Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2009 Summer Tour Reflections: Outreach

In this post, rising junior Emily Howell details our amazing outreach activities with the children's choir from the Cidade de Deus, a favela in Rio de Janeiro. 

Our outreach with the children’s choir Grupo Vozes da Cidade de Deus, from the Casa de Santa Ana—Cidade de Deus is the City of God slum (favela) in Rio de Janeiro, featured in the movie The City of God—was, for me at least, the most amazing part of an amazing tour.  We didn’t go into the dangerous favela, but instead met the children at the Escola SESC, where they performed for us and we for them.  The students, who learn various dancing and rhythmic activities from a young age before they join the choir, demonstrated activities from ballet to samba dancing.  They even encouraged us to join them in the samba, and kindly didn’t laugh at us (too much, anyway) when we tried to dance along.

We sang  “This Little Light of Mine” from our tour repertoire together after Jeff taught them the words and the melody.  We also sang “Muie Rendera,” part of our repertoire and a traditional Brazilian folk song, together with the kids.  Then came the concert, which was actually a joint one—first several groups of students danced and sang for us.  Our performance was preceded backstage by a stirring pep talk from our very own Dylan Morris, who urged us (more eloquently than I’m summarizing) to take this small concert for the kids as seriously as any other. Dylan explained that he was initially skeptical about this outreach, wondering what good we could really do for children who grow up in the midst of gang violence and poverty by singing for them.  But, he told us, this was more than that.  Giving them not only our music but also our respect can do more than we realize.

Dinner was the best part of the day, as well as the part that required the most ingenuity.  We went to a pizza restaurant with the kids, many of whom spoke no English; Steph Strauss, as our sole Portuguese speaker, was in high demand.  I was sitting with Sarah Dewey and Kate Carter, forming a triangle of French students. I’d been nervous about the dinner, afraid that our complete lack of shared language skills would leave us at an impasse.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Instead of focusing on the basics of introduction—did you like the concert?  Do you like school?  Can you believe how much pizza I’ve eaten?—we got right to the important stuff: the games.  Deciding that art would have to be our main avenue of communication, Sarah began a beautiful napkin drawing, to which the kids all contributed, and I produced several paper cranes, the only origami trick I know.  Kate’s paper airplanes were also a huge hit, as they started flying between tables in our area (to be honest, we actually enjoyed this more than the kids).

Of course, the funny thing about outreach is that the ones who are supposed to be doing the reaching out learn at least as much, and get at least as much out of it, as the ones they’re supposed to be helping.  Yes, it’s cliché to say so, but maybe it’s cliché because it’s the truth.  Either way, I think it’s something Glee Club was extremely aware of on June 4th.

When, two days later, Maria (the incredible woman who leads the school) brought some of the Grupo Vozes kids to our second concert of Haydn’s Creation, there were smiles, hugs, even tears.  Many of them wore the Yale hats and Glee Club polos they’d received at the concert the other day, and one of my new friends from dinner still clutched a paper crane in her hand.  We waved goodbye as the buses pulled away, and they waved back.

            I still have a napkin from dinner.  The drawing on it features a tree, a cat, a dog, a bird, and three smiling girls, and, in an elementary school girl’s handwriting (bubble letters!), the words “Animal,” “Feliz,” and “Amor.”

Emily, Kate Carter, and Sarah Dewey at dinner with girls from the Grupo Vozes da Cidade de Deus.