Back in April, the U.S. Department of State and FIRST contacted the Flying Monkeys to see if they would be interested in presenting at the Rio +20 UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The answer of course was, YES! Since then it was a flurry of preparation: passports, visas, travel arrangements, preparations for presentations and packing. Once school was out the girls were working nearly full time to finish everything before we left.
We recently flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For all the girls, this was the first time they had been out of the United States and in a country where English was not the first language. They worked on learning a few basics of Portuguese before we left, being sure to master “Bom gia! Bem vindo! Oi! Como vai? Tudo bem, tudo legal. ‘Ta bom! Onde são os servicios? Obrigada. De nada e Tchau!”* Armed with some basics, my Portuguese classes from 20 years ago, Spanish and French we were set to take the plunge. The flight was an overnight flight and while nobody sleeps well on those, the girls managed to get some shut eye. A few of them were awake and able to behold an amazing sight: sunrise at 37,000’ over the Amazon Rainforest.
Truly an auspicious beginning to our trip. From there, we sailed through customs, onto the van and off to the hotel. Hotel Marina Palace is located on the beach in Leblon. Where? Right next to Ipanema (anyone remember the song The Girl From Ipanema?); just down from Copacabana (remember Barry Manilow's song?) on the upscale south side of Rio. In spite of the fact that it is winter in Brazil, the weather was in the 80‘s, people were out swimming, surfing, playing volleyball and soccer. Yes, we managed a visit to the beach!
BUT, the real reason we were there was for the Rio +20. We presented at the Catholic University, which was hosting the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation organized by the International Conference on Science (ICSU).
The Monkeys also presented at the US Pavilion as part of the official Side Events of the UN Conference, showcasing youth and innovations. We joined Nithin Tumma, winner of the INTEL Science Talent Search and two student representatives of the Gulliver International Team, winner of the Conrad Foundation Award. These recently graduated high schoolers were amazing with what they have done: portable water filtration systems for Haiti and ground breaking breast cancer treatment research. Still they were just as impressed with the Flying Monkeys as we were with them. I noted one thing that all three groups have in common: they wouldn't accept no for an answer; they never gave up, looking for other solutions when something didn't work right. Oh don't forget hard work, ridiculous hours and passion.
While at the Side Event, we did what few ever do (even those who attended the event!): we took a golf cart tour of the world in 20 minutes! Chauffeured by CAIXA (a sponsor of the events), we zipped past Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Japan, China, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy and many more countries! It was fun to see how each country represented themselves! After our presentation, we headed across the way to Rio Centro, where the UN Conference was being held. Security was definitely a priority, so it was a good thing we were already registered with an accredited NGO (fancy terms for a non governmental organization) and could pass with relative ease. (Note to GS Leaders: there are reasons you carry copies of all the important documents with you on trips... we needed copies of the confirmation letters as it turns out!)
Accompanied by the US Department of State and FIRST, we met with officials from the US Consulate, UNESCO, and ICSU . We met professors, students, representatives of corporations and others, even some of the Rockwell Collins folks who sponsored our adventure. Don't they look smashing with their official Flying Monkey Travel Neck Pillows!?!
While there we also managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing, visiting Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf),
Corcovado (where the iconic statue of the Redeemer presides over the Rio skyline),
the Jardim Bôtanico, and even a Flamengo soccer game (they're one of the hometown teams). This stadium is just their team's stadium. The Maracanã is being renovated for the 2014 World Cup Finals and the the 2016 Summer Olympics. That said, this "little" stadium holds close to 100,000 people by my guess. However, this was not considered an important game so the opposing team's fans did not travel to the game and the stands were only mostly full on the one side. I'll guess there was still 40,000 people there: drum lines, flags, songs and all. Yes, Flamengo won the game in the last minutes and the crowd went wild!
It was exciting to see how the girls handled themselves with an ever changing schedule, discussing innovation strategies, even trying new foods. Hey, it's a UN event, it's okay to try sushi!
The Flying Monkeys learned about navigating airports and cities in a foreign country and working through language and cultural barriers! It was an amazing, hectic, beautiful, inspiring experience. It was an honor that none of us will ever forget; one that I am proud to have been able to share with the girls.
*Bom gia! Good day!
Bem vindo! Welcome!
Como vai? How’s it going?
Tudo bem, tudo legal. It’s all good!
‘Ta bom? ‘Ta bom! Alright? Alright!
Onde são os servicios? Where’s the bathroom?
Obrigada Thank you
De nada You’re welcome
- Melissa Murray for the Flying Monkeys