UNL students bring home stories, lessons from São Paulo

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Photo by Anna Reed, Searching São Paulo. Men pray at the crack rehab center outside of São Paulo, Brazil.

Amanda Woita, News Net Nebraska

Descendants from slaves collect oysters to make a better life on the land they inherited.

A mother and a father work to help their young son reach his dreams of becoming a professional surfer.

A woman plays the role of mother, father, wife and husband to keep her family going. Couriers risk their lives every day to provide a living for their family.

A young mother wants to work to support her disabled baby, but if she does, her government assistance will be taken away.

Last week, photography students from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications presented “Searching São Paulo,” featuring these stories of people in need in Brazil.

While each person in the group came back to Nebraska with a story, they also came back with more experiences. Senior news editorial major Anna Reed worked on a story about crack addiction in São Paulo with her partner Brianna Soukup. They spent much of their time in “Cracolandia,” or “Crackland.”

The story turned out to be dangerous for Reed and Soukup. They were held up at knifepoint. And on Christmas Eve, the two were delivering gifts when their escorts told them to get back in their van. They drove only a few blocks when the people outside started screaming and throwing rocks at the vehicle.

“It wasn’t the safest place in the world,” Reed said. “But the story is important enough as long as I don’t get seriously hurt, it’s worth it.”

Despite these dangers, Reed took messages away from her experience.

“Personally, I haven’t been around that – it was a change. It was a change I needed to see,” Reed said. “The drug is horrible. The people are stuck in it, but that doesn’t make them bad.”

For junior news editorial major Cara Wilwerding, this was her first time out of the United States. She said she learned to the value of family.

“The Brazilian way is to embrace the people you know rather than the things we have,” Wilwerding said.

Wilwerding followed the story of a woman who worked in a recycling plant. Her husband was paralyzed from the waist down after a motorcycle accident. So she has to work alone to support her family.

“They are her motivation to work in garbage,” Wilwerding said. “Family is everything.”

Wilwerding stayed the night with this family twice to spend more time with them. Even though the family offered her a bed every time she visited them, she said she felt guilty about taking a bed from someone. She added that their living space was shared with two other families. And their upstairs was plywood supported by the wall structures that you had to climb a ladder to get to.

A building like this would be condemned in the U.S., but in São Paulo, it’s common.

“It wasn’t a vacation, but it was incredibly eye-opening,” Wilwerding said.

Andrew Dickinson, a senior News Editorial major saw another example of what people are willing to do for their families.

Dickinson followed Motoboys, couriers on motorcycles who deliver packages. One courier said “A motoboy who hasn’t had an accident isn’t a motoboy.”

Riding on these motorcycles is dangerous. But the more deliveries these couriers make, the more money they make.

“What these people will do for their families … they could die each time they go out,” Dickinson said. “It’s difficult to get your head around.”

Dickinson said he hoped those who saw the stories will think of how their life is versus the lives of the many other people living in the world. He said remembering the messages in these stories will hopefully motivate people to affect change.

Before the presentations began, the ten students who worked on these projects collected donations and sold raffle tickets. The proceeds will go to the people and organizations whose stories were shared.

One recipient in particular is Ana Clara. A one-year-old born with shortened limbs. Ana Clara is missing an arm, one of her feet is twisted, and the other needs to be leveled. Without surgery on them, Ana Clara may never walk. Some of the money donated will go toward her surgery.

“If that girl gets this surgery and walks someday … what’s better than that?” Dickinson said.

Reed added that through this presentation, there was something she wanted everyone to learn.

“We need to realize that there’s so much life out there, so much struggle out there,” Reed said, “but at there’s also a lot of hopeful people out there.”

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