Friday, December 11, 2015

During this Advent time, we would like to thank our sponsors who made this Brazil Pilgrimage possible (The image below is high-resolution, so hopefully you can download and/or zoom-in to read the thank you notes):

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Pilgrimage Reflection: The Divide

The Divide:

“There’s no me and no you, it’s just us.”
 Brother Ali - Us

Due to our extensive layover in Atlanta, Georgia, on our way to Brazil, we took a train into the city. The penury that seemed to permeate from the broken down buildings spoke to me. It made something I knew even clearer, and painfully unavoidable. There is poverty in the United States, too.

While in Atlanta, we visited the Coca Cola Museum because we had so much time. While there, I struggled with the idea that superfluous tours and museums exist while places like the outskirts of Atlanta exist, too. How can they both be so real? And although I don’t deny the fun that can be had in museums and aquariums, or the benefit of having fun with people you love, there is a vast divide between the two worlds.

Metro ride
to the city
Atlanta, Georgia
steel doors, impassive windows
World of Coca Cola
$25.95 + tax
tickets to the Georgia Aquarium
get your own glass bottle of Coke, too!
buildings with scattered broken glass
layers of graffiti,
barbed wire
tumbling plastic bags.
visit the sharks, jellies, and fishes
A dark woman,
walking down the center of a crumbling, austere road
the sun’s heavy haze beating down
A woman
on stage, thick velvety curtains rippling
the heavily choreographed lighting
as she speaks to a crowded auditorium...
“Enjoy the show!”
The dark woman
Walking only where it is deserted and desolate,
Passing old prison walls
Barricaded and decaying.

These questions forced me to reconsider my motives for going to Brazil. Was I going with a sense of superiority over the poor, heightening the current divide between people in our world? Was I going for the glorious side of things, to feel good about myself and then move on? Why are mission trips so often in different countries, far away? Why not organize a trip somewhere in the US? Is it harder to see so close to home? Is it easier to visit, think highly of ourselves for helping, for sacrificing ourselves for the poor, to feel like heroes, and never look back?

If I’ve learned anything from my experience in Brazil, it is that a pilgrimage is not meant to be a glamorous vacation, nor simply an excuse to travel to interesting or exotic places. There is poverty and need close to home. There are lives of sorrow and loss less than two days of air travel away. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the location of the pilgrimage doesn’t matter, as there is need in every corner of the world. What matters is that there are not feelings of superiority over the poor. During our trip we faced many challenges that helped us to avoid falling into that huge divide. We were forced to be needy, to think about our motives and forced to reconsider our lives and the people that we met. We had travel delays, no clothing or supplies but what we had in our carry-on bags for five whole days. All of this broke down the walls between us (people of privilege) and the people we thought needed our help.

            In the same way, the mindset that people experience challenges and hardships due to God’s anger or due to bad behavior also heightens the divide. What happens in our world isn’t all about good and bad and the consequences. We all start with equal access to God’s wealth and life, the things that matter. The separation and perceived superiority of those with material riches over the less fortunate (whether conscious or subconscious) must be shattered.

A Seed Sown:

            Upon our arrival to Nova Vicosa, we read the day’s Gospel to the houses that we visited with food baskets. On Thursday, the reading told us that although we have eyes, we do not often see the truth. Although we have ears we do not always listen. Along with this, we do not use our hearts to understand and to love fully. From this, I took the idea that on our journey and on other pilgrimages, it is important to fully use our eyes and ears to learn what God wants us to learn from our experiences. We must be open to these experiences and to God’s ways. We must not live blindly, but see God where he is and learn from him. It was a good starting message for the pilgrimage. 

            On Friday, the Gospel spoke about the parable of the seeds. The seed sown on the path hears the words of God without understanding and nothing is born of what he heard.  The seed on rocky ground hears the word and even receives it with joy, yet his passion is not long lived, he is uprooted when persecuted or troubled by the world. The third seed is sown among thorns, worldly anxieties and riches lure him away from the word of God. Finally, there is a seed in rich soil; he hears the word, understands it, and bears much fruit.

Chris Dawson, our trip leader, pointed out that, as people, we fluctuate between these stages throughout our lives. We are all of these seeds at some point. In order to commit to such a journey, we were the fruit bearing seed. More fruit will come if we return home, share our journey, learn from it, and make changes to our lives. If we let our journey be forgotten, stolen by the world, or if we don’t pay attention and try to understand it, it will have been wasted, the seed washed away. We have the capacity to forget, for our knowledge to be ripped away by the temptations and worries of the world, for what we have learned and seen to fade away. It is scary that we can do that. It is scary that we can move on from the wonders and miracles we discover about God.


            While in Nova Vicosa, I came upon two questions: Why is there so much poverty? What is being done to change it on a local level? Our hostess made clear that due to corruption in the local government, the poverty continues despite a few people, including her, that make food baskets every month or so. There is only so much that one civilian can do. Every four years there are elections for mayor. The politicians bribe the poor people for their votes with a little bit of money, and because the uneducated poor need the money, they are forced to accept the bribes. The politicians build things or provide some service to the poor during the election, but it is all a show for more votes. As soon as the elections are over, all the money from the Federal Government goes to wealthy neighborhoods, a sad and vicious cycle.

            Another story of disregard for those in poverty by those in institutional power came from the rural communities we visited on Sunday. A group of families used to make charcoal from wood; they sold it. However, the city said that they could not sell the charcoal any longer. According to our hostess, their livelihood was taken away for no reason at all.

On Poverty:

“I don’t wanna stand for justice if I’m not among the poor.”
Matt Maher - Heaven Help Me

Even in Nova Vicosa there is a heavy contrast between the rich and poor, evident through summer tourism and by the large mansions stationed above the beaches while many are still in need of basic necessities, like food. Here too, there is a wide gap between the two groups of people, made clear by the way the poor are treated by the rich politicians.

The meager bribes for votes and frivolous attempts at aiding the poor do nothing to close the divide. If one has the means to help others, taking advantage of them or giving a little money isn’t acceptable. One must fully invest with their roots like the fruit bearing plant from Friday’s Gospel. It is a challenge, but one must go to those in need, even live like them so as to understand and also to give love and to share faith. This investment to bring together people, as a community united under God, is why we had to go to Brazil, why we actually went to the rural homes instead of simply sending money from the safety of VT and of our privileged lives. We went to help them as much as to receive a new way of seeing the world and of seeing God in the world. To learn that in the Kingdom of God, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

By experiencing the poverty and need of others, I have been considering what I previously thought of poverty versus what I saw. I thought of the type of people that can be seen at Soup Kitchens in the US, those in need of food aid. The people there range from well-dressed with cell phones to people who seem to only own what they are carrying. Who are we, really, to judge by appearance? In Brazil, too, there seemed to be a range of poverty. There were people with old TV’s, phones, refrigerators, and electricity; there were large families with the bare minimum, living in windowless shacks. But what do we expect to see when we think of poverty? For some reason, having electricity, running water, or even simply having the means of keeping ones food cold is thought of as privilege, but those things are necessary for survival. I feel that at first glance it is easy to pass those people by with claims that they are living fine, but compared to our homes, every family we went too needed our help, having a refrigerator does not mean they are living a life of privilege.

Environmental Concerns:

“We are a part of all there is and ever is to be.”
Matthew Witten - Connections

            I recently discovered a passion for environmental issues and how they affect both minority groups and those in poverty. I learned about a phenomenon where uneducated poor people, often oppressed and disrespected due to race, are the ones who are forced to live near toxic industries or areas that affect their health. From what I saw during the trip to Brazil I have learned more about how our actions toward those with limited power and money affect how their homes end up in environmentally unsafe areas. People that are poor, uneducated, unaided by the government, and often minorities, are left to deal with their own trash and refuse in addition to often being left with waste from near-by cities and polluting industries. They are given no money or aid and so the resulting consequences are waterborne diseases, mosquitoes, air pollution from burning trash, and large garbage dumps. These problems seem to stem from how the people are treated in the first place.

From this realization, if there is one thing you take away, let it be this. Everything in our world is interconnected. All of the problems that we face relate to each other, and you cannot solve one without considering the others. The pope mentioned this in his encyclical. Vermont Catholic Magazine paraphrased, “The encyclical presents the vision of an ‘integral ecology’ that highlights not only the interconnectedness of all created life, but recognizes how political, economic, social and religious values and decisions are interrelated and impact the way people live with one another on the planet and use its resources.”

Scientists can’t simply focus on climate change and on how we treat the earth and cause pollution separately from those who concern themselves with social justice. One issue cannot be address and another forsaken. And though now we are faced with so many complicated and seemingly separate issues, they must be addressed together, as the connected issues they are, issues that stem from a lack of respect for our earth and its people.

“Come dance with me
Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange.”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Man on Fire

Junior Essex High School 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tuesday - July 28

Saying good bye on Tuesday morning was very hard. We played one last round of Ninja. We packed the car. We embraced each other one last time and waved good bye for the last time as we drove away. 

I want to thank you all for supporting our journey to Brazil. I cannot tell you how valuable and special an experience it was for both us and the Brazilians that we met. The clothing and food that we were able to give made and will make a difference for so many families in need. The time that we were given to make friends will not be forgotten. 

Stay tuned for reflections and closing ideas about our pilgrimage. As with anything, it takes a while to process something like this, but I hope to share some of what I have learned and gained from this journey, and the rest of the group has been encouraged to do the same. 

Thank you once again,
Audrey Dawson

Monday - July 27

On Monday morning we took a boat to an island with an beach, Barra Velha. 

This visit was a nice way to wrap up the trip and get some more time in with our new friends. We spent the morning there. In the afternoon, we delivered some fabrics that had been donated to a church run organization, The Mother's Club. They teach mothers and children to sew and to make things, which can then be sold to help the families. They told us that over 800 families use their services!

Beautiful dish cloths spread out, for sale

A fabric covered chair...

Painted bottles, fabric covered milk containers, painted roof shingles...

We all bought up some of the beautiful handmade items to bring back home.

The night was cultural night at one of the smaller churches. 

Capoeira Dance

We got to see a local group preform, Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music, and dance.

We had a dance that night, too, and snacks, and we both shared music and dances from our cultures. However, finally, at 10:40, we were forced to say good-bye to everyone, most of whom would not be able to say a final good-bye in the morning. 

Sunday - July 26

We left by 10 AM on Sunday morning to visit three rural communities about 40 minutes from Nova Vicosa. We had mini prayer services in each of the churches there. 

One of the families that received a food box.
Jenna with children at community #1

Audrey with family at community #2.
Photo credit: Jenna

A family in the second community fed us all lunch, as well as cake and coffee. While we were walking the streets, visiting the needy families, we also got to try some popsicles. They were in cylindrical plastic bags, with flavors from strawberry and chocolate, to mango and grape.

Last of all, we visited the community that we spent so much time in two years ago. Their church had been renovated a little bit. Take a look below.

Their church two years ago.

Their church now - 2015

We gave the children our gifts and candy. We also gave the families some pictures from the last time that we were there of the children. It was cool to see the same kids, and how they had changed. The mothers and grandmother really enjoyed finding their kids in the photos. 

Families look at photos from two years before.
Photo credit - Jenna

Last of all, we made a stop at a small shanty town. The people there used to make charcoal from wood, and to sell it, but they live in poverty now because the city said that they couldn't do that anymore. Their livelihood was taken away.

That evening we went to Sunday mass at the larger church in downtown Nova Visoca. The church was packed, so that people we standing in the back and in the courtyard for lack of seating inside. 

~Audrey Dawson

Saturday - July 25

The last few days went by so quickly, but we are still going to tell you about them, so stay tuned!

Our bags finally arrived Friday night!!!! So, on Saturday morning we returned to the homes we had visited on Thursday/Friday to give candy and gifts to the children and families. We gave out another food box while we were out, and it turned out that the family was connected to another needy family that we had helped earlier, so it worked out well. The children really loved the flags, toy cars, bracelets, candy, and leis.

That afternoon we met up with our Brazilian friends and walked to the beach. We swam, ate popsicles (banana, avocado, corn, and tapioca flavored...) and eventually we played soccer.
Playing soccer on the beach...

 After mass, there was another dance. Aside from dancing with our new friends, we danced with some of the little girls and boys. It was a beautifully freeing experience to just be together and dance with the entire church community. It is something that we don't have in Vermont. It seems that when mass ends, it is easy to just rush home, but the community dances that we went to brought the community together and were eye-opening to us. Anna Burke pointed out that it is interesting to visit another culture, and to see how they approach their religion differently from the way we approach it, even though we have the same faith. It is good to experience different cultures so that we can make changes in our own lives. We can attempt to bring the passion, love, and community that we experienced in the Brazilian church to our parishes in Vermont.

Afterward the dance, we went to get Acai. It is similar to ice cream, but it is made with the Acai berry. In addition, sauces (like chocolate, strawberry, and honey) , fruits, and crunchy foods (such as granola, corn flakes, and nuts) are put on top. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Friday - July 24

The first house of the day... it was a little boy's birthday.

We spent most of the day visiting more poor homes with our food bag donations, saying prayers, and singing. We went to the community near the St. Ann Church and another community near their school. A notable moment was went we went to an old man's house and prayed with him. However, he insisted that there was a family down the road that needed the food more than him and did not accept it. 

The man who gave his food up for another family.

After a lunch break we walked around delivering food until about 5 PM. 

We returned for mass at St. Ann's, which was just a square. sand-filled courtyard and 3 tents. After mass a live group began playing music and our Brazilian friends tried to teach us some dances. We danced until about 9 PM. When we left, most of the people that were still there followed us out, the majority of which hadn't been dancing, but watch us. It turns out that we were the life of the party. I'm sure they were all amused by our struggles with their dances.