CURITIBA, Brazil — As radio announcers were encouraging people stay in the comfort of their own homes because of the chilly 5-degree Celsius weather (40 degrees F.), more than a thousand Church members and friends remodeled and cleaned up nine public schools in this city.
The project was done by the Church's service organization, Helping Hands, but was so large that it was planned for two consecutive weekends. The painting, cleaning, maintenance of the water and electrical systems, tree trimming, along with other small repairs, improved the learning environment for more than 8,000 students.
This is the second consecutive year Church members have improved the public schools in Curitiba. The projects have strengthened the relationships and confidence between the leadership of the Church and the local government. The Institute of Education of the State of Parana gave support to the project and insisted that they work in conjunction with the members.
"I am very emotional regarding the help from the Church," said Professor Sheila Marize Toledo Pereira, head of the Regional Educational Center in Curitiba, who followed the project closely. "You are giving much more than restorations of buildings … you are teaching us a lesson in pure charity."
Volunteers began working at about 8 a.m. Among the first to arrive was Carmen Oliveira de Medeiros, 70, and her son, Joaquim Oliveira, president of the Curitiba stake, and granddaughter, Raquel, 20.
"The Church has taught us to serve our neighbor and that in doing so we would receive joy. The fact is that we experience much happiness in our family," she said.
President Jarbas Souza of the Brazil Curitiba Boa Vista Stake had just returned home late the day before from a l6-hour trip. Though tired, he and his family were there early to begin work.
"When you see a project like this one that is being done with so much love, the will and desire to participate override any other thing," he said.
For Ana Claudia Bavasd, it wasn't just an opportunity to serve but a time to be serving with her family. "I am very happy," she said. "My husband is returning to the Church and it is so great to have him with me on this project. He has always been a charitable man and I hope we will be able to serve together forever."
That sentiment was echoed by the Alex and Fabiane Orengo family, friends of the Church who participated in the service.
"I never saw people so animated, happy, receptive and willing to work," said Mr. Orengo. "I noticed right away these people had something special about them. I do not know exactly what it was, but I think that it might have something to do with the natural spirituality of the group."
Unfortunately, the day following the service project, a weather front accompanied by fierce rain and hail hit the city, causing traffic jams and flooding. In some places in the city, the water flooded and reached heights of more than four feet high. At the Amancio Mouro School where the Orengo family had worked, classrooms flooded and the administration offices were almost destroyed by hail.
"Even though the storm had ruined the newly painted walls, the colors of love, friendship and respect remained in our hearts, never to be washed away," said Mr. Orengo said.
— Translated by Jeannette N. Oakes