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Service Programs

Clearing a Soccer Field - IRFF in Brazil

Young participants in a leadership seminar in Sao Paulo, Brazil, went to a town nearby to help out in whatever way they were needed and ended up clearing weeds from a soccer field and renovating a children’s playground. The 35 people from 11 nations were in San Lorenzo de la Sierra from January 14 to 18, 2008, and during that time they made friends with youth from local Catholic and evangelical churches.

The volunteers came from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela in Latin America. The group also included Korean and Japanese goodwill ambassadors.

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San Lorenzo is a town of about 16,000 people 52 miles southwest of Sao Paulo. We went with the spirit of doing whatever we were asked to do. The town officials would like to boost the local economy by attracting tourists to its beautiful setting on a river and a waterfall. We thought that we might help clean up the river.

However, we were asked to clear out the weeds from the soccer field because the regional championship was scheduled to start soon. Soccer is a national passion in Brazil and throughout Latin America, and the soccer field is used by the local soccer team and for regional championships among the teams of neighboring towns.

The person in charge of the soccer field, Mr. Jaburu, said that he had been praying to figure out how he and the three people working with him could clear out the weeds in time for the competition. When we came, he felt his prayers were answered.

Mr. Jaburu and his wife work with a local Catholic youth group, and he arranged for 30 local young people to meet with our young people. The meeting had a beautiful atmosphere and included music, Bible reading, prayer, and time for sharing. Shin Ji from Japan and Esperanza from the Dominican Republic showed us how to make origami paper sculptures, and we prepared one to give to each of the local young people as part of a brotherhood/sisterhood exchange. We also met with members of an evangelical youth group.

The young people had come to Sao Paulo for a conference sponsored by the World Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. This was an optional activity offered to conference participants who wanted to develop their team-building and leadership skills while doing something practical to benefit a community. It was organized in conjunction with the International Relief Friendship Foundation.

Our original plan was to help in a beautification project in Gama, near Brasilia, but there were no funds to cover the transportation costs. A meeting with a legislator from San Lorenzo de la Sierra resulted in an invitation to support his efforts to promote tourism in this area. The mayor and town legislators welcomed the international visitors and supported the project by paying for our transportation from Sao Paulo and by allowing us to sleep in the gymnasium and cook our meals in the kitchen of a school. Another group camped in the forest and cleaned the area along the waterfall.

The municipal officials welcomed our group based the core values being promoted: team work, dreaming big, caring for nature, and living for the sake of others. "It was a pleasure to receive you here," Mayor Jose Merl said, "and it is wonderful to see so much energy and goodness in the young people who want to serve others."

By serving the town and its children, the international youth experienced first hand the people and culture of Brazil. The local people were amazed at the young people’s attitude of serving and their energy.

When the international young people departed, there were tears in many eyes. A 16-year-old youth from Peru, Diego Alvarez, commented, “It was the greatest experience in my life.” Felix Arapysandu Fariña, age 30, from Paraguay, said: “It was a very beautiful experience to live for the sake of others and see the collaboration between NGOs and the municipality. The opportunity to build relationships among young people of various countries produced a true intercultural exchange.”

Nubia Janneth Puertas, age 30, is from Colombia, where where there is violence although no declared war. "I had asked myself so many times what I could do to change the countenance of my people," she said after participating in the project, "and thanks to the experience I had in San Lorenzo de la Sierra, I could see clearly that service and living for the sake of others is the key. All the people were united around this proposition, which is small in appearance but large in content. For some days we were able to experience what a world united as one family would be like—without barriers of language, race, or creed. And I hope soon it will be a reality, with God’s blessing."

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