A Philippines - India Cultural Exchange for the Wizkids Winners!
Horlicks wizkids Workshop–Report -2007
India’s largest literary and cultural inter school festival
Indian Children Charter of Human Responsibilities
Indian Youth in the Philippines : Shared Reflections on Selected Experiences
Indian Youth Intercultural Exposure visit to Brazil
Letter to the President of India
The Brazil trip - texts and images
The children sharing their feelings and experiences
Wizkids 2006: the process, from the workshop to the Children’s Charter Writing
Published on 24 November 2008
Memorable trip of Indian youth to amazing Brazil
It is impossible to be dispassionate while writing about Brazil. I wouldn’t be able to do it even if I were hung by my feet from a plank over a school of menacing sharks and told that my life depended on it. Such is the intensity of feeling and the warmth of memories that the name evokes. So naturally, “A formal report on my trip to Brazil” sounds like an oxymoron!
The beginnings of this saga can be traced back to November: 50 of us, semifinalists for WIZ kids 2007 were actively participated in bringing “ Indian Children Charter of Human Responsibilities’’ under the encouragement of Indian Facilitation committee for charter of Human Responsibilities coordinated by Sudha. when four of us: Afrah Saleem from Hyderabad, Shrea Kapoor from Mumbai, Aishwarya Singhdeo from Bhopal and myself emerged winners in the National Finals of Horlicks Wizkids 2007. This gave us the opportunity to represent India at the youth conference on the theme “Weaving Responsibilities to Meet the Challenges of the Times” in Brazil, on the invitation of the Brazilian Committee of The Charter of Human Responsibilities, coordinated by Ms. Isis de Palma. A period of waiting ensued before we were magically transported to the land that would capture our hearts forever. We remain grateful a memorable one.
Our first destination and our would-be pet city was Sao Paulo, the fifth most populous city in the world and a place brimming with chutzpah. It was here that we met the two people who would later embody all that Brazil would mean to us - Marianna, our genial translator and Oscar, our lovable driver. Meeting them propelled this voyage into a different dimension; it made the trip infinitely more personal than the superficial skimming past of culture that characterizes much of the average tourist’s experience.
Day 1: On our first morning in Brazil, we visited the Open University of Environment, Culture and Peace (UMA PAZ) housed in the Ibirapuera Park, the largest public park in Sao Paulo. There we had interactions with representatives from a cluster of organizations and youth collectives, talked about our projects and explained the purpose of our visit. The spontaneity and warmth of the Brazilian nature was evident as we discovered how freely we could communicate despite the language barrier and how comfortable we were. They later took us on a tour of the park when they explained to us that it also doubled up as a nursery. Saplings and young plants from the park could be taken by anyone free of cost, provided they were planted on public property. Ligao! (Which, by the way, is Portuguese for “Nice!”)
In the afternoon, we had a supremely educational and insightful tour of the Afro-Brazilian Museum. Africans were brought to Brazil in shiploads to work as slaves in the country’s plantations, often in inhuman conditions. They have been part of the cultural mosaic ever since, along with the Europeans and the indigenous people. It was interesting to observe how the Jesuits, in their conversion drives, promoted idols of Jesus and Mary in black to appeal to the sensitivities of the largely pagan Africans.
At night, we trooped off to the local community center to watch a ballad that combined elements of various Brazilian folk arts such as the Maracatu, the Capoeira, the Samba, the Cavalho Marinho and so on. I am being honest when I say that I have never been so hooked to my seat in my entire life! The sudden variations in rhythm, light and energy held me on the loose strings of suspense, slapping me again and again by a totally unexpected crop of movements and reactions.
Day 2: In the morning, we trundled off to a place that even its owner finds hard to define. Functioning both as a farm and a shelter, Michelle’s little sanctuary was a world of its own. Michelle, a staunch believer in the philosophy that you must give back whatever you take from the world, struck us with his wisdom. The meaning and relevance of his ideas were amply demonstrated to us when he showed us how he was doing in his own little way what he thought was right for the world. We left ignited and ready for “the challenge”.
Next, we proceeded to the Morumbi stadium for an absolutely electrifying match between Sao Paulo and Juventus. It was a spectacle to see the crowd undulating in synchronization as the ball missed the post, and expelling a collective exclamation of “Ooooooooohhhhh!!!!!” in a tone of voice that I’m still practicing to master. Generous abuses were hurled at the referee and tons of ice cream was consumed. It was an experience like no other!
But the highlight of the day was clearly when we met Rai, the legendary football player. A towering personality, both literally and metaphorically, Rai leads an NGO that works with slum children in the field of education. His humility and his devotion to his work impressed us tremendously. Meeting him was definitely one of the lessons in Brazil that I will forever cherish.
Day 3: On day 3, we were hosted by the Vera Cruz School, a private school in Sao Paulo, which had laid out a grand cultural programme in our honour. They regaled us with the Capoeira and the Maracatu, popular Brazilian folk arts and hugely appreciated the cultural programme that we had put up in reciprocity. The experience was wonderful because meeting the youth of any country is like pressing your ear against somebody’s chest. It gives you a first-hand account of the pulse of the country, and a sense of where it could be heading. Through them, we saw the Brazil of unending joi de vivre, the Brazil where music and dance was perpetually in the air, the Brazil of seductive energy.
In the evening, we had a meeting with the Polis Institute and the World Network of Artists in Alliance where we exchanged ideas on the social responsibility of artists and the potential of art as a medium of social change.
Day 4: We were veritably jumping in excitement as we were bound to Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, which holds the distinction of being the only city constructed in the 20th century to be declared a UNESCO World heritage Site. The city has been designed to look like an aeroplane or a butterfly when looked from above and is considered a reference to good urban planning, worldwide. Dressed in our best suits and with sunglasses perched precariously on our noses, we were ready for that city of cities.
In Brasilia, we had breakfast at the Ambassador’s residence with the Second Secretary, an IFS officer. The opulence and grandeur of the mansion (the perks of a job!) had us telling to ourselves that that was where we belonged!
Soon, we were heading to the Ministry of Education to meet the Secretary of Education. The man was oozing charisma and commitment and this had us wondering why Indian politicians didn’t come across as so endearing. The conversation centered around environmental education in Brazil and he talked to us about the organization of the National Conferences, which involves children in the formulation of environmental policy. Thousands of schools take part in the process, which begins at the school level, making it a democratic exercise for children with few parallels in the world. We were bowled over!
We then proceeded to catch a glimpse of the world-renowned architecture of Brasilia. The buildings were replete with symbolism and the sheer novelty and size of those edifices left us gaping.
Day 5: It was finally time to cool our heels. The entire team brought out its shorts, Hawaiian shirts and associated paraphernalia to gear up for the spectacular drive to Paraty – a charming 19th century colonial town that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If ever there is a route on which you can drive for 5 hours and still not get tired, it must be the one from Sao Paulo to Paraty. Along the way, the excitement heightens as the Atlantic Ocean slowly reveals itself - monstrous body of blue that appears as if it was planted there just a minute before you passed to surprise you.
On the way, we stopped to have lunch with the Quilombos, an ex-slave community originally from Africa, currently facing threats of dispossession. The chief of the community, a vivacious woman, had the most remarkable stories to tell and the food served was out of this world! Later, we got the opportunity to check out the handicrafts made by them and buy some of them to take back home. To top it all, we ended up dancing and drumming with the Quilombo kids in the true Brazilian spirit.
Refreshed and enthused, we reached Paraty. The very first sight of the city had us feeling that we were somehow trapped in a period movie. The cobble-stoned streets, the alignment and design of the houses, the refined use of wood and the gentle murmur of the Atlantic Ocean at a stone’s throw away wrapped the town in a dreamy air that automatically relaxed the muscles and induced a feeling of levitation. We sighed, “C’est La vie!”
That night, we huddled into a dark theatre in the heart of the town, breathless in anticipation of one of the world’s most renowned puppet shows. Beginning with Bach on the violin, we were led through a series of scenes recreating moods of everyday life – an old couple that secretly admired each other, a woman in a Bath, a mother trying to put her baby to sleep, and most astonishingly, a portrayal of the entire process of conception in disturbing detail. It was difficult restraining myself from hopping up and crying, “Bravo!” The puppet show, like so much of what Brazil had given me, was surreal.
Day 6: The Bay of Ilha Grande, on which Paraty is located, is scattered with 365 main islands, which means you can spend an entire year exploring them if you take them one a day! Though not lavished with so much time, we were determined on combing past at least a couple of them. The boat ride that we embarked on to accomplish this mission was the best time I’d had in a long, long time. Basking in the sun like a harem of seals, we reveled in the breeze that charged against us. Being out in the sea afforded us a magnificent view of the town. It wasn’t hard to see why the Portuguese fell in love with the place.
It is unlikely that the reader has gone snorkeling in the Atlantic Ocean. Even if he has, it is downright impossible that he has done so without the aid of a skill that comes in handy on such occasions – swimming! With all due modesty, let me stake claim to this feat.
And then we let ourselves go wild on the golden beaches, delighted ourselves by touching the largest and the most colourful starfishes we had seen, reposed on warm boulders, played the camera-toting hound, smiled at pretty foreigners and dug into a delicious meal of fish and rice. Repetition is jarring on the senses, but this can’t be helped – “Ce’st la vie!”
Day 7: Rio de Janeiro is touted as Brazil’s hippest city, drawing on the Sun, sand, and violent crime to achieve this distinction. Going to Brazil and skipping Rio would be like going to the Oktoberfest and remaining a teetotaler. So it was only fitting that the grand, final leg of our journey should culminate there.
So there we were, buying up almost the whole of Copacabana in the name of shopping. Stones from Zimbabwe, traditional whistles, Afro-Brazilian instruments, caps, shoes…………God, it was a jungle out there! And to think they called it a street market! Do they have a sense of humour!!
The next morning, we traipsed along to Christ the Redeemer – the most identifiable landmark in Brazil, listed among the New Seven Wonders. Though the Sun was merciless that day, we soon forgot the discomfort due to heat when we took one look at the view from above. It was stunning! Rio was indeed A Cidade Maravilhosa — "The Marvelous City".
We utilized the short afternoon that we had left by bounding about the Museum of the Republic and the Folk Arts Museum. It reminded us of the long and glorious history behind Rio that few people know about. Rio served as the capital of Brazil from 1822 to 1960 and is the most historical city in Brazil. It was here that Prince Pedro 1 declared the independence of Brazil in 1822. It was here that the monarchy was replaced by the Republic in 1889. There was a lot going on even before its nightclubs grabbed the world’s attention.
Then, the Great Wheel turned, and it was time to turn the page on yet another eventful chronicle. Brazil had clearly grown into me. More importantly, I had lost a substantial chunk of myself to this great country. I fancy those parts will hover there like relics that I should go back and collect so that I can stitch myself back together for attaining “true salvation”. But then again, this could be a bogus theory to come back, if only once.
But in spite of it all, I am hardly beset by a feeling of loss. The despair that usually trails a glorious phase of life, however shortlived, is simply absent here. I suppose it is because the bonds that I forged during my trip to Brazil are not the loose links that are sustained by banquets of weekly correspondence. They are definitely made of something more profound, something as intangible, yet, as everlasting as the umbilical connection. Through them, the idea that is to me “Brazil” will continue to prosper. And that makes it an experience of worldly learning of unprecedented importance. For this, I must thank the Activity and Horlicks - for taking me to the other end of the world at an age when it matters.
There is a tradition in Brazil that involves holding your breath at the beginning of a tunnel and making a wish. If you are able to hold your breath through the entire length of the tunnel, it is believed, your wish comes true. What did I wish for? I leave that for you to surmise.
Mr. Anees Backer- Cochin, Kerala, India