Try to make a difference

Missão Sales XXI

August 2014 – Ilha do Sal, Cape Verde

Now that summer has ended and it’s time to get back to school, I wanted to talk about an experience I had some years ago that was the best summer of my entire life. Yes, it’s a shame that it was only a month and that it doesn’t give an opening to continue what I started, but it was the only month I had free and instead of a vacation I did volunteering for children and teenagers in Cape Verde. It changed me without me noticing and I wish I could do it every time (maybe one day I’ll be able to do it once more and teach English…).

How I applied —- I was in my third year of college when I was told about this opportunity that my school (Salesianos) provides. Every year they have missions throughout the year and every summer they go for a month or more to Mozambique, Angola, Timor and Cape Verde. This volunteering opportunity that Salesianos have is part of a project of Fundação Dom Bosco – Projeto Vida and you can go check their website (Fundação Salesianos) to learn more about the opportunities and ways to help.

So, each school/group is responsible for a destination (ours was Ilha do Sal). After you’ve applied (which I did like in February) you have to start your basic training and the periodical meetings to discuss the preparations.

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The training —- It’s basically a way to interact with everyone that goes on missions, a way to share previous experiences, I think we also had a basic CPR training and spiritual training (because after all Salesianos is a catholic community and we need to be sure of the principles and values we want to teach alongside our activities and teaching moments).

The meetings —- These were just with our own group of volunteers, so I was at my school in Estoril with the other volunteers that were going to Ilha do Sal. In these meetings we had to discuss what to bring, how to raise money and how much money, how to get sponsors, travel and stay details, gather info about the communities we were going to help, organize activities, plan a schedule and teams, organize and pack all the supplies to take with us, weigh the packages and distribute even more stuff among our own baggage. These meetings allowed us to create a better relationship amongst us which was useful throughout the mission, because 14 people living together equals 14 different personalities living together which can be difficult sometimes. There were issues, but that only made us get to know each other and ourselves better, qualities and flaws.

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Motive —- This was an adventure I wanted to have for a long time. I got involved in it all by myself, I talked with people who could answer my doubts and after a while I saw myself attending the meetings and training sessions. I got to know the group and anxiously waited for the trip. We were 14 volunteers heading to Ilha do Sal for our mission “Missão SALes XXI”, and most of them already knew each other from previous times, only I was sort of the outsider. However, our relationship was good and I ended up making new friends, some I still have close to me.

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What I felt before going —- Before I left for the Island, I felt super enthusiastic and fearful at the same time. I was excited to show the kids what we had prepared for them and I was afraid because it doesn’t matter how much you get informed, you don’t really know what to expect and how you’re going to deal with what awaits you.

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While on the island —- The experience in Ilha do Sal was one of great learning. I learnt my limits, my strengths and weaknesses, with the children I discovered a whole new way of seeing the world, and with their community I found a new culture and a new way of facing life. What we see on the island is something far from what we are used to. I’m not going to exaggerate, for sure there are far worse places, however when you put side to side what we have access to and what this community has you feel touched, and this was more real when we went to share our activities with the children of Bairro de Santa Cruz.

Despite the coldness we receive from the landscape (afterall Sal is one of the most dry islands of Cape Verde and the landscape is mostly dirt and rock), we receive from the children warm hugs and huge affection of the most pure nature.

On the first days we only entertained, taught “sunday-school”, sang songs, danced, played games, we didn’t gave them anything material wise. One of our goals was to teach the value of reward for effort and good work/behaviour. On these first few days they already thanked us and hugged us just for being there, and this is why I believe in that pure affection. They needed that help (even if it was just our company, prayers, songs, new jokes or just being there to listen), we were there for them and they thanked us the best way they could, and there was no better reward for our effort than those big smiles and sound of laughter.

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Our home —- When we had some spare time there was always laughter and fun and it helped (at least helped me) to relieve fatigue from the day. We had a “secret friend” challenge to keep, we shared tasks, learnt local games with the kids and the grown-ups as well (the best was Ouril) which were our entertainment after dinner and the daily meeting. While some of us had a shower at the sound of others playing guitar, the others did laundry (a bucket/basin with water and soap and a clothes line) tried to connect with Portugal or rehearsed songs. Summarizing, however different we might have been we managed to created a great environment which reflected in our work with the kids.

What I miss —- I miss dancing and singing to african songs, I miss our walks around Espargos (where the parish we slept at was), I miss the stary skies, I miss the island trips from community to community, but most of all I miss the spirit we had and I miss “our” kids….

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“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

What I believe —- I chose this passage because to me it reflects what I felt before and after the trip. Every one of us has been gifted with life, and the way we all can thank for this gift is by at least be kind to one another, help each other anyway we possibly can. I chose this mission because I thought it would be challenging in terms of time and work but also it was right for possibilities, and after I’ve returned I can only think “I overcame my fears, I gave my best, and I can only hope that what we brought to this place can be continued and that our message and our values have stuck on some of these children.”.

This experience woke up my mind to a whole new world, a different world that is “outside our bubble” and while it is within my capabilities to help, I’ll do it. I urge you to do the same if you can.

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If you read this much and got here, I hope you liked my testimonial, I’m sorry for the long post, if you had an experience like this or even better I would love to know.

Kiss Kiss, Joana

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