The excitement I had when I got the news that I was going to Brazil is hard to put in to words, but the feeling I had when actually landing in Brazil after a long and exhausting flight is even harder to describe.
It was a mixture of joy, nerves, excitement, amazement, but most of all ready to start!
I arrived on Friday morning and the rest of the team started to arrive one by one later that day. After being met by Rodrigo from CDS (the company that organized the CIIP project for Celanese) we had lunch in the mall close by and had a chance to finally get to know the people we have been talking to on the phone for weeks but never met in person before. Our team consisted of 10 people from all over the world: Brian, Rick, Liz and Andrea from the US; Barry and Angela from China; Meike and Alex from Germany; Joanne from Singapore; and of course me from Hungary. I have had the privilege of working together with many people from all over the world before, but never such a small diverse group.
On Sunday we had a city tour including a walk in the large park and a safety presentation after which we were introduced to the famous Brazilian cuisine; a traditional Brazilian steakhouse where the steaks are served by waiters carrying them on big stakes allowing you to choose the exact cut you want to have on your plate. After a day and a half together the team was already getting along well.
The next morning, Monday the September 2, we were finally introduced to the organizations and people we were in Brazil to help. We met in the large meeting room of the hotel and got an overview of the organizations and finally a direct introduction followed by a (very traditional) handshake and hug from everyone. After a quick snack and some more words from CDS, we all split up and went to our assigned NGO (Non-Government Organization).. My team consisted of Brian (US), Meike (Germany), Angela (China) and myself; a good mixture of cultures.
Arriving at Estação Vida was like coming home to a warm bath and meal prepared by your own mom and grandmother; it felt so good to be welcomed by people and kids that all want to get to know you and are just happy to see you and feed you even though they don’t know you.
The first week our main focus and goal was to listen to our NGO, gather the details about the scope of work and create a business plan that we can present to them, CDS and Celanese. The scope of our project was focused on two things: 1) Optimizing their current garden to increase the capacity and potential harvest and 2) the marketing and sales of the crops grown in it. Estação Vida has a traditional Mandala garden, a round garden with a fish pond in the middle which provides nutrient rich water for the garden.
While trying to figure out local prices for vegetables, marketing strategies and sales reports, Brian and I couldn’t resist the urge to work in the garden any longer.
We decided to split up the work with the girls; they would work mainly on the sales and marketing part and Brian and I would focus more on the garden work.
In the second week we all started to make good progress. Angela and Meike started to come up with a marketing plan, sales plan and ideas how to increase the awareness of Estação Vida in the close neighborhoods, and Brian and I were already busy digging in the garden.
Coming to “work” every day at Estação Vida meant the same routine each morning: walking through the gate and being greeted by all the kids that were already in classes or walking around on the grounds. Some greeted us with a smile and wave, some with a handshake we taught them, and some with a warm hug that felt like lasted forever.
The third and fourth week were going by at lightning speed and so was the progress we were making. We came up with a home-made product to sell to customers, pickled cucumbers, which could be made by the kids, with the idea to sell vegetable baskets. It would be a whole basket full of freshly picked vegetables that would be delivered to the customer’s home. By the end of the fourth week we already had four weekly orders, which brought in more money than the entire garden did before we arrived!
In the mean time we also made good progress on the garden. We cleared out many unused parts and created new rows ready for planting. We also started working on improving the irrigation system and bought new sprinklers. After a couple of trials and errors, we figured out the ideal sprinkler and received Celanese funding to purchase 250 of them. The gardener and all the other people were immediately happy with the result, a much better and more efficient spread of water which uses much less water.
Also in the fourth week we had our team building event where we decided to invite the whole team out to our NGO to build a greenhouse for seedlings and pergola for the passion fruit vine. The team building event was a great success; the end result was celebrated by everyone and it was a great feeling for us that we finally got to build something!
The last couple of days we were working mostly on finishing the watering system and optimizing the garden, giving the people at Estação Vida a map of the garden in its most optimum way taking in to consideration the growing time and types of crops which can grow where.
On the business end, we presented them with a detailed sales report and marketing plan which should help them generate many more customers and income. All of our ideas and improvements were happily received by the entire staff of Estação Vida.
Then the hardest thing about this whole project came, saying goodbye to those people we considered family by now. The hardest goodbyes were to the kids and staff of Estação Vida with whom we shared many tears and laughs while giving our last hugs as we slowly made our way out of the facility. When the door closed we all had a moment of silence when we realized our project was over.
This was by far the best experience of my life! Working together with so many different people in an amazing country on such a project is something I will never forget and something I will share with anyone.
Amazing, warm, unforgettable, emotional, tough, inspirational, heartwarming, eye-opening, encouraging and exciting are just some of the words which come to my mind when trying to sum up this project!
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of 10 blog posts by team members of the first Celanese International Impact Program to Uberlandia, Brazil.