prepare and deliver lunch. The women fiercely protested, however; they wanted to supply all the food themselves as their contribution. We hadn’t expected this type of resistance—this type of generosity. Although we insisted that we had the money and wanted the purchase of the food to be our responsibility, the women were adamant about their decision, and today all the construction volunteers, ourselves, and the mason enjoyed a hot meal of rice, beans, and chicken, with cafezinho (4 oz of the sweetest, best coffee you’ve ever had) and pão de queijo (chewy cheese bread) for a snack from Nilza, a woman who lives on a farm about 8km away from the center.

On the long walk home (5km, perhaps) from the meeting, our mother Analia told us that every family in the community had at least one member present at the meeting, and that even a woman and her daughter had travelled from a neighboring community. The woman, Analia said, depends on the doctor who comes to the community center each month, and wants to participate in the project in any way she can.

In the two work days since the meeting, we’ve had people show up by bike, horse, donkey, motorcycle, and foot to help us with the construction of the center or just to watch and play some soccer. A couple girls have come by every day after school, and have taught me Portuguese in exchange for some English lessons and hair braiding. Besides introductions and some basic phrases, I can now effectively say, “Need help with the cement?” “I like your horse/donkey,” “Good God, there are a lot of ticks here,” and “Come eat cheesey bread!” And yesterday, at Luiza’s expense, the girls got some good practice counting to forty by counting Luiza’s mosquito bites.

1 - day 2 at the construction

Beginning of day two

Long walks at the end of the day

Long walks home

5 - making cement

Mixing cement

4 - Community meeting

Refreshments after community meeting

1 - day 4

Day three progress

4 - lunch time

Lunch for the construction volunteers provided by Nilza

7 - day's team!

Day three’s volunteer construction crew

Carolyn Gilbert with Luiza Montesanti in Chapadinha, Minas Gerais, Brazil

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Getting Ready: one GPS and lots of flouride

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My name is Mika Hyden and I am a rising senior Geography major. This Saturday I will be leaving for Nepal to begin my project mapping food accessibility in Kathmandu and surrounding rural areas.

After studying abroad in India last fall, I had the unexpected opportunity to remain in the area and volunteer with a friend from my program and her research group led by Professor Sokal-Gutierrez physician and professor at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The research focuses on children’s oral hygiene and nutrition around the world, including projects in El Salvador, Ecuador, Vietnam, India and Nepal. Participating in the establishment of a new program in Mumbai, India, “India Smiles”, and the on-going project in Nepal, “Hasilo Nepal”, opened my eyes to the large percentage of children with decayed teeth due to an emerging culture of cheap western junk food. In both India and Nepal, I saw children with decayed teeth bombarded by endless advertisements for Coca-Cola and candy. Despite this urgent epidemic, oral health is not an immediate concern of many public health officials around the world.

Professor Sokal-Gutierrez’s research is conducted through oral health camps at various schools and health centers in each of the project areas. Mothers and children are invited to participate in the camps, which include: lessons on effective tooth brushing, free toothbrushes and toothpaste, fluoride treatments every 6 months, a dental exam, nutrition education and a record of each child’s height and weight (for further analysis regarding the relationship between oral hygiene and malnutrition). While she and a team of students return to each project site every year, local community health workers return every 6 months to re-apply fluoride and follow-up on education. I will be staying with and accompanying the Nepali community health workers on their 6 month visit to camp sites in Kathmandu and the rural hill region of Sindhupalchok.

As a Geography major, studying GIS (Geographic Information Systems), I was surprised and fascinated by the many shops selling candy and soda in Nepal, especially rural villages. They seemed disproportionate to the number of shops selling traditional foods. I plan to visit the many food shops in each project area and using a GPS (Global Positioning System), obtain their coordinates. Using ArcGIS software on the Macalester computers, I will create a map of the distribution of junk and traditional food stores when I return to campus in August. Coupled with the oral hygiene and nutrition data collected by Professor Sokal-Gutierrez and her team of students, we hope these maps will provide a visual display of the urgency of accessibility and inaccessibility to certain types of food and the resulting tooth decay and malnutrition. This information may be presented to various government and non-governmental organizations in the future, and will hopefully raise awareness and promote action against these epidemics.

I am extremely excited to return to Nepal and spend time with the community health workers, who’s care and dedication to their villages inspired me to pursue this project.

I’ll be posting from Nepal soon! -Mika

First Weeks in Belgrade

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Overlooking the Convergence of the Sava and Danube Rivers at Sunset

My name is Jon Dahl, and I am a rising senior at Mac. My project is just over a week underway, as I’ve started working with Dah Theatre here in Belgrade, Sebia. I’ve been participating in intensive workshops for six hours a day, 5 days a week.

My project involves working here with Dah, learning their vocabularies and exercises for theatre for three weeks, after which I return to Minnesota to work with several different groups of high school students, sharing what I have learned. Dah works with ideas of devised theatre, which is a form of theatre created by actors through improvisation. Dah has used devised theatre here in Serbia in many ways, but they have worked most notably  with theatre as a form of discussion surrounding the conflicts that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the last two decades, along with remembrance of those affected by the wars.

Our first week of training involved intense physical and vocal work, as two experienced actors from the company shared a variety of techniques that they have learned throughout their years as performers. Now the director and co-founder of the company, Dijana Milosevic, has begun work with us on ways to build performance, applying many of the principles we’ve learned in the last week. We have worked with a variety of approaches from dance, theatre, even martial arts, as the members of Dah have shared their basic principles for making performance both physically and mentally engaging.

Dah insists that actors and directors learn to notate everything quickly and efficiently, and I’ve been taking notes like crazy. The workshops have already been so enriching and have given me a thousand ideas of what to share with the students in Minnesota, but we are just getting to the heart of devising work. Naturally there’s just too much, but my notebook, my brain, and my body, are all full to the brim with ideas and possibilities. Dah’s approaches to theatre ask how theatre can be engaging for the performer and the audience, and Dah has worked to make theatre that speaks to and with the community in which it works. I can’t wait to bring some of these things back to Minnesota.

“I choose to believe in Utopia, not because I am naive, but because I have to believe.” -Dijana Milosevic, director and co-founder of Dah Teatar

Best from Belgrade,

Jon Dahl

Food not Bombs, Yoga for Children, and a small flood at La Colmena

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The workshops, activities, spaces, and meetings at La Colmena have continued and they keep growing like the mint plants on our windows!

The space has felt a lot more busy this week, more neighbors have stopped by to ask about what we do, and some have come with their children to some of the workshops. Most people show interest in the language exchanges, and in the yoga for children class. We don’t have internet at the house, so it is not that easy to catch up with the blogging, which is just one small part of all the online activity we are also doing to coordinate and advertise our spaces and events.

We are having a Colmena meeting every sunday to talk about new proposals (for workshops, events, ways of living together, etc.) and about other things like “how did we get here?” “how do we define ourselves as a collective?” and they have often been a little long but, at least for me, very nurturing. To one of these meetings came Pako, who does Food not Bombs events in D.F. He collects food that gets thrown away at local markets because is a little too ripe, or unpopular, or weirdly shaped, then makes a big, vegan, delicious meal, and takes it to a group that might need it. Last week, for example, he brought food to “nuestras hijas de regreso a casa,” an organization of family and friends of the victims of feminicides in Juárez, who were here in D.F. on a protest. The problem is that often he doesn’t have a kitchen to cook those meals, but we do! That’s how we decided that we should collaborate. He can teach us how to collect the stuff from the market, and we can help him cook in our kitchen.

This is the rainy season and so we have had rain almost every night. I like the rain because is never too cold, and because that means we get water on our super water collection system and our plants, but the other day we got so much rain that the whole backyard flooded! Luckily though the water didn’t go into the house, and our landlord was really nice and took care of that soon enough. Cleaning and drying the backyard became also a bonding experience for all the colmeneros, except for me, cause I was sick that day and couldn’t stay for the after party.

Next weekend is gay pride in D.F. and I really wanted to organize an event to reflect on some issues that don’t get much attention during this celebration. I wanted to talk about the queer community and the things there are to aspire to beyond marriage equality or our ability to identify ourselves in ads, and about the concept of queerness itself, which is still pretty new here in Mexico. So I suggested to have a fundraising event at La Colmena where we could have fun and celebrate but also offer a different outlook to this celebration, a space in which to explore gender, sexual identity, and so on. People here got excited about it and so it is happening this friday! We are having a “Queermese” which is a word play on Kermese, a type of fundraising party elementary schools make with games, a marriage booth, food, etc.

Gotta run for the language exchange!

Mariana

Day 1- After a 16-hour busride from Sao Paulo

Day 1- After a 16-hour busride from Sao Paulo to Montes Claros and then a ride with Padre Kyiti to Chapadinha, we visited the community center. Nilson, a local leader and partner of ours, had already been working all day on the construction of the addition, the bathrooms and doctors office. The men were excited to show us what they had already done and for us to meet the head mason, a man who they requested from the mayor and received for free. Chapadinha residents visited us at the center by foot, horse, and motorcycle throughout the afternoon. Juliana, a woman who will cook for the construction workers said hello with her daughter. Nilson’s 80 year old father and his 13 year old niece helped out at the site too– moving bricks!

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Adventures to libraries, lakes, and beyond!: Casa Week 3

I can’t believe how the past three weeks have flown by; this project has been such a whirlwind! I want to send out a huge thank you to Yolanda, a fellow Mac student, who came to help out this week. With the large number of kids right now in the shelter, her help has been amazing and the kids absolutely adore her.

On Monday we started the week off with a long scrapbook session where the kids both pasted in the new photos from the past week and worked on resilience-based activity pages focusing on their sibling relationships and families. The books are looking pretty cute! We then moved on to an art project in preparation for the day’s excursion to the library: decorating canvas book bags. With our bags in tow, a group of eight and myself trekked over to the closest library to read, play with puzzles, and check out the computers. Even though it was a slightly longer walk than expected, we refueled with ice cream and a play break at a park on the way home.

Another highlight of the week was our trip to Phalen Beach, one of Minnesota’s many lakes. The seven kids floated around the swimming area with their life jackets and played in the sand for a few hours and the moms had some very well deserved time to relax on the beach.

The favorite on-site activity this week was by far the Casa Olympics- a day of relay style games in the backyard. The morning started off with the kids running outside to the sound of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to find out which team they were on based on the color candy filled water bottles labeled with their names on the picnic table. From there, everyone decorated their team t-shirts and sported ninja style headbands, preparing for the competitions. With a bag filled with prizes and treats, motivation ran high! Even though the two teams eventually morphed into one big group and we decided to get rid of the point aspect, the kids had a blast and a healthy dose of teamwork, competition, and sportsmanship. The afternoon ended with a lunch break and water games to cool off.

On Friday, we had the pleasure of welcoming Chef Josemy back to the Refugio for an afternoon of pizza making.  A group of six kids and one mom crowded around the workstation while Josemy showed everyone how to knead and roll out the dough. The kids then had the chance to make their own individual pizzas topped with mozzarella cheese and sausage. Afterwards, Josemy made a state of the art pizza for the mothers and Casa advocates loaded with chicken sausage, sautéed bell peppers, basil, and cheese. Everyone was very satisfied after eating!

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Check back for our last week’s report!

Sofia Halperin-Goldstein

Aquariums, Play Therapy, and Farms, Oh My! : Casa Week 3

Today marks the halfway point of my Live It! summer program at Casa and we have had an exciting week. The garden is growing bigger and the kids scrapbooks are filling up with photos from the past two weeks and resilience-based activity pages.

example resilience-based activity pages

example resilience-based activity pages

 

The two excursions this week have especially been a hit. On Tuesday, a group of three moms, seven kids, and myself trekked over to the aquarium at the Mall of America. Some of the sea creatures were just out of this world and both the moms and the kids were impressed by the different exhibits. On Friday, at the request of the group, we went to a small water park next to the Como Zoo. We all swam and splashed around for three hours straight!

Another great aspect of the week was the visit of Diana, a play therapist that works at Centro Chicano Cultural in Minneapolis. Diana led a session of activities with the kids and their mothers that focused on managing and understanding emotions. She began with a discussion about feelings, using pictures to talk about where feelings come from and which ones we like to have and those we don’t. Next, Diana included the group in an exercise to practice deep breathing using bubbles. The kids were challenged to blow a single bubble with one breath in order to master taking slow breaths, a useful strategy to calm down when they are feeling upset or angry. Finally, using guided imagery, Diana presented another strategy that the kids can use to manage their emotions—visualizing oneself as a cloud that takes the form of various shapes. She finished this section off by handing around a whipped cream bottle for the kids to create their own cloud. At the end, the kids created a group cloud by mixing all of the whipped cream together.  The mothers and I were all very grateful for Diana’s visit—her type of work and play therapy in general is so helpful for kids in situations of trauma and family instability.

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On the remaining days, the kids and I had lots of fun doing activities on-site. In addition to a lot of swinging and red light-green light, the kids participated in a week of farm-themed projects. We made sheep out of constructions paper and cotton balls and very funky pig masks, created individual farm dioramas, and still have yet to finish interviewing their mothers about the farms back home in Mexico and Cameroon, respectively. I would have to say that the group’s favorite activity was the egg drop challenge in which they were given a bag of materials (cotton balls, egg cartons, paper scraps, string, etc.) to invent a contraption to protect an egg that would be dropped from the second story deck. The kids got very creative and we gave it two shots. Unfortunately, the egg broke both times. We have not given up though and definitely will try again soon!

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I have so enjoyed the past two weeks and am excited to finish off the program. In addition to adjusting to many changes in the activity schedule and working with a larger group of kids than anticipated, I am hoping to further modify the plans based what I have seen to work/not work thus far. Most importantly, it quickly became very clear that this group of kids is very high energy and very physical, so although they enjoy art projects and working on the scrapbooks, they move through them quickly and prefer to be up and moving about. Therefore, I hope to improve the balance between active and quiet activities as well as to provide options of both while we are on site at the Refugio. Similarly, I have noticed some areas in which the scrapbook element of the program can be improved—providing the resilience activity pages in both Spanish and English because some of the native Spanish speakers only write in English, working on the activity pages one-on-one with each child, and reflecting on the activities and excursions via discussion or physical activities rather than through writing. Finally, I have adjusted the onsite activities to just cater to the kids, because although the mothers enjoy participating, they are most grateful to have some time to themselves. I am so grateful for the amount of enthusiasm the mothers have for the excursions/activities and the trust they have in Casa and myself to work with their children.