August 16, 2018

Volunteer-Driven Dream School Becomes a Beacon of Hope in the Amazon

Michael Rohm, for Adventist Review

At first glance, Nova Jerusalém is no different from the countless villages that dot the banks of the labyrinthine Amazon River corridor in Brazil. Like their neighbors, the people of Nova Jerusalém claim a hard-won existence between the banks of remote tributary waters and the encroaching canopy of dense jungle. Like their neighbors, the scattered families of this small community lack access to resources such as clean water, modern health care, and telecommunication.

But Nova Jerusalém isdifferent from the countless other villages in the state of Amazonas. The distant plot of land on which the community was built is no longer just jungle and dispersed homes — it is a beacon of hope for hundreds of otherwise forgotten families.

Thanks to the new school complex built along the bank, these families have a portal to a world far beyond the jungle.

Adventist Technical School of Massauari

The Adventist Technical School of Massauari (abbreviated in Portuguese as ETAM), began with a dream as remote as the jungle community in which it was formed. When Daniel and Naissen Fernandes, both nurses, moved to Nova Jerusalém as medical missionaries, they planned only to build a clinic and develop a reliable, if rudimentary, health care system.

Within three years, they had done exactly that.

“And now brothers,” Daniel recalls asking the elders of the community, “what should we build next?”

When the elders requested a school for their community, Daniel knew the likelihood of success was low. He knew, too, that access to education was prohibitive for nearly every family in the region, and that a school in Nova Jerusalém would create unprecedented opportunities for children who had none.

“That was the beginning of the dream,” he said.

The journey to build a school first took shape with the help of several local Brazilian mission groups, and the generosity of one architect.

When Rolf Maier visited Nova Jerusalém in 2014 as a mission trip volunteer, he learned of Daniel’s dream to build a school. The architect was initially skeptical, but as he learned more about the potential for education, he decided to support Daniel’s vision.

“That dream of his was so big,” he recalled. “God slowly put the same dream in my heart.”

By the end of his trip, Rolf offered to develop the plans necessary to build the school of Daniel’s dreams.

“I designed a complex that could be built as funds came through, and as missions came through,” he said of his blueprints.

For the next four years, that is exactly what happened. Each stage of the project was met with increasing support from donors and volunteers from all around Brazil, including the purchase of land big enough to house an entire school complex, the successful appeal to short and long-term volunteers as laborers and teachers, and the ever-widening net of support from beyond Brazilian borders.

The ADRA Connection

When news of the Adventist Technical School of Massauari reached ADRA Connections —the volunteer arm of the Adventist humanitarian agency, ADRA International — it gained unprecedented exposure.

“ADRA Connections is designed to show people in the United States all the great work that is being done in Latin America,” said Adam Wamack, ADRA Connections Manager. “The school in Nova Jerusalém was an excellent opportunity to engage with our universities and support the work of our Brazilian family.”

Wamack saw this project as an opportunity to launch ADRA Connections Extreme, an in-depth mission experience for those who seek a profound immersion into volunteer work and community connection.

“Just getting to Nova Jerusalém requires a big commitment,” Wamack said. “It’s 30 hours by boat down the Amazon, and when you get there, you’re sleeping in hammocks for two weeks. ADRA Connections Extreme is not for the faint of heart.”

Despite the extreme nature of the trip, students from all across America and Brazil proved eager to experience mission work in the heart of the Amazon.

From July 8 to July 22, more than 80 students from six Adventist universities in North America joined an additional 100 student volunteers from Centro Universitario Adventista de Sao Paulo in Brazil for the inaugural ADRA Connections Extreme trip.

Ashton Hardin was one of five students from La Sierra University to join the trip. The student chaplain and student body president of La Sierra University saw the mission experience as a good way to reconnect with her faith and her global community, even if the physical challenges seemed daunting.

“Being part of something bigger than myself was more important than my fears,” she said. “For those who want to do something different, you have to step out of your comfort zone and realize you are doing something that will last a lifetime.”

A New School in the Jungle

By the end of the two-week mission trip, the hard work of volunteers like Ashton had paid off: the multi-building complex was complete.

Where there was once only jungle, there is now a dormitory, a cafeteria, classrooms, a library, and houses for the volunteer teachers.

Bianca Santo Costa is one such volunteer teacher. The recent graduate of Universitario Adventista de Sao Paulo first visited the village in 2014, back when the school was a distant dream.

She still gets emotional when she talks about the journey of the humble community of Nova Jerusalém.

“Who would’ve thought that in the middle of the river, in a community without internet or cell phone signal, there would be such an amazing school built entirely by donations and mission trips?” she said. “I see now that for God, nothing is impossible.”

Though the younger children of the community may not yet understand the years-long commitment of donors and volunteers from all over the world, they do understand that now, for the first time in their lives, they have a complete school complex in which to learn.

The 44 students of the Adventist Technical School of Massauari, ages 5-14, now have access to a world far larger than the world of their parents.

“What a great opportunity these kids have here,” Bianca said. “They need their dreams to be nurtured so they can grow up and have the assurance that they can become medics, missionaries, teachers, dentists.”

Already, the children are starting to dream.

“I want to be a lawyer,” said 10-year-old Nayla from Nova Esperança, a 30-minute boat ride upriver from Nova Jerusalém. “I want to defend people.”

“I want to be a doctor because we can care for people,” said Josué, also from Nova Esperança. “I want to say thank you to everybody who helped to build our school.”

Now that there is a school in Nova Jerusalém to encourage students like Nayla and Josúe, the local municipality in nearby Barreinha has agreed to support the community.

“Today, the local town office pays our teachers, pays for the school transportation, pays for children lunches, and it even sends us school materials,” Daniel said. “For human eyes, this seems impossible, but for God, nothing is impossible.”