RIO DE JANEIRO – DAY 16

Today was bittersweet. It was Melissa’s last day, we had an incredible self-esteem building activity, and we had a Brazilian vegan fruit feast! Now, a vegan feast might not sound that exciting to you, but to Miss Melissa Lingo, the sexiest vegan in America, it was a slice of heaven.

We reprized an activity from our last project here in Brazil where each of us had a paper taped to our backs and everyone had to anonymously write encouraging and postive things to each other. It was amazing to see how these girls love and repect one another. They called each other beautiful, strong, corageous, mother, warrior, and the list goes on. Each of them has a story and everyone had the right words for each other. When we were finished writing, all of them read their own papers out loud. So many of the girls had no idea that their classmates felt this way about them.

One of our students, Graça missed the first part of class. So, we had all the girls write on her paper before she got there. When she got there we were all singing with the Ukelelady herself and having so much fun. We ended our little “Kumbaya”  with all the girls singing Hallelujah and we all were in tears together. Then it was time for Graça to read her paper. Hers was filled front and back with beautiful words of encouragement and love. Overwhelmed with emotion, another student read hers aloud. She was so moved by the beautiful things her friends had to say about her. She didn’t feel worthy of the compliments her fellow students gave to her.

Graça is our eldest student. At 54 years old, she works very hard to keep up with the class. She says she’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. Whenever she has nothing to do, she finds something to do. Whether it is another students hair, or cleaning, or watching another student work to learn all she can, Graça is truly an example to the girls. We all know her as the classroom mommy and the girls all look to her and respect her. As she broke down while hearing what everyone thought of her, she opened up about what was happening in her life at home. She cares for some of her grandchildren, one of which comes with her to beauty school everyday. She has a grandson with special needs that she cares for and loves him dearly. Graça is under a lot of pressure as a wife, mother, and grandmother to make ends meet. Like most people, she uses humor to mask her hurt, her pain, nad her insecurities. Today was her day to let go and let everything out that she had been holding onto for so long. She said she finally felt safe to share all that she has been dealing with for so long.

Graça truly exemplifies the meaning of her name, filled with Grace. We are all previledged to know her and to call her friend.

Nothing in the world could have prepared me for this. The girls gathered around Graça and prayed for her in her time of need. The support these women give to each other is a beautiful thing to watch. Eu ti amo, Graça….

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