This summer, 15 Washington high school students spent 10 days in Brazil, where they experienced everything from the rustic beauty of Ipanema to the hardscrabble poverty of the country’s favelas.

The trip to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador was the maiden journey for Global Gateways, an intensive five-week summer program run by Global Kids, Inc, a non-profit based in New York.

The program introduces underserved D.C. youth to global issues, international careers, and gives its students a chance to travel abroad. As part of their preparation for the trip, the students spent three weeks studying global affairs at Howard University’s Bunche Center for International Affairs. Then they put their studies in action, visiting two regions of the South American country.

During their time abroad, they interacted with local students, explored different historical neighborhoods and went sightseeing around the country. Here’s a photo gallery chronicling their time in Brazil.

Since they’ve been back, the students have been attending after school classes on international issues and civic engagement at Friendship Collegiate Academy and Bell Multicultural High School. The program was started by D.C. resident Kim McClure, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, who first conceived of the program while still a graduate student in 2003.

(L to R) Seniors Selam Amare, Yemi Getachew, and Amber Walton on the beach in Arembepe. (Eddie Mandhry/Courtesy of Global Gateways)

Amber Walton, 18, a senior at Bell Multicultural high school from Anacostia, sat down and talked to TheRootDC about her observations of Brazil and its people.

“Every single day felt like a week long because we did so much. There was so much we had to do in one day: the Christ statue in Rio; the beach in Rio was so much different than the beach here: the things they do on the beach, the things they wear.

“But it was the standard of living that stuck out to me. The standard of living there was so much lower than what it is here. I think for some of us, we have pretty low standards if we live in the city, but it’s even more so there. As we went further into the countryside, there was a really big differentiation between the social classes.

“We went to favelas. I think those were my favorite part of the trip. There are so many different kinds of favelas, some with electricity and running water; some without.

“The standard of living was just a shock to me. People didn’t have shoes on their feet, but there was a sense of community. And I think that when we contrast that to our culture I don’t feel as if our community is together like that…or as tight as it could be. It was touching to see that although there are so many problems there was this still sense of community…

“We talked with a few people, and they are not driven to get out of favelas. That’s not their goal. A lot of people told us: I’ve lived in a favela my entire life. And their goal is just to clean up their favelas. I was interested because in our neighborhood if you live in the projects, you want to get out of the projects. But there, that’s not the case. I think that goes back to the sense of community.

“What else surprised me? The food. I’m a vegetarian, but I ate the meat. And it was delicious! The community where I go to school is in a Salvadorian and Mexican community, and I was expecting the food to be similar but it wasn’t. The same black beans, but they taste so much different. I was like whoa! What did you do? My favorite meal though was one you got off the street. It was made from tapioca and they put this amazing cheese in it.

“Overall, the poverty struck me. I’ve seen poverty before but [not] on that level….it was too young for me. Too many little kids running around sleeping on cardboard. It was weird…they would find us in the daytime and walk around with us all day. I don’t know where they went [at] night.

“When we were leaving, we left early in the morning. I saw a few of them on the street. It was very sad. It was definitely an eye opener. I found that many people there are very kind. I felt that they were touched by us being there and wanting to associate with them. Most of the people who were living in that town wouldn’t associate with those kids just because they were living on the street. They were so happy every morning to walk with us, and not just because we would get them food. We didn’t give them money. It was touching to know you could touch a person just by friending them.”

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