Sept. 16, 2008
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Alejandro Melean's success on the soccer field has been a staple of his career at Holy Cross. Named tri-captain of the team this season, as well as receiving first team All-Patriot League honors last season, Melean has had a positive impact on the Crusaders' soccer program. However, in talking to the senior from Miami, Fla., his true passion lies in service away from the soccer field.
This past summer, Melean had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and work at the Monte Alegre School, a school for underprivileged children in São Paulo. Monte Alegre was a flourishing sugar mill community until the mills were closed in the 1970s. The school closed soon thereafter and sat empty until it was renovated and reopened in 2006 by Melean's family friends. "They invite kids aged five to nine and give them scholarships to attend," said Melean. "These kids come from poverty and really bad family situations in which many of them have been physically and sexually abused. There are two psychologists that come about two times a week and my family friends thought it would be a good experience for me."
Melean was first inspired due to the influence of his father. "When my Dad was my age he went to study in the city of São Paulo for two years and he speaks fluent Portuguese," said Melean. "It's something that I've always wanted to do, to visit the beautiful country of Brazil and see the different culture. I've never been to a country where they speak a different language and I've always wanted to learn Portuguese."
Upon his arrival, he was met with some initial challenges with the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture. "I've heard my Dad speak Portuguese since I was young, so I understood a lot of the words. But it is a lot different hearing your Dad speak a language and then going into complete culture shock," said Melean. "Within two weeks I was picking up on the language and within two months I could carry a conversation with my Brazilian friends."
While Melean was fascinated by the culture and language of Brazil, his work with the children of the Monte Alegre School left him with a lasting impression. "I spent everyday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with the kids. The relationships I developed with them and the teachers were amazing. Each of the kids has their own story, some of them are heartbreaking."
Melean found his work difficult, but one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. "I wanted to be careful about becoming attached, but it was impossible. They see you everyday, I would walk into a room and they would scream my name and come give me a hug."
One child named Cassia inspired Melean in particular. "She was seven years old and she wouldn't speak a word to her teachers or any of the other kids. She would keep to herself," said Melean. "Hopefully she will emerge from her shell as she spends more time in the program."
Living and working in a country obsessed with soccer, Melean found it impossible to escape the game he loves. "Everyday the kids would mention who their favorite team was," said Melean. The kids also had an opportunity to experience Alejandro's talent. "I'm involved with soccer freestyling so I put on a juggling show. The kids all had big smiles on their faces."
The Brazilian children's inspiration, as well as the extra practice, may very well have affected Melean's game. In the team's opener, he scored the deciding goal in a 1-0 victory over Massachusetts, which was ranked 13th in the nation at the time. He was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week for his effort in the shutout. "It was an amazing feeling and a great way to start out the season," said Melean.
Melean's experience at the Monte Alegre School will stay with him forever and has also shaped his plans for the future. "It has shown me not to take anything for granted. These kids have nothing, and the Monte Alegre School was giving them opportunities that they would never have. It makes me want to help kids in those types of situations. I've been thinking about becoming a counselor or a child psychologist."
The Monte Alegre School is run through the BR-111 Foundation, a cause that Melean hopes to remain involved with. "They invited me back whenever I want. I told them that a lot of my friends here at Holy Cross would be interested in doing what I did. Maybe it is something that I can get other people to do."
"The foundation runs on whatever people put into it," said Melean. "If anyone could go on the website and make a small donation I'd be so thankful." Donations to the BR-111 Foundation can be made at www.br111foundation.org.