College student from South America drawn to social work

From the The Brunswick News

Luisa Lopes is like many 20-year-olds - she enjoys using Skype, watching soccer and reading.

But there are some aspects of Lopes' life that makes her stand out. For starters, she's an immigrant.

"I was born and raised in Brazil. I came to America to play tennis for the College of Coastal Georgia," she said. "I lived in Arizona for one year as an exchange student, and after that I came to Brunswick to play tennis, so I have only been living in America for three years. I go back to Brazil every winter and summer break to see my family and friends."

These breaks provide other opportunities for Lopes, too. During her summer vacation this year, Lopes joined her parents on a mission to help residents of Equatorial Guinea.

"My parents live there. My dad works for a Brazilian construction company called ARG that builds highways in Equatorial Guinea (Africa), and my mom works with the social work there. So I decided to go visit them and get to see a different country," Lopes said. "I wanted to see where they live, to experience a completely different culture and to be able to share my experience with other people."

The native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, spent the majority of her summer vacation in the central African nation. And what she experienced there taught her much about life.

"They do not have anything. They can't shower because they don't have water, they have to hunt to be able to eat and the conditions they live in are just really bad and sad to see," Lopes said.

She wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people there. And during her brief visit, Lopes worked hard to do just that. Among other things, she made time to simply connect with the residents to show them she cares. Lopes spent most of her time interacting with children.

"I was always with my mom trying to help her with what I could. I liked spending time with the children, playing around, trying to talk to them ... since they speak Spanish and I speak Portuguese it was kind of difficult," Lopes said.

"While my mom took care of her work and other things, I was spending time with the children and trying to give them the attention they want but don't have."

The children weren't the only ones who benefitted from these interactions. They meant a great deal to Lopes as well. So much so, in fact, she might pursue a career in social work.

"It made me realize how amazing my life is, and it made me so grateful for everything I have. Seeing them live like they do was very shocking and sad, so I really appreciate everything I have and what my parents do for me," she said.

It made such an impact on Lopes, she hopes to continue doing the work in the future.

"After visiting Africa, I definitely want to do more social work. I would like to maybe spend some more time in Africa next summer if my dad is still there and also do other types of social work in Brazil," she said.

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Release Date: 9/18/2012
Source: The Brunswick News

By LINDSEY ADKISON