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From the german mountains to the brazilian hills

My name is Raphael Victor Strauss, I am 20 years old and I am from Germany. After attending my experience at the Youth for a United World School (EJMU) at Mariapolis Ginetta, I decided to have become a volunteer for a period of three months and two weeks in the “Monte Serrat” community in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina (Brazil).

I lived in Father Vilson Groh’s home, located in the community since the 1980s, where he built a network of social projects called the IVG Network (Vilson Groh Institute). Through the Focolare Movement and the Milonga Project, I volunteered at the “Marist Solidarity Network” which is part of the IVG.

I wanted to work as a volunteer living on the periferie of the world, to be able to understand the reality of the people who live in those places and help in providing experiences that can enhance their lives – in the best way possible.

The school has a pastoral ministry, I worked with Keles Gonçalves de Lima (pastoral coordinator) and Pedro Henrique Amado (pastoral assistant). My main work was done in the “PJM” (Marist Youth Ministry) designed for adolescents who study in the Marist network, dealing with human and spiritual formation, through the charisma of Marcelino Champagnat.

The idea of the Ministry “CEM Lucia Mayvorne” is to offer actions that seek integration, dialogue and self-esteem among students, helping them to live with respect and friendship and transmitting positive human values. It is not really a religious activity because due to the diversity present in the community the focus is mainly on cultural issues and values, respecting the faith of the students and their families.

Therefore the focus of the training, is the question of self-esteem and self-confidence and the project of life, as well as the value of sharing. I think that self-esteem and life project are subjects with which students should always be exposed, so that they recognize their own talents and, consequently, their possibilities and their desires. The work of the PJM is of great help and importance in this regard.

In addition to working for the PJM, I participated in a series of activities with primary school children (the first 5 years of school in Brazil). This was a very enriching experience because most of the children were very open. Unlike in Germany, they are not intimidated by the presence of a foreigner, on the contrary, they are very welcoming and curious.

At first it was a bit difficult to relate with these children, but slowly I overcame the barrier and we ended up sharing a beautiful experience. The school staff was very kind, they welcomed me well and we developed a great report. Just like everywhere in the world, problems and difficulties are always present, but there was always something we could do to overcome the difficulties we experienced. In certain situations, I remember that I was very closed in myself when I first arrived, and agian I closed myself when I had to leave because I knew I might not see many of the people ever again. This was one of my greatest difficulties because I really liked the atmosphere that was created in the community and in the school.

Living with Father Vilson has been was a strong and special experience. I had the opportunity to get to know the other projects of the IVG Network, which are spread throughout the metropolitan area of Florianópolis. I had the opportunity to get in touch with the stories of very different people, from a the homeless to a suburban residents of the city, to successful businessman. What struck me was the fact that so many people came to Vilson’s home to ask for help, no matter what kind of problem they had.

During this time I lived together with various other people which was really nice. For example, I lived with several from Italy and Germany and even a homeless person. The experiences I shared with them helped me to mature.

I Participated in the masses in the homes of the community residents or I went to simple bars were full of interesting people. These experiences made me understand how Father Vilson is very important in the life of the city and especially of people living in poverty. It not only demonstrates the importance of his presence in social projects that are part of the community, but also in the lives of the people who live there.

He is a hero for Florianopolis so much so that he can get even the most well-to-do people in the city to sympathize with the poor and give a hand in the realization of his projects; this is a very important thing, in a country where there is a clear social divide between rich and poor that is growing due to political and economic instability.

Living within the Focolare community in Florianopolis was very beautiful, especially between GEN (juvenile branch) and Focolarini (consecrated). They organized our meetings and trips so well during my stay!

In any case, my experience in Florianópolis was rich and unforgettable, and I want to thank everyone who shared It with me.

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