In Santarem, one of the poorest regions of Brazil, children go to school for only half the day; the rest of the day, many have no place to go but the streets. Wake Forest students spent two weeks over winter break helping construct a community center to give these children a safe place.
“At the community center, children receive tutoring, learn a trade, and have a safe place to stay when they’re not in school,” says senior Richard Mayer, one of 10 students who volunteered in Brazil. “We know we are giving young people an option other than the streets. Local kids help with the work, and some people in the community stop by to see what’s going on. It’s an opportunity to meet the people who will actually be using the facility.”
Volunteers visit the children’s homes as part of the program. During the visits, they see what it’s like for these children growing up. Mayer, a business major and international development and policy minor, says “We’re not comparing our situation to theirs, but trying instead to understand their needs.”
Building the community center was an opportunity to get to know the people in Santarem, but the students in the group also learned things about one another. “You might think that everyone at Wake Forest will have the same perspective,” Mayer says, “but each of us on the trip brought different gifts to the table and had unique impressions to share with each other about the experience.”
Over 9,000 miles and a continent away, another group of 11 students worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. They volunteered in homes for the dying and destitute, for physically and mentally disabled adults and children, and for orphans. They washed laundry, cleaned floors, and sometimes just comforted people in need of human contact.
“A lot of students before they go to the houses, they don’t think they’ll be able to handle it,” said history major Jordan Brewster, one of 11 students on the trip. “Once you’re there, though, you realize these are people too. They laugh and cry like everyone else. No one picks the situation into which they’re born, but everyone wants to know that someone cares about them.”