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Martin in Brazil

Martin Vittek is from the Slovak Republic and had already volunteered one year in England:

Martin in BrazilI have always been thinking of spending some time in a non-European country. I wanted to experience its culture from another perspective, different from just watching TV, reading a book or even travelling for a few weeks and also I wanted to do something meaningful. I decided to apply for the Assumption Volunteer Programme which offers opportunities all over the world. And in April 2010, I was landing at Rio de Janeiro.

While Rio was my entering gate to Brazil, my new home was located about 1000 miles from there in the semi-arid region of north-eastern Brazil in Piauí. Cristino Castro is a small town in the poorest and least developed region of Brazil. Most of the people live from agriculture depending on the rainfall. One big paradox is that while the region is very dry most of the year, under the ground there is one of the biggest water resources in the world. The challenge for the future is how to use this water sensibly and bring sustainable prosperity.

I was welcomed by the project co-ordinators Miguel and Totinha. They helped me to organise placements, introduced me to various people in town and supported me whenever I needed. There were also many other friends helping me during my time in Brazil. It would be the very long list to name them here so I am just saying one big Thank you!

Martin volunteering in BrazilGoing to a foreign country with limited knowledge of the local language means that you also have a limited scale of activities. The easiest way of involvement is to teach English. Students have very poor knowledge of English, limited really to a few words. It is no wonder. The region is far from other countries, there are no foreign companies and tourists come here rarely. However, it seems that this will change. The National Park is going to open officially this year and the hotels, bars, restaurants or swimming pools might also need English speaking staff. It is difficult to teach English when the students don’t have basics and the region is lacking qualified English teachers but I met many young people who showed strong motivation to learn and that’s why I enjoyed teaching a lot. My strategy was to teach conversational English rather than drill them with grammar.

The agricultural college officially invited me to work as a volunteer in Brazil. It is a new school opened only three years ago and I was travelling 4 miles out of town two days per week. I worked two weeks with one group (Year 1 and 2) and followed by two weeks with another group (Year 3) of students. The other two weeks students stayed home and used the knowledge gained at school in their houses and farms.

To use my time more effectively, we had to think what else could be done. Of course, it was not possible to offer an English course to everyone. Miguel and Totinha suggested that the best way would be to offer 8 places to each of 5 public schools in town. As we didn’t know the students, we left the selection up to particular schools and asked them to choose the best students who are interested in learning English. In this way I was able to form two classes. Children who study at school in the morning were coming to my English class in the afternoon and those who study in the afternoon were coming to English in the morning. We also prepared various activities such as a small play, songs, and discussion groups.

I also started to work at a rural community called Lagoa Grande. I really liked this small village located 40 km from Cristino Castro. I did some English classes there but the head teacher had many times some reason to send students home earlier, for a power cut, no water, planning or exam days. My experience there was rather about making friendships.

Teaching EnglishOne night per week I did a conversational class for English teachers to help them with issues such as pronunciation. And finally, I was teaching the basics of English to a group of friends and programme supporters. At the end of the year 105 students from 8 classes received certificates of English. Of course, this certificate is recognised officially but the smile on the faces of the children and their parents was a fantastic reward.

I enjoyed teaching more than I thought I would. But another part of the Brazilian experience was to know and understand local culture, habits, and people. Almost every weekend I was travelling with my friends to the interior or neighbouring towns – by bike, motorcycle, bus, jeep, car deck with groceries, or just on foot. I got a chance to visit the national park, distant rural settlements, and plantations of rice and sugar cane and I got to know many fantastic people.

And my Brazilian story doesn’t end yet. This year I continue teaching the group of talented children as a volunteer but as I have been mostly studying and volunteering in the last 10 years, I accepted the offer for paid jobs and will also give some private classes. I am hoping to stay two more years in Piauí but, who knows, it might be longer because Brazil is a country with great potential. It is my second home and people here are already like part of my family. Thank you ALVP for the chance to be there!