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BRAZIL | Saturday, 14 February 2009 | Views [3208] | Comments [1]

Casa Do Caminho

Casa Do Caminho

It took me under $5 Reais and about an hour to reach Xerem from Rio De Janeiro. I called Casa Do Caminho from the small town, and as I waited for Lola (one of Casa's volunteers) to come and meet me, I watched as donkeys pulled carts through the traffic filled streets.

After meeting with Lola (who is 24 years old and from Mexico) we walked to the office, which is also called Heppenheim (a German funded orphanage for boys between the ages of 12 and 18). Here, I also met a few other volunteers including Bart, a man from Holland who manages Casa Do Caminho. I also met a group of youthful females, Belem, Sandra, and Marta, who took me around on the back of Toyota truck to pick up food donations from around the town including bread and vegetables, which were then delivered to each of the orphanages. I learnt alot about Casa just from talking to the girls over the duration of the afternoon. Lola, who has been volunteering just about every spring break with projects in Mexico and arrived in Casa for four months ago, told me that she was scared when she first came. Although she was extremely happy, it was difficult for her to communicate in Portuguese, so it was quite a challenge primarily. My first impression of her was that she involves herself fully within all sections of the organisation and puts in 100% of her energy... she also does it with a great big smile! Sandra is from Chile, and has been volunteering at Casa for nearly 6 months, and is about to leave. She drove the truck around and was constantly working... I didn't see her rest for even a moment until much later in the night. Belem, a 28 year old Spanish woman, who was involved in television in her previous job, has been volunteering at Casa for two and a half months, mainly working in the girls home. She mentioned that she finds it very different to live here, and that she has learnt alot about everything.

'It is alot of information at first,' says Belem, 'but after a couple of months, you really start to enjoy the job and become very grateful.'

As Belem works in the 12-18 year old girls home (Casa Cam), she has found a couple of things quite difficult to deal with, including the fact that she must stand by and watch old Brazillian men look at the teenage girls who she cares for. She also must deal with this cultural difference herself, as many men will try to grope her in the streets. Another thing she warned me of, was how many of the children from Casa will try to take advantage of new volunteers by acting very sweetly and trying to get things given to them like money and clothes. But after a while of volunteering, you really get to see the more of the children's personallities. As she lives within the girls home, she likes to get out of Xerem for her one or two days off per week, otherwise she doesn't get enough rest to work to the best of her abilities with the girls.

Marta is from Poland, is 26 years old, and has been volunteering at Casa since the beginning of November 2008, although she previously volunteered here from April to August 2007. She came back because she missed Casa Do Caminho so much... the place, the children and the volunteers. She said that the surrounding environment of one of the orphanages is one of the most beautiful places that she has ever seen! She says that she has learnt alot including how to drive a Toyota truck! Marta feels that coming to Casa is very important for the future of many peoples lives. She also said that you learn how to become much more independent, stay calm and find soloutions to many problems. Marta was studying International relations and Latin American studies, but after 1 year came to Casa as she prefers the Latin lifestyle over the European. Although sometimes it has been difficult for her to stay alone with many of the children when they begin misbehaving, her most challenging point was when she needed to go back home after her first time volunteering at Casa... she said the children were just like her own. But she knew that she would definitely return, just as many of the volunteers who come to Casa do.              

During the first evening, these girls all took me for a local frozen fruit drink before taking me to the Casa do Caminho volunteer house (which is also an orphanage for girls and boys between the ages of 4 to 12). I was given a bed in the same room as Sandra and another girl named Raquel, who is from Portugal. That same evening, I met Phillipe (from Portugal), Ines (from Slovenia), Camilla (from Norway) and Laura (from Romania), and we all sat to have a chat, (mostly all in Portuguese) and have an evening snack. I also met another volunteer, Larissa, who is from Brazil and has been at the orphanage since she was 12 years old. She is now 14 and helps out all of the children, volunteers and workers.

In the morning, I woke to find all of the kids and volunteers giving the orphanage a general clean. One of the young girls was very sweet and took me to get some juice and bread for breakfast. All the children in fact were very friendly, and I even had a bit of a breakdance with one of the boys in the hallway. During the cleanup I met one of the full time educators, Marcello, who is a 38 year old man from Switzerland, volunteered in Casa four years ago for eight months. He said that it is very different to the last time he was here as there were only 3 volunteers, and now there are 15. He has been volunteering in Casa this time since May 2008.

I saw Lola again during the morning, busy as usual... she was about to start Plantao, which is when one or two people are designated to looking after the children for a 24 hour period from 9:30am to 9:30am. Sometimes people can have a Plantao twice in a row!

I was soon taken back down to Heppenheim (which has a German name as it is sponsored mainly by this particular German company). There were many boys out the front working on Capoeira moves, and so I just had to join them. I also met Mario (another Brazilian volunteer from Sao Paulo) who was teaching the children Portuguese and English, as school had yet to begin again.  

A few of the younger boys from the other orphanage were taken to the dentist and doctor this same morning, and sadly, for one boy, visits to the doctor are a common occurrence as he has a heart condition.

I met three more volunteers at Heppenheim, Mariana (from New Zealand), Beatriz (from Spain), and Brady (from the US). Mariana has been volunteering for 4 months, working in the sustainable organic farm. She says jokingly that only the weeds are the only sustainable thing at the moment! There is not much money, but there really needs to be a full time local Brazillian employee working in the garden, as it it way to difficult for the volunteers to take care of it by themselves. Beatriz is 26 and has been a social worker and educator at Casa for three weeks. She spent 1 year in Spain working with an ONG for disabled people, and also people with learning difficulties, before also doing social work in an England hospital. Her dedication to giving the children much love yet also boundaries was later revealed to me when she described to me the discipline system. Brady, who is 22 years old came to Brazil last summer and only found out about Casa via Internet, upon returning to the US. He has found it really hard to become adjusted due to his lack of Portuguese language skills, especially as he needs to communicate well with the children and volunteers. He also mentioned that it takes the locals of Xerem quite some time to trust in people they don't know.      

Mariana and I rode bicycles back up to the volunteer house and orphanage, which took about 40 minutes. Most of the ride was a bumpy dirt track and the views were amazingly beautiful. It was sweltering hot, and so we decided to stop at a river beside a small waterfall and take a quick swim. It was only another 5 minute bike ride back to the orphanage. Back at the house, I saw a tiny, black stray kitten, and found out that no one was going to take care of it, as they couldn´t afford to feed another animal. Many of the children thought it was funny to strangle and mistreat the poor kitten, which I found absolutely appalling and an issue within the orphanage which certainly needs some attention and education. I couldn´t just leave the kitten within this environment and ended up taking her back with me to Rio and found a nice home for it.  

Later that same afternoon, Emily (a 25 year old woman who has been volunteering in Casa for 5 months), gave the children a vinegar hair treatment as many were suffering with lice. Then the children watched soap operas (which I feel should be replaced with Animal Planet or Discovery Channel, considering their public education is quite basic), but they really do look forward to this part of the day. The truck came back up to the orphanage, and I met yet another young volunteer named Hilaine, who is from Venezuela, and has been working at Casa for 1 year and 8 months.  

Another clean up was taking place in the morning, especially because there was going to be a meeting. Renaldo (the founder) and his wife, also attended the meeting, where many important issues arose such as child behaviour and sexuallity. I thought this was a fantastic and very necessary meeting. During lunch, I spoke with Renaldo, and he told me that the reason why he started the foundation over 26 years ago, was to help poor people who didn´t even have food. He preferred to end up only helping children though as many of the adults were drinking alcohol all the time. He is also a physical educator in Rio De Janeiro, and finds the hardest part of running the organisation, getting enough food donations and also getting to and from Rio all of the time. Even the walk from Xerem takes about an hour and a half as all of the cars keep breaking down because they are so old.

After lunch I went for a walk with Mariana into the sustainable garden, and felt that if more volunteers plus a permanent gardener came in to help, they would be able to use any money donations for other important things such as further education for the children. I was told that buying chickens for eggs and a cow for milk were also future plans for the garden, which I think is a brilliant idea!

I wondered what all of the children would do if Casa Do Caminho didn´t exist... most have already had traumatic past life experiences. Although donations are desperately needed as it is a very poor orphanage, I feel that all of the volunteers and workers open their hearts to the children, which is something these kids truly need. They are also hard workers, and alot more dedicated to their roles than I have seen in many other organisations.  

It is absolutely free to volunteer at Casa Do Caminho, but they do require a minimum six month commitment. To find out how to donate or to become a volunteer please visit http://www.casadocaminhobrasil.org/     

Tags: brazil, non profit, orphanage, xerem




Idont know how I got into this link.......but when I saw the photo I remembered!!!

Glad to see that your travels are treating you good, and not misleading you. I enjoyed your write up...It was good reading, and I myself hope to return there after my next journy and projects. be safe. Mariana

  Mariana NIha May 29, 2009 7:37 AM

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