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LEWISBURG, Pa. – Ten Bucknell students and two staff members spent spring break sweltering in the Brazilian sun, but they weren’t relaxing on the beach.
As part of Bucknell Hillel’s alternative spring break trip to Brazil, the group worked in a Rio de Janeiro slum, called a favela, to renovate a building that will eventually house a cultural center. These squalid favelas are home to around 20 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s population.
The Bucknell Hillel trip was supported by Bucknell’s Fund for Human Tolerance and Understanding, created by Kenneth Langone, Class of ’57, to nurture the Jewish community and deepen the understanding of Jewish thought at Bucknell. The students were accompanied by Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Serena Fujita and Kathleen Graham, director of gift planning.
Intercultural exchange activities included interacting with Hillel Rio de Janeiro members and attending a Purim costume party with about 400 young Jewish people from the area. Half of the Bucknell travelers are Jewish. The other half come from other faith traditions.
During the trip, March 7-15, the group renovated a building that will house the cultural center at the Saibreira community, located in a favela in Bangú, Rio de Janeiro. The tzedek, a social justice project, helped ready the facility to be used for cultural workshops, music, dance, theater, planning of cultural events and other classes.
“The most meaningful part of the experience was creating something that will help a community,” Fujita said.
Morgan Newman, Class of ’09, who says the Rio trip was one of the best Bucknell experiences she’s had, agreed.
“What made is special is that we talk about tzedekah, or charity, in Judaism, about giving back to the community, but to see a community of 18 people living in three rooms, it’s almost unfathomable,” she said. “It was such a humbling experience to see people who had so little and yet gave so much of themselves, spending time with us, welcoming us into their homes with open arms, treating us with ice pops at the end of the day. It cultivates the spirit of service that is an integral part of Judaism.”
The group also spent time volunteering at a shelter for girls ages 13 to 17, many of whom are pregnant.
“These are people who don’t have opportunity or hope,” Fujita said. “I think this experience will impact them for a very long time.”
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