Friday, July 6, 2012

Fear of the unknown. It was the first feeling that ran through me as I stepped onto the plane that would soon take me to Guatemala back in January. As the plane took off, my heart skipped a beat as I tried to imagine what to expect for the next four months.  After that plane ride,  I stepped on many more planes, each taking me to someplace new and every time those planes took off, my heart skipped a beat as I tried to imagine what this new place had in store for me. But with each take off, what used to be fear of the unknown turned to excitement for the unknown. One of the most important lessons I learned on my four month endeavor was you can’t waste time being fearful; that every experience, whether it’s good or bad, is an experience you can learn and grow from.

The world, I soon realized, was an open book, just waiting for me to graze its pages. Every setting and every character had a new lesson just waiting to be taught. I was had the privilege of living within two completely different cultures; both extremely beautiful in their own way. Antigua Guatemala, a city filled with jaw-dropping colonial churches and beautifully colored houses is home to the Mayan culture; a culture that is filled with flavor and spice! Antigua provided me with my first look into what immense poverty looks like. I could walk down to the market, and see tables and tables filled with food, and behind those tables stood people starving due to lack of money . It is ironic to see this bounty fruit and vegetables, knowing that many of the people do not have ample money to purchase enough food to feed their families. Large families and lack of proper distribution all contribute to this sad reality. But within this sad reality, there is also flickering lights where numerous amounts of NGO’s are thriving to transform this poverty ridden place. One thing I will never forget was the first walk I took throughout Antigua alone. Without street signs, it is hard to navigate around the city, but I was determined to find my way around.  I ended up getting lost within the first fifteen minutes of my walk. After forty-five minutes of walking aimlessly, I found my way back to my host family’s house. While it was an extremely stressful moment, I learned that wandering around aimlessly can be the best way to find what you are looking for. Every experience, even the stressful ones, proves to be rewarding.  

I learned so much, saw so much and grew so much as a person while in Brazil. The country mesmerized me; causing me to fall in love within a matter of months. I had heard wonderful things about Brazil from my brother, and had seen sights from pictures, but it wasn’t until I was able to witness everything with my two brown eyes that I realized just how special of a place it is. What I love most about Brazil are the people. It doesn’t matter if they are living in a penthouse or in a slum; the love they have for their country is evident and it’s beautiful. Walking through Rocinha -the biggest slum in Latin America- for the first time, I was surprised to see that people did not appear to be ashamed of living in a slum. I soon realized that to outsiders, Rocinha is a slum. But for the people who live there, it is a community. A home.  I had many homes throughout my trip; many families and many friends. It doesn’t take long for Brazilian’s to make you feel at home, and I know it was because of their lively and kindhearted culture that made my experience magical.

This coming fall, instead of attending a university, I’ve been accepted into a gap year program called Global Citizen Year. This program takes recent high school graduates and places them in a foreign country for 9 months. I am going to be heading back to Brazil for my gap year. I have been asked by the program to obtain 50 blog subscribers to follow me on this endeavor. I will be posting on this blog regularly, giving updates on the work I’ll b taking part in. I would love if all of you would follow me on this new adventure! You can subscribe to the blog here:; the blog will be up sometime mid-july. If you would like, I can also subscribe you personally.

I can’t thank you all enough for all your support. I truly couldn’t have done it without all of you!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Emergency Family Aid in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil



Looking out the window at my brother's apartment in Rio, was one of the first breathtaking views I’ve had the privilege to experience. To the left, you see Ipanema: the richer side of society, where there are nice apartment buildings and expensive cars occupying the streets. And exactly to the right, perched on top of a hill, sits the Cantagalo favela (which is a shanty town in Brazil), where houses are built on top of one another, and poverty is sweeping the streets instead of nice cars.

Most middle or upper-class Brazilians would never step foot in a favela. I was happy to announce that after my fifth day in Rio, I was experiencing the other side of life, the one that most Brazilians have never experienced. A short bus ride away, my brother and I arrived at the base of the largest favela in Latin America: Rocinha, which is known to house somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 people. Perched on top of a hill, Rocinha overlooks the nicest neighborhoods in Rio. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty are separated by nothing more than a road. A lot of attention has been given to Rocinha because within the last 8 months, the police have instituted a new policy. They have forced drug traffickers out of the streets, increasing public security and bringing social services to these neighborhoods. Sadly, despite this new policy, there is  still a big drug trade, along with crime that’s associated with it. The work we were going to be doing was centered in a neighborhood called Ropa Souja, which is the poorest neighborhood in Rocinha.  Within this neighborhood, and all of Rocinha, there are two major problems that need addressing. One of the problems is that most of the mothers are single mothers, making it hard for them to find work when they have to take care of their children. The second problem is that the kids within this neighborhood recieve a very poor education; their school day lasting for only 4 hours each day. Due to the shortage of an adequate education system, these kids spend more time out on the streets than in school, leading many of them down the path of drug gangs, violence and all-too-often, an early death. With those two issues in mind, my brother brought me to a project that he’s been assisting on an institutional level. U.M.P.M.R.S (Uniao de Mulheres Pro Melhoramento de Ropa Souja) has been around for thirty years and has grown to become an integral piece of the community. Over the last three decades, they have grown in size and scope, literally improving the lives of thousands of local families. The main components of the project are:
  • Day care / nursery, which allows those single mothers to go out and work to support their family.
  • Oficina De Saber: An after-school project for kids between the ages of 7-15, providing them with supplemental education, tutoring, and cultural activities.
  • All the families involved with this program recieve free access to doctors, dentists, psychs that volunteer their time to assist these children and their families. ‘
  • The project has it’s own team of social workers that go out and visit the families and find ways of assisting them whenever possible.

Since my brother Adam has worked with this project before (and is already supporting the project with donations), we were able to ask the director if she knew of any afflicted family that was in a particularly rough spot. We explained to the director that we wanted to be able to help out a family with the money I had raised previous to my trip. When she heard this, her eyes lit up as she started to tell us the story of this young single mother and her two children whose house just burnt down. The mother, having been forced to live on the streets after her step-father sexually abused her, has been struggling to feed her two young children without a job. We were able to visit the house that they were living in, a cement made house that still had the lingering smell of smoke. There is one tiny window in the front, but besides that, there is no way for the air inside this house to circulate, leaving it stale and bitter, making it unbelievably hard to breathe. Just after two minutes, I found myself struggling to breathe comfortably. The sight was absolutely disgusting. It didn’t take long for my brother and I to decide that we were going to help this family in any way possible. The task of finding them a new house was already being taken care of, so what we decided to do was go out and buy them some necessary living supplies.

You don’t think a few kitchen supplies, mattresses and pillows will turn someone’s life around, but when you’ve been sleeping on the floor with a flat pillow along side the  bugs, even the tiniest things are enough to make someone happy. We shopped within the street market for about two hours with the mother and her two kids before we were able to make our hike back up to her house. Carrying on our backs, we had a water filter, mattresses, pillows, cleaning supplies, toiletries, food, kitchen supplies and even a few new toys for the kids.
The family will be getting a new house soon and with the help of U.M.P.M.R.S, and we are hoping the mother will be able to get a job. It’s great to donate money to a family, knowing that sometime down the road, that money will be put to use. But when you have the opportunity to interact with that family and get them the things they need at that very moment, it’s even more rewarding. It is amazing how much we were able to buy with only $400. The lives of this family have been seriously improved thanks to this donation, so thank you so much to all of you that contributed to the cause!




Thursday, April 12, 2012

A few months before my departure from the states, I got in contact with a girl from my temple, Katie Gelman, who has her own local project of distributing stuffed animals to children in hospitals. Katie and I were put into touch after she found my brothers non-profit organization's website. She fell in love with the work my brother was doing abroad and contacted him, asking if there was anyway he would be able to bring what she does in the states to countries abroad. Katie's timing was perfect; I volunteered to bring down a huge suitcase of stuffed animals. I was so happy to have the opportunity to help Katie and her project out. What she does is amazing; the distributions of stuffed animals to little kids can go so far, and in Panama City, it did. We were able to locate a great children's hospital. We talked with the director and asked if I would be able to come in and distribute the stuffed animals to the admitted children. I can't tell you how rewarding it was to be able to hand these kids the stuffed animals. I didn't need to speak Spanish to know that they were thankful and extremely happy to have this new companion. 

I urge you to watch this one minute video to see the smiles for yourself. I just want to give a big thanks to Katie for making this all happen. It wasn't just rewarding for the kids, but for me as well, and I'm extremely thankful. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

                       January 22, I set out for Guatemala, the first stop of many. I was due to stay in Guatemala for a month and a half. I was staying in Antigua, Guatemala, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a program that conserves sites of cultural and natural significance.  It's colonial churches and bright colored houses pose as one of many attractions that attract tourists to this amazing place. Today, the streets are bustling with tourists snapping pictures and admiring the culture around them. This big flood in tourism has been rather beneficial since it’s allowed many new businesses to open up, like travel agencies and language schools, opening up many job opportunities.  Despite all the bustling tourism, I was still able to walk down the street and have the privilege to peek into the lives of the indigenous, which I found to be extremely special. It’s the part of Antigua I didn't get to see in the pictures.  Every Sunday, I was able to walk down the street and watch the Mayan women doing their laundry and when finished, retreating back to their homes with pounds of wet clothes balanced on their heads. Why use a washer and drying when you can just clean your clothes by hand?

Due to the lack of an effective government and immense poverty that sweeps most parts of Guatemala, the country faces many problems. When I walked through the local food market and see blocks and blocks of people selling food and it made me wonder how anyone could go hungry in this country. It all boils down to the fact that the food doesn’t get distributed the way it should, leaving the poor with very little.  75% of the population in Guatemala is below the poverty line, which is defined as an income that is  insufficient  to buy a basket of food. Also, the size of Guatemalan families puts a strain on what they are able to afford; out of all Latin America, Guatemala has the highest fertility rate, each women between the ages of 15-49 have on average 4 children. 

During my time in Antigua I took three weeks of Spanish classes, stayed with a Guatemalan family, and was able to volunteer at the public welfare hospital, helping out with the cleft lip and malnourished babies. I knew for a while that working with babies was what I wanted to do – the fact that my Spanish was not too good limited me to the younger aged children. 
(you can only learn so much Spanish in three weeks)
Looking back though, I’m extremely satisfied with the work I was able to do. Never did I think I would find myself entertained by playing hide-and-seek for an hour with a little 3 year old boy.
 It can be as simple as picking them up and playing with them. Such a small thing like holding a baby and letting them see you smile goes such a far way for these kids.

Volunteering with the babies and learning about their stories only increased my desire to help them in any way possible. With the help of an Organization called T.E.S.S unlimited, a project that targets ways to improve the lives of impoverished children in Guatemala, mainly by sponsoring medical missions, I was able to sponsor two babies to get the cleft palate surgery.
The issue of the cleft lip and palate is especially prominent within the Mayan culture. One reason this is a problem is due to a genetic predisposition within the Mayan culture. Also, during pregnancy, mothers do not take in enough protein to help the baby develop fully.

  Addressing the issue of cleft lip and palates is extremely important because without the surgery, the baby will grow up with speech deficiencies and will most likely get shunned from their villages.
 With just $250 dollars, a baby will receive the correct surgery they need, the medicine required for post-op and the necessary check-ups and recovery tools.
Before a child can receive the surgery, they must be at least 10 pounds. Because the babies I'm sponsoring are only 5 pounds, it will be a while before they are able to get the surgery. 
 But once they do get the surgery, I will be getting updates back on how they are doing! (:
The pictures below are an example of a pre-operation and post-operation. 

I can't tell you how rewarding it was to have the privilege of sponsoring two kids to get this surgery  and to have the opportunity to volunteer at the hospital. it felt very rewarding to get done with a few hours of volunteering and know that

 my help didn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I would like to thank T.E.S.S unlimited for finding the medical missions that will eventually give the two babies I sponsored the surgery. And I  can't thank you all enough for helping me raise the money to make these two surgeries happen.(:

Below is a link to a Video of me in the field with the babies I'm sponsoring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The First Of Many

Hey everyone. My name is Julia Carter, a recent early graduate from Wheaton North high school. I will be blogging to you from three amazing countries: Guatemala, Panama and Brazil. 
One of the main reasons I graduated early from high school was because I knew I had a unique opportunity  to go abroad and not only travel but have the privilege of immersing myself in completely different cultures and volunteering among different projects. I've known for a while that traveling and helping others is a passion of mine, so having this opportunity was definitely something I was going to take advantage of. 
Before my departure from the States, I decided that in an effort to do more, I was going to raise money for the different organizations I'd be working with in the near future. To raise the money, I made embroidery bracelets like the one shown in the pictures below.

I was able to make up to 60 bracelets.
I sold the bracelets at my temple and from the help of my friends and family, I was able to raise $1200.  
I will be be seeking out local projects; with the help of my brother Adam, who is the founder of I can't thank you all enough for all your support and I'll check back in soon!!