Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Sergio Moraes
I never imagined to find so many tragic stories that end with joy, until I discovered the project called “Praia para Todos”, or “Beach for Everyone.” The project, sponsored by the NGO Instituto Novo Ser in Rio, offers recreation and sport to the physically handicapped on Saturdays at Barra da Tijuca beach, and on Sundays at Copacabana. The project is run by physical therapists and students, all of them volunteers. They built ramps on top of the sand so that wheelchairs could easily reach the water’s edge.
In my first contact with the organizers, I asked for help to meet some of the visitors so that I could follow their personal stories. The first one I spoke to was Patricia Alves de Souza, 41, the mother of an incredible boy named Jorge, or Jorginho. Jorginho, 11, was born prematurely with brain paralysis. Jorginho is crazy about soccer, and doesn’t tire of telling stories about his favorite team, Vasco da Gama. He knows everything about Vasco.
Jorginho has always dreamed of going to the beach and swimming in the sea. Since he lives in Iraja, a middle-class neighborhood 35 km (20 miles) from the shore, the first time he was able to go to a beach was in 2009, but he never reached the water. His mother, who was abandoned by her husband after Jorginho was born, couldn’t push the wheelchair on the sandy beach at Copacabana.
Last February, thanks to Beach for Everyone, Jorginho bathed in the sea for the first time. When I entered the water with him, I asked him what he thought of the water. He answered with the question, “Are you going to remember this day, forever?” I told him yes. He couldn’t thank the volunteers enough for helping him in the amphibious chair.
I met another person who was lots of fun, Marcelo Cardoso. Marcelo, 20, is a swimmer who competes in butterfly in spite of having been born with a malformed spine. He can’t walk, but he can swim. When he arrived at the program, he didn’t tell the counselors that he knew how to swim and picked out two young and pretty volunteers to help him into the water. After being held by them for some time, he suddenly took off swimming. When the girls asked him why he didn’t say anything before, he laughed. “I wanted to spend time with you.”