Sunday, 28 April 2013

Here's to them!

After a roller-coaster of a six months helping Rita set up the Pink House project in Medina, (the last post says a bit more about what the opening week there was like!) we’ve recently made the heart-breaking decision not to return to Brazil with Meninadança. This is due to many factors, and it has been the most difficult decision we’ve ever had to make.

As we know many of you will understand, we now feel a great deal of grief and loss, which we have been processing with the kindness and insight of friends and our extended team. Thank you so much to each and every friend who has supported, loved, affirmed and encouraged us. This is the first time in our lives that we’ve felt this depth of brokenness, and the support of our wider family has been an incredible gift to us.

Probably the most excruciating factor is having had to break our commitment that we made to the girls and community - that we would be journeying with them for a longer period of time than we have now been able to.

However, although we have struggled immensely with these feelings, if this is the last time we are to talk about the girls in Medina from personal experience, we want to use it to say that far from just ‘poor victims’, each of these girls is a bundle of resilience and strength, bursting with personality and character, and full of seeds of potential. Sometimes in their lives these seeds have had space to grow, and other times they have been tragically trampled upon. And yet the seeds remain, their energy and perseverance shines through, and they really are overcomers of more than we could imagine.

Furthermore, we know that in all this we are not the rescuers; that is only ever God’s work, and we can only hold His hand and go where he leads us. This is the beginning of the next phase of that journey, and we know that it is just the beginning for the girls in Medina, with Rita and the team doing an amazing job of walking alongside them… So as we leave, we want to say “here’s to them”.

After the last couple of months recovering and resting, we are now gradually starting to look at next steps. The passion in our hearts to journey with the marginalised and exploited has only deepened through this experience, and though we don’t feel ready to return to Brazil for a while, we will be continuing on this journey in London… We are hopeful, peaceful, and ultimately trusting in God to show us the way. And it means we’ll get to see more of our friends and family which is wonderful!! 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

(Sam) Projeto ´Minha Caixa´ (The ´My Box´ Project)

Laura Rodger, one of our supporters and very good friends, is a beautifully creative woman with a real outworking passion for justice and to see other women set free to be creative and reach their potential. A few months back, she had shared the idea with Claire of providing each of the girls with a box, that they could decorate and would possibly be the one space in their world that no one else would touch, that was special and personal.

After we had brought the idea to Rita, she loved it too and so Mark (Laura’s husband) and Laura immediately sent out the money to buy 50 large boxes and four long shelves to put them on, as well as loads of decorations. Claire and Lauren (the dance teacher) put their heads together and came up with an activity for each day of the first week that would help the girls to get a sense of what the Pink House was about, and to give them a sense of identity and ownership over their box and consequentially over the whole space.

So this is how it went…

Colours and emotions On Monday, Aline got the girls to paint their box with a colour or colours that they felt most expressed their personality or expressed emotionally where they hoped to be in the future. There was oil-based paint everywhere and we had to run to buy masks, gloves and aprons to protect us from the fumes…it got quite messy and was certainly an expensive activity, but so worth it for the girls to feel that they really were being treated to the best and to invest something really special into their boxes. Their painting even on the first day was so creative and spoke of the personality and potential innate to each of these girls.
Names and the power of words On Tuesday we looked at the significance of our name and our unique identity. The girls had to write a simple acrostic of their names, getting them used to the idea that in this house they would be encouraged to think and speak positively about themselves and others, and that these words would be accepted and validated by the team.

Every human being has a special power
It could be intelligence
Or strength
The ability to invent something from nothing
The special talent to make others laugh
Valuing women! Cristina created Wednesday´s theme and was really passionate about it. By the end of the session, one of the girls had painted in bold purple, glittery letters: ‘women should be valued by men’. Another had cut out a quote from a magazine saying ‘she didn’t think of her wardrobe, she was trying to change the country’, and another had said that she wanted to head out to the streets in protest to make men treat women better!

Women should be valued by men

Dreams! Thursday’s arts session was all about ‘Dreams’ and some of the girls found a corner of the yard to secretly write or draw their dreams onto the bottom or into the inside of their boxes, dreams that could be brought out into the open, but for now could remain sensitive and personal. We had also bought a diary for each girl the day before, which they were encouraged to use to express themselves and reflect on key points in their journey. A couple of the girls shared what they had done, and one girl who had written a poem the day before, then brought in two pages of poems for Claire!
To be a doctor

My dream is to be a dancer

At the end of this session, with the afternoon group, the team had the amazing opportunity to speak out some positive truths about the girls, encouraging them to believe in and pursue their dreams, and in the future, to hold out for a boyfriend and husband who would truly stand up for her and support her in fulfilling her dreams and potential. It was such a beautiful time, and we pray that those few words take root in their hearts.

Of course there were many other elements to that first week that weren’t perfect: I had to immediately define my presence in the house as Claire’s husband! ( which could have been one of the first times that they had ever heard a man speak of a mutual relationship of respect and care); there were a few testings of boundaries by some of the stronger characters; and also some real structural struggles. From our perspective it was one of the toughest but also the most joyful weeks of our time in Brazil and for the girls we believe that it was a symbolic week that gave a taste of new beginnings. After five months of building relationships with precious but broken girls and their families, and frantically building a project that would meet their needs and walk well with them into their full potential, the Pink House in Medina was finally open – a team that loves them and a space that is safe. This first week will remain in our memories as a ray of light into these girls’ lives - a safe and creative space, which now over the last six weeks we have heard they have been exploring and owning and using to build their own way to a different present and a very different future.

You can check out their weekly progress through Lauren´s eyes on her excellent blog, or on the Meninadança website.

"She wasn´t thinking about her wardrobe, she was trying to change the country"

This is how I am

Eternal Love ´The power to surprise´

God blessed me with freedom

We have value!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

(Sam) January

It has certainly been a long while since we last posted, but hopefully after Claire’s next blog, it will be easy to understand why we have not felt able to write anything for a while. But before the bad news, I would love to share with you just one aspect about the first week of the running of the Pink House.

January was a crazy month, with many unresolved areas needing to be resolved in an extremely short space of time to get the house and the team ready to run. There is now the most incredible team in place, who truly love the girls and believe in the potential in each of them for a very different and life-giving future. As the doors opened on the 28th Jan, the girls were extremely expectant, and massively curious as to what this project would actually mean for them each day.

The one word that would sum up their main reaction in the first week was ‘overwhelmed’! I think that it began for the girls with more of a bang than they could have imagined, not in terms of fireworks and aerial dance displays! but in exciting and meaningful activities, an engaging and dedicated dance teacher, a house that had obviously been purpose-decorated only for them, and a team who from the word ‘go’ demonstrated that they were fully dedicated to them in every sense. They suddenly had quality art materials and resources to use, a storage space just for them, and a diary with pen and pencil that they could write anything they wanted on. They immediately felt a sense of ownership – all this had been put together for them and it was a safe space.

It made the stress and pain around getting it all together completely worth it and we literally burst with joy for the girls! Of course, there were some obvious initial tensions, some girls who tried to push the boundaries with the team, and quite a few practical hitches, but I think that from the girls’ point of view, this project was different to anything that they had been part of before, and by the end of the first four days, I believe they already felt, or began to feel that here was a space in which they were accepted and could belong.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

(Sam) Christmas in the sun :o)

Boa Viagem beach in Recife, where we were
for Christmas day!
Immediately after the Christmas party we had to frantically tidy up, organise the project stuff and pack our bags... because we were heading to Recife for Christmas! We got the bus to the airport in the middle of the night, and then just before checking in at the airport we discovered that we didn’t have Claire’s passport - we each thought the other had it!! There wasn't time to travel all the way back to Medina to get it, and we were devastated at the prospect of losing our flights, accommodation and time away that we'd been so looking forward to after the stress and exhaustion of the last few weeks. However (!), fortunately in Brazil they love their forms, and so advised by the man in the airport we just had time to get to the police station, print out an 'official' form certifying Claire’s name and details and get on the plane! I love it – they had no idea if we were lying or not, but it ticked all their boxes and we managed to get to Recife!!!

Outside Sergio's workshop - with him as he got
ready for the Recife Art Exhibition  
The first week we just crashed by the beach and were able to (more or less) switch off and recuperate. It was quite surreal being a tourist in the thin beach strip just in front of where we had spent so long chatting to girls on the street two years ago. Then the second week was quite a hectic timetable of seeing many friends, and catching up with all those who we had imagined we’d be working with. It was great to see some of them now really making progress in their areas of social work and two already setting up projects this year specifically for girls caught in prostitution. Most of our time was spent with Sergio and Adriana – the most wonderfully normal, funny and inspirational couple and a great breath of fresh air. We’re gutted not to be living closer to them. He also makes the most amazing wooden furniture and we wanted to bring it all back with us!

Me in Recife on one of Sergio's
funky wooden chairs!
It was also the sad (not really that sad) farewell to Gus, our old and battered Beetle. He had now completely ceased to function, but by some miracle a friend of a friend decided to buy it for nearly £1000. Amazing!
Claire having a moment with Gus
back in 2010!
We arrived back on Friday night after travelling since two in the morning, and now on Sunday have just travelled again for seven hours (!) to meet Lauren, the dance teacher from England, which was great fun – I can tell we’re going to have a lot of laughs together over the next few months. This week is the last week before our opening on Monday 14th, so it’s going to be full steam ahead!!

(Sam) Pink House Christmas Party

I know it’s already January! but we just wanted to give a quick recap on the Christmas party :o)

After months of preparing the pink house and getting to know the girls individually, the Christmas party on the 21st December was the first time that all of them would be in the Pink House together. The team had been finalized just the week before, which was really exciting since this also meant that they and the girls would all get to meet.

The house was fully decorated with pink, purple and silver tinsel, and a huge pink cake in the living room. As the girls started arriving, there was a lot of excitement, especially as they were now able to go round the house themselves and talk about it with each other. Each time one of us walked into the dance room, we’d find them all giggling and dancing in the mirror.

Rita welcoming the girls at the beginning of the party!
Rita started things off with the real meaning of Christmas, presenting the team and letting the girls know that we were serious about things changing in their lives and about us as a new family seeing their dreams become reality. As the girls then ran loose around the house, there was a wonderful atmosphere of chaotic fun! We had apple bobbing, musical chairs and a chocolate-eating game all happening at once, and as different girls started gradually interacting with each other there was a lot of laughter and some of the tension began to break down.

Santa Sam!
Just a few days before, Leticia had also arrived back in town, which was such a wonderful sight for us, and amazingly she came along to the Christmas party too. Joining together 40 girls of varying backgrounds and emotional wounds however, was bound to cause some tension, but even though there were a lot of looks, comments and a rather ugly fight, Rita was able to set the boundaries that in this house we will work towards becoming one family that grows together.

The girls absolutely loved the food, and the cake, and then right at the end I made a very convincing debut as Santa Claus with a special present and message for each girl! We don’t know what the reality will be in each of their homes this Christmas Day, but we are excited to be starting a New Year in which each girl has the chance to begin a new and very different chapter in her life.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

(Claire) A swift dismount!

It’s been a while since writing... lots has been going on here at the Pink House, with non-stop days and seemingly endless lists of things to do! So we’re looking forward to spending a few days in Recife over Christmas – where we were the last time we were in Brazil. Before we head off, the final push here is for the Christmas party on Friday that we’re doing in the Pink House. It’ll be the first time that all of the girls (without friends, parents or other town-members etc.) will be together under the same roof, and we’re sure it’s going to be a mix of beautiful, fun and unpredictable!

Over the last few days we’ve been going from house to house, inviting the girls to the party and using that as an opportunity to spend a bit more time with them, and take a step into their worlds for a little while. One such world was that of a fifteen year-old, who has the biggest (cheekiest) smile we’ve seen yet. Her world is filled with chaos, violence,  drugs and prostitution, and she shows all the tough signs of someone who’s survived more than any of us could really imagine. We arrived to find a man lying knocked out on the floor of her tiny, dark living room, and were told to ‘feel at home’ and just step/sit round him. It turned out that this man was her Dad. So we carried on the conversation that involved a lot of laughing, joking and teasing, with feet barely inches away from his head, realising that this is absolutely normal in her world. One of her two children was there, who she loves in the best way that she can… a cheeky chap who was yet another reminder that at age thirteen this girl had already given birth.

Amidst the many signs of poverty that existed all around us, a funny thing happened! As we were chatting in the house a massive horse galloped up to the door and stood about two feet away, blocking the tiny brick doorway. A sight I definitely wasn’t expecting! Our yelps of surprise and interest in the horse swiftly led to the whole family getting really excited about Sam saddling up!! So there in the tiny street of one of the poorest areas in Medina Sam was holding the reigns, with the whole (dynamic) family cheering him on and telling him to gallop down the cobbled street! “You’ll be fine – just hold on!!” To the disappointment of all he panicked and made a swift dismount (!), and as we left that family we giggled about how he could well have trotted very slowly out of the city and onto the BR116 with no idea how to stop or get off!

So life is a funny mix of happenings. In the next post are a few photos of some memories thus far...

Sam and the lovely Vicki who stayed with us whilst volunteering at the Pink House (in our most favourite room at home...the hammock room!)

The Pastor of our church and his wife and daughter at our house. They are such a lovely family, full of fun and laughter, and have been such an encouragement to us, especially in giving me space to just be myself despite the language barrier 

Me and Vicki after a trip to the salon! (never been to a salon in my life before coming to Brazil!)

Me and Sam having good old English tea and biscuits (thank you Vicki!)... in the hammock room!

Snowing in Medina!! 
Not really - this is the remains of Sam's freezer de-icing party!

A typical roads in Medina, and one that leads out to the hills...

Sam about to carry our palm tree across the town to a friend's house as a present! It looks harmless enough, but he arrived with soil and scratches all over his face! What is the gringo going to do next...?!

One of the many bugs in our house that made Sam genuinely scream and hide!!! (This isn't microscopic photography... the bug was huge!!)

Sam fixing our roof after the worst storm that Medina has had in the history of it's current inhabitants! We thought it was a tornado at one point!

A gecko :)

A witchcraft monument on top of the mountain that we climbed

Me and Sam doing Rita's hair in the salon (This is just a set-up, there is absolutely no way Rita would let us go anywhere near her hair!!!)

Sam, me and Rita, hiding in amongst all the PINK

Outside the Pink House the day after the big party for the girls. From left: Warlei, Dani, Sam, Dean, Me, Matt and Rita! This hurt more than it looks!!

Rita, Sam and I visiting in the pouring rain and asking how to get to a certain girl's house... it involved sliding(literally) down the hill to her doorstep!

Guina, a local graffiti artist, doing awesome things to the Pink House walls! 

Sam doing a broomstick dance. He's actually stuffing the holes in the roof of the dance room with plastic bags to hold back the rain! This idea was developed after we realised that the roof wasn't doing it's job and every time after it rained the inside of the house was flooded... and surprisingly it works! (This picture is also very reminiscent of a midnight broom incident that you should ask Sam about...)

At the big party for the girls! Me and Sam with Dean and Rita. By this point everyone was shattered, but so excited about the wonderful evening that had just taken place

The salon in the Pink House, leading into the bean-bag room next door! 

A sneak preview of Sam as Santa before the Christmas party that's happening this Friday night! The sad face I think has something to do with the absolutely huge trousers that he has no choice but to wear! Will post photos of his final 'look' in a few days...!!