Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

12th October 2010

Sophie Bryant: Initial report

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Hi All

As I write this I am currently sat on a train taking me to London St.Pancras, as I trek down south in order to meet up with some of my fellow gappers. My name is Sophie Bryant, and before studying a joint History and Sociology degree at university next year, I am having what will probably (well hopefully) be the most exciting year of my life!

I am taking part in the Baptist Mission Societys Action Team gap year programme. BMS is a Christian mission organisation, which aims to enable people to know Christ, alleviate suffering and injustice and improve the quality of life for people all around the world. I have always wanted to take a gap year and I cant really imagine myself not taking one. I desire a break from education and a change from daily routine, and I believed taking a year out before university and the stress of finding a job etc would be far more suitable. So personally the hard decision for me was not whether to take a gap year or not, but it was choosing what to do and how to make the most of my year. Various friends had recommended organisations and different programmes and I had heard many exciting stories, but it was only after endless hours of searching the internet that I discovered BMS and knew that it was right for me

The Action Team programme is broken up into three parts and the year begins in September with a month of training at their International Mission Centre in Birmingham (IMC) This part of the programme will prepare us for mission emotionally, practically and spiritually as it involves studying a range of topics such as team work, public speaking, evangelism, childrens work, teaching English, programme planning, different religions, cultural awareness and what is mission? Although not the central focus of the programme I think this month of training will be really valuable as it will prepare me for the year ahead and living in another culture, and it will gradually allow me to get use to being away from home and my family/friends but without being in a completely new country! There are 3 others in my team going overseas and so the month of training will give us time and allow our team to unite and get to know each other before the intensity of going to Brazil. However there are around 40 of us altogether doing the action team programme and so in September we will all be living and learning together at the IMC. I am incredibly excited for this, as it will be lots of fun getting to know the others and if the cooking at the training weekend is anything to go by, I am also looking forward to a month of delicious food!

Following this, we go overseas from October-April 2011. My team are going to North East Brazil for 6 months where we will be working with one of BMSs overseas mission partners, and largely we will be involved with the PEPE project. PEPEs are community based Pre-School programs, set up and run by local Christian churches. They benefit children from deprived communities who would otherwise find it difficult to enter the local educational system successfully, and therefore this is a free Pre-School programme that gives poorer children from the slums and local favelas a greater start in life. The children attend for two years, usually when they are 4 and 5 years old, and PEPEs run from Monday to Friday. Each session will either be in the morning or in the afternoon, lasting approximately 3 hours, and the sessions are based on the national curriculum but are taught to the children in an interactive and engaging way. PEPEs are often set up in deprived communities and I worry that I will find the poverty and the childrens circumstances so upsetting, as it will be very different from our comfortable life in the UK.

I am very excited to be involved in this project, and although it is quite daunting as I do not know what to expect, I am honoured to have the opportunity to enrich the lives of the children I meet. Teaching children is hard work and can often be a challenge and so I am aware that this may be very intense and I am slightly anxious about this. However teaching children in Portuguese a language I have never come across before is an entirely different matter!! As they are so young they will not be able to communicate anything in English and so my teaching will rely entirely on my ability to speak Portuguese and communicate through hand gestures. The thought of this worries me quite a lot…as I know it will be frustrating to think that Im not getting anywhere or being of use to the children. We will be having intense Portuguese lessons when we arrive in Brazil and rumour has it that when forced in a situation like this a language is easy to pick up, but it is still pretty overwhelming! Alongside the Pepe project we will be working with the local churches and involved with other hands on work as well, and so I will certainly have to learn to be flexible! The climate in north eastern Brazil is very hot and it will be a dry summer for the period that we are there for. As exciting as this is, I know this will be one of the many changes I will have to face. Some details still havent been finalised, but we will either be staying with a host family or having our own apartment. I think staying with a host family would be a great experience as it would force us to engage fully in the new culture but this would be quite intense for half a year and so having our own apartment would at least give us a bit more freedom. As there are only 4 of us in our team we will get to know one another pretty closely and it is both exciting and scary to think that 3 strangers will become my family and friends for the next 9 months!

Overall I think this will be an amazing opportunity for me and Im looking forward to experiencing a new culture, a new climate, a new language, new foods and almost every day…the unexpected! I will be putting my faith into action in a radical way, and I know that this will be a life changing year.

On return to the UK, our final part of the programme is to go on tour. This is a time to assimilate all our stories and experiences of our time in Brazil and we spend two months sharing these with eight different churches and cities across the UK. Like the training, I think this will be a valuable part of the programme as it will give us time to reflect on the last 6 months and motivate others to become involved in volunteering overseas.

With a month to go before my adventure begins, I have overcome my fear of injections and the daunting fundraising total and its all starting to feel so real!

Love Sophie

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