Alternative Break in the Amazon: Get to Know Santarém

by Melissa Nix

In May 2019, Sierra Viands traveled to Brazil to serve and learn with Amizade as part of a group from West Virginia University. She loved her time in Santarém, and she shared a few reasons why the experience was so special to her in an interview with Communications and Development Associate Melissa Nix. Keep reading to see what she had to say! 

Melissa: What made you choose travel to Santarém, Brazil?

Sierra: Well, I have always wanted to leave the country and explore coming from a family who has only been to Canada and Mexico, but I wanted a real purpose. I needed a reason to leave— not just an expensive spring break trip like many college students my age. The Brazil trip was among the few trips that coincided with my medical major and it integrated us into the culture. So, I said yes!

Melissa: It’s awesome that you were so thoughtful about what you wanted out of your spring break! Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in Santarém?

Sierra: At first, it was definitely overwhelming to not be speaking the same language as all of the locals, signs, etc. but it was easier than I expected to get comfortable because the people were so welcoming and great. We got to visit local hospitals and programs that benefited the community, and it was interesting to see the setup and funding of those places which was much different than in the states. Every person I met was nice and wanted to help us and experience the culture. We learned the traditional carimbo and capoeira dances and were offered traditional Brazilian dishes with the famous Guarana soda that I miss. We got to visit a local native village in the Amazon where they profited from the rubber trees there. We also got to float along the river and see the beautiful lilypads.

Melissa: What is one memorable moment or story that stands out for you?

Sierra: Going to the municipal hospital with the Trupe So Riso Project was one of the many moments that I enjoyed while in Brazil. We went to the pediatric department and blew up balloon animals and sang some songs and acted out a play for the children that were residents at the hospital all while dressed as clowns! It was quite hysterical, but I loved it and seeing the kids getting to be kids and enjoying it the most made all the difference in my heart.

Melissa: Now that you’re back home, have you made any changes in your daily life or your way of thinking based on your experiences in Brazil?

Sierra: I have changed my views slightly more than I thought I would. In Brazil, everyone is welcoming and wants to help people who might not even be struggling as much as they are. It was astonishing the good in people there. And the collectivism that the villages displayed was thought-provoking. As soon as we got to the hostel that was graciously given to us, we were nervous to shower with lizards and were complaining about the temperature and pressure of the water. We were humbled instantly after we understood more of the things some people in a developing country live with (e.g. some people don’t even wear shoes or only have one pair.. not to mention the water isn’t drinkable, so some individuals were deprived of a basic necessity.)

Melissa: What advice do you have for other volunteers who are interested in going to Brazil?

Sierra: Do it! It’s worth it. Great place, great food, great people. I would advise other volunteers to fully immerse themselves in the culture there. I had a great experience, much thanks to Jullyana and Thaissa, and it is so nice to be welcomed into a country where you have never been. When I got off the plane in the USA, I felt less cozy and at home in a country I’ve lived my whole life.

Thank you Sierra for telling us your experience in Santarém. Your insights are very thought-provoking, your memories from the program sound fun, and plus, you all made great clowns!

Did you like what you read? Plan an alternative break program with Amizade and help us achieve our mission!