South Whidbey student helps the children of Santos, Brazil
December 9, 2008 · Updated 4:43 PM
Sometimes, all you really need is love.
And Ruby Jones is trying to give back much more than she’s gotten.
The senior at South Whidbey High School has organized a benefit concert on Friday, Dec. 12 at Bayview Community Hall to raise money for some simple playground equipment for a destitute daycare facility in Brazil.
Jones spent last year as a Rotary Club Youth Exchange exchange student to the city of Santos on the southeast coast of Brazil. The principle port for Sao Paulo, Santos has a population of 418,375 and is the biggest seaport in Latin America.
Though it’s also a popular destination, Jones learned during her visit that many lives in Santos remain untouched by the infusion of foreign tourist dollars.
She stayed with four different families over the 12 months while attending a private school in Santos.
Her southern adventure was not without incident, including being mugged while walking with friends in a nearby village.
“No harm came to us; it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “But it was a learning experience.”
After spending time in Brazil, it would have been very difficult not to notice the extreme social issues that exist there, Jones recalled.
“For all its beauty and rich culture, it’s still a Third World country. There is a great deal of violence and crime, especially in the poorer communities.
“Instead of letting my views of the way some people lived make me disheartened, I decided to try to help in any way
I could. I began to volunteer at a public daycare center called A Creche Rotaria in an extremely rough neighborhood,” she recalled.
The center served between 90 to 110 children between the ages of 3 to 9. Most of the children who attended the daycare didn’t have basic necessities in their homes. Besides fundamental education, they were fed and clothed by the employees of the school. When Jones began working there, the tenacity and optimism of the children stunned her.
“I was touched by their warmth and how excited they were to talk and play with me,” she said. “I immediately felt a connection with them.”
After a few days of working at the center she asked if there was anything she should be doing to help, beyond playing with the kids and teaching them a bit of English.
“I will never forget the response that I was given,” she said.
“‘All they need is your love,’ was what the school director told me. And I soon grasped how true that statement was. It gave me so much joy to be able to brighten their day just by letting them sit on my lap and tell me their stories.”
She would go home after four hours at the school completely wiped out and covered in whatever sticky substances the children had on their fingers from that day’s meager lunch.
“I spent my time at the school sitting on the old concrete floors with the blazing sun parked on the nape of my neck, with up to six or seven kids on top of me at any given time.”
Over six feet tall, Jones found she could fit at least four kids on each leg and two in each arm. “They would vie for my attention by yelling ‘o tia, o tia!’ (‘auntie, auntie!’) and as soon as we made eye contact, they would proceed to tell me about their pet dog or their favorite toy.
“It was the best job I’ve ever had.”
But she could hardly fail to notice the deplorable conditions on the flat, dusty outside area of the school.
“I saw how unstable and filthy their toys were, as well as the little plastic slide they had to play on,” she said. “I was determined to build them something that they can climb on without being concerned it would break or pass along some harmful bacteria.”
Since her return in June, Jones has been planning a project to benefit the children of the Creche.
“I decided to put on a benefit concert at the Bayview Hall in their honor. All proceeds will go toward building them a new, safe playground; some slides and swings — nothing fancy — but the kind of play equipment kids in America take for granted,” she said.
Her concert will not only be about getting a new playground for the daycare center, but about raising community awareness.
She wants to share something of her experience with Brazil’s culture, and to let people know about ways they can help. Jones said the experience has changed her life for the better, and she feels honored to have known the students and staff of the daycare center and to be able to do something positive for them.
“I consider it a small gift, compared to what they provided me,” she said.
“I gained a more accurate understanding of what life is like for those who are born into more unfortunate conditions, and a higher appreciation for everything I have and all the opportunities
I have been given.”