Volunteering in São Luís – Brazil by Israel Gawiseb

Brazil, a country I have admired as a kid. Seeing the opportunity in AIESEC, I knew this was it. I had to go there. I decided this was the opportunity to see the country I’ve always wanted to see. I told myself that I wouldn’t have any expectations going there, that I have an open mind and embrace all the differences of a new continent. I went to Northern Brazil, in the state of Maranhão to a city called São Luís. I arrived there on the 29th of November 2013 and stayed there until the 17th of January the next year, a duration of seven weeks in total.

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Along with a partner from Mexico, we worked in a project called Mozaiko. The voluntary work involved working as “assistant” managers to the owner of an NGO that taught capoeira (a kind of martial arts dance developed by African slaves) to kids and adolescents.

My stay in São Luís was truly the best experience of my life, of which the most treasured is the host family I lived with. I tried not to be a typical tourist, only going to museums and restaurants and did the little things the inhabitants would do. Lunch in the streets, mini shows in town centres, beach football, and the likes. This experience developed me in more ways than one. The way I look at the world, and cultures different from mine…

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As soon as the airplane door was opened in São Paulo, my first shock was the humidity. I never understood when people said Namibia was a dry country until then. Coming from a somewhat conservative town (Khorixas), seeing Brazilians on Tv in little clothing, people would tend to call them naked. Having gone and lived there made me realise one important reason why, the weather. It was hot and too humid. My shirt would be wet before I reach the yard gate from sweat and humidity. This is an example of how we easily judge people when we don’t understand where they are coming from.

My biggest challenge was the language! I found it so hard to find someone that spoke English and that also made me appreciate the importance of communication, especially body language. Everyone would caution me not to make it too obvious I was a foreigner, but everyone that realised I was from Africa was so warm to me. Looking back on it, I don’t have an ounce of regret, considering how much that experience has changed me and made me grow. One of the greatest things about this experience is the people and global network that I got. Besides my (host) family, I have friends in Mexico, Peru, Colombia, US, Germany, Argentina, China, and many more from over 10 countries, and above all, this would be my greatest reason for recommending exchange.

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