REPORTER Jane O’Neill has swapped reporting from Sunderland’s city centre to the depths of Latin America. Along with three other young professionals and a group leader, she is part of a Rotary-funded Group Study Exchange (GSE) trip to Brazil.
OUR time in Brazil is nearly up and as we pack our bags for the 10th and final time, a few tears slip out.
After more than four weeks here, I can chat in simple Portuguese, started to embrace the culture and have a group of Brazilian friends I speak to almost daily.
It’s hard not to love Brazil. Obviously as guests we are shown the more positive aspects of life here.
But the 300-days-a-year of sunshine is reflected in the sunny natures of everyone we meet and the warmth and enthusiasm we’ve been shown is infectious, even when we’re one head nod away from falling asleep in buses, at meetings and on dinner tables.
At one point staying in four different towns in as many nights, getting out of strange beds at 6am and not returning to them until sometimes after midnight, there were times when we felt worn down and used up.
But the challenges facing Brazilians on the wrong side of the poverty divide are far greater than feeling a little ‘consada’ (sleepy).
Many of the families we’ve stayed with have been lucky enough to afford maids, two cars and private education for their kids.
In contrast, on a day trip to the frenetic streets of São Paulo, population 14 million, we see dead-eyed scraps of people digging through reeking heaps of household waste.
However, the energetic and determined Brazilian Rotarians are working to help bridge the wide gulf between their country’s affluent and poverty-stricken.
In Franca we visit Leilão Apace, a centre for disabled children and young people which the Rotary Club helped secure match funding for.
Families can bring their kids here for everything from developmental assessments for tiny babies, to independent living classes for the oldest students.
Some of the facilities are basic, but the drive and passion of the professionals has allowed the centre to blossom.
Even the sleepy country city of Matão is filled with Rotary zeal.
Members there have implemented a rabies vaccine programme, which delivered injections provided by the government to 13,000 cats and dogs in one day alone.
We are in Matão for the annual Corpus Christi festival, famous across the nation for its elaborate street art, created from ground glass by teams of local people who get up at 4am.
The celebration of faith sees families gather to appreciate the elaborate and colourful carpets of art, before a procession of singing and chanting priests lead crowds trampling over the designs.
As well as leaving behind a bright, vibrant culture that runs to its own leisurely tempo (usually half an hour late), all of the GSE team are saying goodbye to new friends.
We’ve especially bonded with young aspiring Rotarians, who join the popular Rotaract club from ages 18-30.
Membership numbers are high, in contrast with the North East of England, where not one Rotaract exists.
Like many Brazilians, they are desperate to visit the UK and mimic our accents with delight.
We vow to stay in touch and thanks to the power of social networking, I don’t think it’s the last time there will be a Brazilian stamp in my passport.