Christmas came early for the kids of Rio! Thanks to our wonderful Grabr shoppers, we gifted toys to more than one hundred children in need this holiday season.
With all of the extra interest from shoppers abroad scouting for holiday treats and taking advantage of Cyber Monday for the first time, we gifted 733 items, thanks to YOU!
We brought in our Travel Ambassador Alyssa of My Life’s A Movie, to deliver the toys on our behalf, and meet up with our community firsthand.
In addition to exploring the best in solo adventure travel full-time, Alyssa is the founder of her own charity, HeartSleeves.org, so we knew she’d be the perfect person to make these kids smile.
Scroll through our Q&A with Alyssa and see some of our favorite photos, complete with decorations, yummy treats and even an appearance from Santa himself. What happened next, was pure magic.
What was it like to meet all of these adorable kids in Brazil?
It was amazing; very refreshing, and humbling to see the innocence and happiness of young children who may not have much, but are always excited and curious about life at all times.
Each one seemed like their own special character, some shy, some bold, but all for the most part happy just being kids.
Was it your first time visiting?
Yes, it was my first time in Rio, but not my first time working with underprivileged kids and orphans. My older brother and sister are adopted and were foster kids so I grew up doing a lot of volunteer work with other foster kids, which is part of what prompted me to go volunteer with kids in South Africa, and then start my charitable organization called HeartSleeves.org.
What were your first impressions?
Based on what I’ve seen and experienced in the past, my first impression was that it was really impressive how close of a community their organization was. Literally every member, kids, parents, volunteers, etc, had a part in their Christmas performance, like they were all really one big family helping each other out.
Local life in Rio is all about local community and coming together to help the greater good.
I also immediately knew that unlike the school I volunteered at in Africa, this place was somewhere that is probably easily overlooked, when it could be having the same involvement and benefits as the volunteer programs in other areas.
How did the kids react to their gifts?!
The toys were either a baby doll or a truck. I assumed they wanted to keep everyone’s equal so there was no disputes! Although I did see a little girl stop opening her doll when she caught sight of a little boys truck!
I’m not sure what the typical toy is for kids in Brazil, but from what I saw, the little girls would carefully cradle the baby dolls, and of course the boys would go zipping up and down the floor area with the big toy trucks!
Move aside, this kid’s hitting the road.
It was really nice too that each kid got two gifts instead of one. I don’t think they were expecting that, but they looked extremely happy and surprised when they walked away from Santa with two bags as tall as they were!
Before they opened their toys, I also walked around with one of the volunteers handing out Grabr stickers, which were a huge hit with the kids. It just goes to show you that the tiniest gesture can make a kid happy, so why not put more effort in, and help more people out when you can.
What was it like interacting with them?
Part of what I love about traveling is that it’s made me feel comfortable in any skin and surroundings (I claim to be a chameleon who blends in everywhere I go), so interacting with the people of the organization, and the little kids felt very normal for me.
I enjoyed being able to interact with the parents (many probably my age or younger), and to see a different side of people that for many who haven’t seen it, would probably stereotype negatively. They were very grateful, all smiling at me as I gave the little kids stickers, some even plopped their kids down next to me and took a photo, like I was the Santa Claus or something!
What was the best part of the experience for you?
Seeing a community come together and work together was really moving and inspiring. There’s too many places in the world where people can’t get help and they suffer, but here I could see there was a lot of hope for these people and kids.
Spreading the love in Rio with a few helping hands.
I enjoyed being around locals and how welcoming and loving all the volunteers were to me. We couldn’t actually speak to each other but facial expressions, smiles, hugs, and kisses were enough to prove that we’re all the same person on the inside.
I left feeling confident that those little kids were off to a very good start, despite how little they may actually have.
A few of the children who received gifts from Grabr this year.
Any funny stories to share?
I definitely had a little fan club going with the not-as-little boys! A group of them casually posted up next to me on the wall, and after 10 minutes finally started to try to ask me questions. They don’t speak English and I don’t speak Portuguese so Antonio translated what they were saying for me.
They wanted to know my name and how to pronounce it, if I was an actress, if I had met Justin Bieber, and if I was going to be living in Rio. :cue the heartbreak: They went wild when I had Antonio tell them that I live in Hollywood and have met the Biebs a few times!
Although these boys were probably in 4th or 5th grade, I also noticed that they were there in place of their parents, taking care of their younger siblings.