Mariana Vasconcelos

I Love Aveiro

Set out to discover

History is identity

The identity of a place is not reduced to roads, buildings or bridges. Identity is created by the collective of intersecting individual stories that together form a cultural heritage. In a city with a growing tourist flow and an aging population, it is necessary to eternalize these stories, valuing the human heritage. Thus arises the “I Love Aveiro” project.

“I Love Aveiro” Stairway – where it all began

The citizens of Aveiro are not the only ones who know the most famous stairway of Aveiro, those who visit the “city of the canals” also know it. This stairway, nearby the main canal of Ria de Aveiro, and only some minutes walking distance from the centre of the city, sends a message that we all agree with: “I Love Aveiro”.

This stairway, made of the traditional Portuguese pavement, was adorned for the 1st time in the Spring of 2013 by Agora Aveiro, due to the international project “Art and Trust”. This work, made to offer expression opportunities to the youngsters, was created with graffiti experts from SublimeVilla, a very well known tattoo studio. A similar movement occurred, simultaneously, in Sicily, Italy, where one of our partner associations did their own street art actions with their group of young people.

Suddenly, the stairway, once grey, became one of the most famous places in the city, being nowadays one of the symbols of Aveiro.

What is “Stories for Solidarity”?

“I Love Aveiro – Stories for Solidarity” was born because we love our city. We want a more compassionate society, where our citizens don’t look away from struggle. We want people to reflect, yes, but we also want them to take action. To support immigrants and social inclusion initiatives instead of overlooking them. It’s always a challenge to change the attitudes of those around us. It’s not exactly something that’s up to us, but we can provide information for people to think about and reevaluate their position. We interviewed 11 immigrants currently living in Aveiro so that they could be the ones guiding the reader through what it's like to come from a different country and live here. Maybe after hearing these stories as we heard them, people will realise that we are not so different.

You bump into a stranger on the street and don’t even think to wonder who they are or what brought them there, but the truth is they are part of the fabric of your community. They are a human being. Can you truly know a place without getting to know its people? And can you honestly know its people, if you don’t know their stories?

These stories are not mere references to sights that any visitor looking for “ovos moles” will come to know. They are amazing narratives about captivating people, memorable places and unique happenings. Each story is associated with a point on the map of our city so you can visit the place and discover for yourself the secrets that Aveiro hides.

“I Love Aveiro – Stories for Solidarity” was financed by European Solidarity Corps / Erasmus+ programme of the European Commission and by Instituto Português do Desporto e Juventude I.P..

A story map

This interactive map allows you to discover the stories that make Aveiro. Select the edition of I Love Aveiro that you want to explore and click on a point on the map to read its story.

“A Touch of Strangeness”

– a story of Agnes

I had this idea that I should try to live abroad for some time, to push me out of my comfort zone. In 2010, I arrived at Aveiro for what I thought would be 6 months. Yet, I'm still here.

Aveiro is a fascinating little town. Actually, a big town by Latvian standards. There's a beautiful charm to it, with the canals and the boats with artistic touches that perfectly give some character to the entire scene, that make the centre come alive while making it romantic and colourful.

Aveiro even has a creepy side because, never, in my life, have I seen a place where a shopping mall was next to a cemetery. At sundown, those mausoleums would be the perfect scenario to shoot scary movie scenes.

The University of Aveiro is still my favourite place to study. It has the most beautiful, I would even say spiritual library. The view to the Ria de Aveiro and the sunlight make it magical. It’s also where I met my husband. I assumed I would go back to Latvia to finish my studies, and our relationship would eventually end. Well, it didn’t work that way. He’s the reason I came back to Aveiro 3 years later.

This time, leaving my life in Latvia behind was very difficult. Heartbreaking even, when I think about how hard it was for my family to let me go. Knowing that I was leaving my homeland for what I knew, deep down, might be for a lifetime, I started to see Aveiro with different eyes. Maybe more critical, more realistic. This was no longer a 6-month fling. Every day, there are instances and cultural differences, in all areas, that make me smile and drive me crazy. I mean, I still find it odd when 3 people in the same room are called João.

I have always felt welcomed, but the feeling that I'm a foreigner never left me. It is hard to describe, but there are these unwritten rules and unexplainable gestures, words and attitudes that remind me that I'm not Portuguese.

But there are so many things I am happy about here. The first one, the number of sunny days. I think I smile more here than in Latvia because of the sun. The ocean does not stop to amaze me. My crush is Costa Nova, with its pyjama houses, so cute, so unique. I enjoy the sunny days with giant waves in the Spring and Autumn when there are fewer people on the beach. I love the coffee and the smell that wafts from the bakeries when you're passing by.

I believe the Portuguese are one of the most open and tolerant people in the world. And in general, love kids. I look away for a second and my 2-year-old is taking things off the shelves at the supermarket and putting them on the floor. A lady just patiently puts them back. I haven't even mentioned the elderly, ready to help my child have fun with the mess she created.

There have been many situations where I learned valuable lessons and reevaluated myself and my attitude. But I still have to remind myself to take things easy.

When somebody asks if I see myself living in Aveiro for the rest of my life, I always say I don't. That's how I feel, but there is a high probability that I will. Aveiro is a pleasant place to be at, and it has a particularly special place in my heart.

“The Transgression of Thinking”

– a story of Ahmad

When the war in Syria started in 2011, I was 16 years old and ready to become a revolutionary. The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad had gradually turned into a full-scale civil war, and my father was looking for a way to get me out of our country with his hands and feet. And he succeeded. He found a way for me to study in Aveiro. I had to take it because it was either that or move to study in the city of Homs, where the war was well on its way. It was a better idea to travel 5000 kms and study in Portugal then one hour away at Homs.

I lived in the capital, which was the safest place to be. As the revolution was starting, I had a vision of change. I was involved in it the only way I could, on a rather small scale. I don't actually see myself as someone who did much when there were people who acted as true heroes. I believed that something could be done, I had ideas. Which was a big enough crime.

The last year I lived in Syria was the most amazing of my life. There was a group willing to change the system. I connected with amazing people, we watched movies, talked, accepted each other's ideas. There was some hope. But the pressure, uncertainties and fears were growing stronger. Then most of them left. The days were going by, and hope kept fading. People simply started fleeing Syria. At that point, it was clear to me that when it came to the Syrian issue, it was something bigger than me, bigger than my generation. My generation was already leaving the country. And if my generation was escaping, there wasn't much that could be done. I gave what I had to give. And it all became hopeless. When the news about the scholarship came, everything changed overnight.

I had never really travelled before. 2015 saw my first flight ever, my one and only destination. I remember Aveiro was foggy when I arrived, my head was much the same. I don't remember the first 2 months, it was all so was confusing, I was so young. Suddenly I slept in a new bed, in a new city, in a new country.

After five years, I have settled in Aveiro. I'm working as a civil engineer in a big company, and I have more Portuguese friends than international ones, but in general, I don't feel like I belong to places. I have feelings and memories about places, and I either love them, or I don't. Most of my memories of Aveiro are adorable. I have been in many cities, but I never felt the same cosiness I get from Aveiro. I have been in other places, and I liked them but, at night, it's here that I love to sleep.

I don't particularly miss anything about Syria. I went back in 2017 and confirmed this. It's not the same country. It changed demographically, and the people on the streets are very different. They have a dead look on their faces. They have no life. Time is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what day it is, what time it is, it's all the same. You wake up, you go get some food, and you are worried. You worry the whole day and the whole night about everything. And this is the middle class. I have no idea how it must be like for poor people.

I've heard from many Portuguese that I am sometimes more Portuguese than Portuguese people. I believe that both the local community and the newcomers need to adapt. I put in the effort to, not only learn the language but to also understand the Portuguese mentality and customs. Eventually, people stopped mentioning my nationality and started to see me as a human being. That's what I always wanted.

“Sneaky Roots Grow Under Night Skies”

– a story of Ayman

I was born and raised in Egypt. In 2001, I decided that it was time to move out of my country to find a better life. So, Canada became my official second home, where I studied and worked.

Time goes by, and sometimes there's something in you that yearns for new adventures. I started to fall in love with the idea of moving to Europe after a couple of trips to Italy, Portugal and Spain. I was determined to move to Southern Europe, where I had felt that people lived to enjoy life, in contrast to the North American concept, where it feels like people live for work and their careers and maybe enjoy life, if they get a chance.

In 2009, I found a position within a 3-year project in Aveiro and decided to take on the challenge and move to Portugal. I assumed I would live here for a couple of years and then either move back to Canada or find another place. MAN! Was I wrong!

It's not easy to move to a country where you don't know the language. That was a first for me. I didn’t know a single word of Portuguese when I arrived in Aveiro. However, Portuguese people really do try, as hard as they can, to have a conversation with you. I have seen it everywhere around Aveiro, even in small shops, with older people, who do not know a word of English. They try and try to get their point to you, in every way they can. I loved this so much. I felt that I was welcomed here. I started meeting Portuguese people and building friendships with many of them. It was lovely.

Aveiro has a unique charm. It's a lovely city with lovely people who always welcome you. You have the beach just a few minutes away by car, and you can enjoy the view of the ocean at any time of the year. You feel like you know everyone around you, and they know you, even those you haven't spoken with yet. For someone from a bigger city like Cairo, sometimes it gets too small. I also like that you can go anywhere in Aveiro on foot. I do not do that! I drive everywhere. Again, the big city boy effect.

The early evenings and calm summer nights are the best. One of my favourite things to do in Aveiro, especially after a long day of work is to sit outside, in one of the many coffee shops/bars and enjoy a lovely refreshing drink while taking in the sunset, or the stars during clear nights.

Over the years, without me noticing, the city grew on me, I grew too, and I became part of Aveiro. I found love here. I met my wife in Aveiro, and we got married in a lovely location out of the city. Living here with my wife and our dog made it easy for Aveiro to become the place I come back to.

I can't say that I will live in Aveiro forever, I believe there are still new adventures for me to conquer, with probably new cities and countries to live in, and I do have two other places I call home. However, definitely, for now, Aveiro is my home.

“Golden Hour”

– a story of Josafat

It was never in my plans to come to Aveiro. But one of my uncles always spoke so highly of the city and the university that I ended up coming here to study Public Administration, the field I care deeply about. It wasn't easy to get here, there are so many requirements and paperwork you have to go through to get a visa. Despite that, everything still felt very sudden. I remember worrying and wondering if I would even like the city. Nowadays, you can hardly get me to leave Aveiro.

I remember people saying how hard it was going to be. I like to confront things head-on, I'm not someone who's afraid of challenges. No matter what, I know I can always find a way to face them and get through to the other side with some air of ease. Which is good, because I had some challenges ahead. I mean, I came from a different country, to live alone, in a city where I knew no one.

Over time I realized that there's more to it, but when I arrived in Aveiro, the first impression I had was that it was a very calm city. My first week in Aveiro was very different than what I was used to, I had nothing to do. So I started to explore and walk around the university's campus. Taking pictures of it made me feel good. Exploring this new world through a lens helped me discover a unique beauty to it. I think it's one of the best and most beautiful in the country. Everything is so close by that it makes life easier for those who live and study here.

Some of my best memories take place either in the main square or with my friends at the student bar. I remember my first dinner with everyone from my degree. Well, I remember part of it. We might have had a bit too much fun. To this day, I still don't know how I managed to wake up on the campus dorms. I didn't even live in the dorms! It was amazing. I also have a song that was written about me that people sing whenever we have dinner together or are hanging out. You might think it's silly, but I really like that. You start to build connections with the city and its people. I'm part of something bigger than me here, it makes me feel special. But I also never forget that I got where I am today, in large part, due to the strength and support of my parents, family, and friends. And I still miss them every day.

Aveiro is a very nice and charming city. And the people here are so warm that it reminds me of Luanda, my hometown. I've met people that I see more like family than solely as friends. I have lived unique experiences, and I am welcomed everywhere I go. These have been the best years of my life.

“The Absolute Beginner”

– a story of Márcia

“Immigrant” never really agreed with me. Some will see it as a bold statement, others as naive. I suspect it comes from my ever-changing beginner's eyes. And you can definitely call me a beginner, but not about change. That's what my entire life has been about, change and adaptation. I’ve been moving and continually discovering new places I would come to call home ever since I was little. I chose to live in Portugal because it felt like home to me.

When I decided to leave my country, I feared that my chances of getting a job were lower, since I was older. Despite that, here I am, pursuing a PhD at the University of Aveiro. I'm doing what I love the most, learning and teaching.

You probably already know that Portugal and Brasil share the same language. We all speak Portuguese, so it's easy for us to understand each other, right? Well, I thought the same. It was only when I got here that I realised just how differently we communicate. I encountered numerous situations in which we were all speaking Portuguese, but our expressions were totally different. This has been a great challenge for me.

From an early age, my beloved father told me how to look at the world as if it were a kaleidoscope of perspectives, so I am used to seeing not only one truth and being aware of the rich and complex world of interpretation. This is how I embrace my experience in Portugal, without preconceptions or misbeliefs about a country and its people. I decided to open my heart and mind and let life find its way.

I never get attached to places, only people. They transform landscapes into smell-colour-sound-taste-scapes. They are my roots, for that, I always feel I am a world citizen experiencing everything as if it was the very first time. I'm not an immigrant, I'm an absolute beginner looking at a white canvas seeking to express the language of love.

“Sea Foam Nostalgia”

– a story of Mariana

In that precious moment I opened my well-travelled umbrella, it was lost. Aveiro, do we really need to have rain and wind at the same time?! Apparently, yes. It was my first day here. I even took a picture to capture my full-of-first-day-excitement-happy face with this blessed rainy-windy reception! However, the street art just outside the train station dazzled me enough to make it better.

My husband and I were seeking a new place to live ever since we got back from California. Planning it in advance, you know? We were actually considering Australia, New Zealand or some other English-speaking country.

It was while we were travelling through Europe that we got to know Lisbon. In some way, it felt a bit like Bahia, our home. Some squares and streets had the same name, and you could also find similarities in the urban aesthetic, because of the connection between Portugal and Brasil. It was starting to feel right. Then, I found a call for a PhD position at the University of Aveiro, precisely in the field of study of my interest. Plus, Aveiro also has my long-term companion, the sea, extremely close. My husband and I love to surf, so we really had to choose a city with amazing waves.

A lot of people advised us not to take such a risk, “Oh why are you leaving your country when you are so well established here?”, “Don’t go, you already have your friends, your job, your roots here!”. We wanted to step out of our comfort zone, we wanted personal growth and new professional challenges.

Without question, the hardest part? Leaving my family. I came alone, my husband had to go back to Brasil to finalize some bureaucracies, to a place where I knew no one. Of course, I spoke and interacted with people all the time, but at the end of the day, I would come home alone. Eventually, I found a church group that welcomed me. They treated me like family, which helped me feel like part of the community.

When you start living in a new country, you have to rebuild and reorganize your life again. From the most basic needs, such as where do I find the cheapest groceries or what do I wear to face this cold, to employment and financial requirements. You need to learn how the health and the educational systems work.

I miss the smell of the sea. I like to go to Costa Nova and Barra, but it’s not the same. In Bahia, you can stay at the beach until the end of the day, laying on your beach towel or swimming in warm waters. I miss that. Here, you have a 5-minute sea-freeze moment and wind and sand flying everywhere. But, if you leave your country carrying your memories as a burden, if you live them as a reminder of the things you left behind, you’ll never be able to embrace your new life to its full extent.

Step-by-step, you build a new you in a new country. Your habits shift. I used to have tapioca all the time, but it's harder to find now, so I save it for special occasions. I used to wear long dresses, now I gravitate towards the clothes that keep me warm. Many aspects of your life have to change. You adapt. For me, the most important thing is to come with an open mind. I'm still discovering the cultural nuances, but I already adore Aveiro.

“Shamelessly Wandering”

– a story of Mina

Hi, I’m Mina and... I’m originally from Iraq.

Yeap, you guessed it, palm trees packed with dates (the fruit), the ancient birthplace of writing, Saddam Hussein, the wars...

Mina in Portuguese can either be a gold mine or a mine mine. Like those that explode. You get the joke, right?

I was born in Iraq, lived in Jordan for a few years, then came to Aveiro, at thirteen (usually called “the sh*t age”). I’ve been living in Aveiro for eleven years, and oh boy, what a life-changing experience it has been.

I still remember the first day of school. I hopped into a new class, in a new country, only knowing how to say “Bom dia” and “Obrigada”. My classmates warmly welcomed me in English, asked me questions here and there, and I felt grateful that they were so sweet to me. We didn’t become friends, though.

The next few years of my adolescence were difficult. And it’s kind of supposed to be, right? You feel misunderstood and crave closeness yet push people away. Especially when learning the language had its ups and downs and communicating with people didn’t come easy for me.

Eventually, the catastrophe was over. Ever so slowly, I was somewhat reborn. The city was different in my eyes. There are trees everywhere, which I adore, hot sunshine and the playful wind that dances with the wisps of your hair. There are the warm, lopsided smiles on people with lopsided hearts, just like me. We smile at each other, and say “Good morning”, “Good evening”, “How are you?”.

Eventually, I found my friends. Some of them are in different cities now, and most of us don’t know where we’ll be or where we’ll go in the future, but it’s okay.

Today I can say: I love Aveiro, honest and shamelessly. I passionately love the park. It’s this refuge where you can walk barefoot on the grass, softly inhale the scent of flowers in the air, admire the beauty of the silver reflection in the water of the lake, and just... be. Your eyes and heart are going to relish the preciousness. If you let them, of course. Like it’s possible to have peace on earth.

People always ask me: Are you more of an Iraqi or a Portuguese? I say I don’t know. I still have the hot blood, the Arabic spices and a bit of belly dance in my veins. But I don’t agree with the oppression in the middle east. Nonetheless, both, I reply.

Aveiro is my home now. It’s where I feel safe. It’s where I got my friends, my family, my loved ones. But I’m still wandering and wondering where life will take me.

“Found on Parallel Roads”

– a story of Nastya

Life doesn't always go the way you plan. I had the career of my dreams, I loved the city where I lived in, I had plenty of friends, a cultural and social life, earned enough to live as I wanted and travelled a lot. But, due to unexpected life twists, I ended up staying in Aveiro.

I never dreamed of living abroad, I love my motherland. Which explains why when I first arrived for a European Voluntary Service, I didn’t see Portugal as my home, neither Aveiro as my hometown. But after 10 years here, I developed a special connection with Portugal. I studied here, started a family here and even co-founded Agora Aveiro. Portugal became my second motherland.

I find that the Portuguese have plenty of similarities with Ukrainians, still, my roots have remained the same. I still feel homesick. I have a family and two kids here, but Kyiv is the place where I feel like myself again, even though life is not easy there at the moment. I would love to be able to live in both Ukraine and Portugal. It’s difficult to say what I miss exactly. Probably the “spirit” and atmosphere of the town, the people, and cultural life, meaningful conversations, the busy routine and my family.

The only way I managed to find to “fight saudades” is to go back with more frequency, invite my parents as many times as I can, and speak Ukrainian with my children. I read Ukrainian literature, watch movies and listen to music, the recent war gave rise to so many great books, fantastic authors and filmmakers.

I felt welcomed in Aveiro since the beginning, the Portuguese people are one of the best people to meet. Very caring and respectful. I especially felt that when I had to make a presentation in front of Portuguese kids at that time when I could barely say a word in their language. The kids were very kind and curious about my personality. Even when the Aveirenses don’t understand you, they still do their best to help you.

I do feel a local in Aveiro. I know all the roads, multiple shortcuts, local restaurants and other places where only the Portuguese go. I speak Portuguese and can easily take care of any issue without the support of a local, and I have friends of my own to have those “deep conversations” with. At the moment, I am equally local in both cities. I promote Aveiro within my friends with as much care as I do Kyiv. So yes, I definitely have a special place for Aveiro in my heart.

“The Sleepless Heart”

– a story of Nataša

Today, 11 years after I moved to Aveiro, I feel more local here than in the city where I was born, in the country which was then called Yugoslavia.

I witnessed a few wars and other unfortunate events in my country, but I never thought I would be living abroad for a long time. Primarily because I loved my job back home, I lived well, travelled a lot, and was happy.

I moved to Portugal because I wanted to, not because I had to. And for the best reason ever, I found my love here.

For me, to become fully involved in the life of the city, it was never enough just to “exist” here. I felt a need to become an active member of the community and realised there was actually no institution where I could fulfil this wish completely. This is why, together with a few friends, I co-founded Agora Aveiro, back in 2010.

Working at Agora Aveiro gave me the chance to not only promote important values and develop meaningful projects but to also meet incredible people and get to know my new hometown very well, not just superficially. It has also been giving me many opportunities to travel. And I love that, but I always feel good coming back home.

Seven years ago, I officially became “Portuguesa” when I got my Portuguese passport. The truth is, I don’t feel particularly Portuguese, but I don’t feel Serbian either. There are things I love about both places, but the feeling of national belonging is something that I lost the moment I realised how easily a country can change its name, borders, flag or ideology. I feel like a global citizen, and I feel like a local in a few different places around Europe.

I like the most that Aveiro has many things like festivals and cultural events happening all the time. In Serbia, a city of the size of Aveiro most usually is a ghost city, there are no young people living there, no innovative business’, few cultural events. Also, I love the Ocean. Even after a decade, it still amazes me. When I go to Costa Nova, the moment I step on the sand, it feels like the first time I saw it, in 2007.

Aveiro is my hometown now, and even if I don’t stay here forever, it will always be a significant mark on my personal map. Although at times I miss the big city vibe, I deal with it by travelling to Belgrade and other capitals quite often. And then, after a few days or weeks of mesmerising confusion, it’s actually good to go back to this cosy harbour.

“Home Away from Home”

– a story of Valentina

I always knew that I wanted to travel and experience life in other countries, and whenever I had the chance, I would study outside Italy.

I married a man very open to change. Our country didn't offer us much in terms of economic stability, so we both wanted to leave. My husband got offered a position as an accompanying musician at the University, and I came with him. I guess you can say that we are economic migrants, but at the end of the day, it was love that brought me to Aveiro. Even though I studied Lusophone and Hispano-American Literature and Intercultural Translation in Rome, I had never heard of Aveiro. Today, it's a city I learned to get to know and appreciate.

It wasn't too difficult to get here, because I'm a European Union citizen, I didn't have to go through much red tape. I haven't really got negative feedback for being Italian. On the contrary, it seems that everyone likes Italy, more than the Italians themselves. Everyone asks me if I enjoy living here and if I prefer Portugal or Italy better. Despite this, I won't lie, it was difficult.

The first year was hard. The locals are great, but there’s something unique about not being from here that only non-locals experience and can truly understand. Foreigners end up helping each other a lot, maybe some initiatives for us to meet and share experiences would make it easier. My husband had been living alone here for a few months, so we had to find a new place where we could all live. We spent so much time looking. I had an 11-month-old son that I needed to care for, I had no other family nor friends. This made it really easy for me to find Aveiro to be a depressing place.

We bought two bikes and used them to explore the neighbourhood. It’s a great way to take in the sights, from the university to the historic buildings. We use them to go everywhere.

Crises are part of everyone's life, there are always challenges and obstacles to overcome. Case and point, I had a bicycle accident and broke a wrist. Something that brought me so much joy was also the reason I could no longer do all the things I could so easily do before. That made me sad and depressed. But you overcome it.

I decided to continue my music studies by getting a master’s degree in music. It was at the University of Aveiro that I managed to make friends. Nowadays, I teach Italian classes there while I’m finishing a post-graduation in Community and Artistic Practices. I was studying medicine before turning to the arts. My father was very sick, which by itself is something that weighs on you, but to also have to face it at school proved to be too much. I needed a break. Time has passed, but my curiosity never really went away, so I'm pursuing a master's degree in Applied Biology, where I get to explore and combine art and science.

I miss my mother. I wish my son could spend time with her. I also miss some very dear friends and the theatrical labs I used to be part of. I still go back to Italy to perform with some of them, but it's not really the same. But I have the friends I made here and the places that became part of my daily life. Family is my home. My husband and son are here, so Aveiro is my home.

“Beyond Words”

– a story of Valéria

Leaving Mexico was a bittersweet experience. I knew it was the end of an era, but at the same time, I couldn't fully grasp how huge a decision I was making. Nevertheless, leaving was a decision I made on my own. Thankfully, I was not fleeing. I was excited about the new experiences and adventures that awaited me.

I'm not a static person, I don’t really like staying in a single spot. I had lived in Leiria for 2 years, but it was only in 2016, when I came to Aveiro, that I finally felt I was where I belonged. I fell in love with Aveiro right away.

I underestimated how challenging it would, because I had a good sense of the language, being a native Spanish speaker, I thought it would be easy to integrate the community when I first arrived in Portugal.

In the beginning, I had a hard time understanding greetings. In Mexico, we kiss once at hello, one kiss goodbye, simple! In Portugal, two kisses at hello for everyone but also not always; two kisses to say goodbye but only sometimes. It was so confusing! Now I am more relaxed about the whole thing, so it just flows.

My husband tried to include me in his family, but I wanted a group of my own. It wasn’t until I found SPEAK* that I felt I had found a place for me in this new country. I met people there that were in the same situation as me, going through the same adaptation process, so we all share our doubts and fears. I now know the importance of projects like this. That’s why, when I moved to Aveiro, I decided to bring the program with me and founded SPEAK Aveiro. I want to help those that are going through the same thing I went through.

Although small, Aveiro is a multicultural city. And one of the reasons I love it is because there is a wide variety of nationalities sharing the same space. Some are just passing-by, others are here for short periods, but each one contributes to make Aveiro a better place for everyone. I like that I feel neither more nor less welcome than the other citizens. I believe that being a migrant here is easier. People are friendly and so used to foreigners that they hardly make a big deal out of it.

I find “aveirenses” patient and kind towards the newcomers, even if they should be more willing to step out of their comfort zone a little bit. See what foreigners might want to share with you, be curious about the other’s journey and learn about their cultures. This small detail can make a deep and meaningful impact on someone who is far away from home.

I crave Mexican food and the fabulous weather from time to time, but I miss most the people closest to my heart. I miss the feeling you get when you are among the people that have known you all your life, so you can be you without having to explain yourself. Despite the distance, I keep a close relationship with the people I love, and I know that, whenever I am with them again, it will feel as if no time has passed. It will never be the same as really being there, but it makes those face-to-face moments that much more special.

Part of me fears that I might even feel a little bit lost whenever I go back to my city in Mexico, which is way bigger than Aveiro. I believe I will get to know this city even better than Querétaro. I do walking tours of the city that begin at Ponte do Botirão or “Ponte do Laço”, if I had to, I would say that’s my favourite place. It’s where I began to get to know the city better. And the more I know, the more I love Aveiro. I feel 100% like a local in Aveiro. I am so happy to realize that.

Rosa Gadanho


Centro Escolar de Santiago

O saber transforma o lugar

Rosa não se considera um herói, mas admite que conheceu vários. “Com alguns deles aprendi muito”.

Rosa Gadanho, recentemente aposentada, foi durante mais de quatro décadas professora. Esteve ainda envolvida na criação das bibliotecas escolares no Município de Aveiro e foi bombeira, em tempos onde só homens exerciam a atividade. “Não queremos cá saias!”, foi a mentalidade que enfrentou e superou. Atualmente, Rosa faz voluntariado no Estabelecimento Prisional de Aveiro. Sempre preocupada com problemas sociais na comunidade, realça “estamos cá para fazer coisas!”.

Começou a sua carreira na educação especial, área em que trabalhou durante 36 anos. Acompanhou de perto a transição das crianças das CERCI’s (Cooperativa para a Educação, Reabilitação, Capacitação e Inclusão) para as escolas regulares. Rosa defende que “o lugar dos miúdos é ao pé de outros miúdos. A forma das pessoas se aceitarem umas às outras é viverem em comunidade”. Foi árduo, as escolas não estavam preparadas para estas crianças. “Algumas ficavam fechadas, sozinhas e isoladas enquanto os pais trabalhavam. Estamos melhor, mas ainda nos falta muito (...) ainda estamos muito longe de um lugar digno para elas”.

Os verdadeiros heróis são aqueles que,
apesar das dificuldades,
do desprezo e do preconceito,
conseguem levantar a cabeça
e ter uma vida digna

Foi na Escola Básica de Santiago que durante mais tempo trabalhou e se dedicou. “Foi uma batalha”, relembra. Uma escola, criada para responder às necessidades de um bairro “problemático” aos olhos de muitos. Um bairro preenchido com famílias com dificuldades, económicas e não só. “No início, as crianças do bairro foram frequentar a Escola da Glória e o impacto foi muito perturbador. Então os poderes instituídos juntaram-se e rapidamente criaram a Escola de Santiago. Toda a gente nos perguntava “porque querem ir para essa escola?”.” A luta contra o estigma e a imagem negativa atribuída ao estabelecimento foi algo que se mostrou frutífero. A criação do jardim de infância e da biblioteca, o foco nas questões ambientais e o esforço coletivo, ajudaram a fortalecer a ligação entre a escola e as famílias. Hoje, a Escola de Santiago nem consegue dar resposta a tanta procura.

E o que é um herói aos olhos de quem já viu muitos? “Para mim, os verdadeiros heróis são todos aqueles que, apesar das dificuldades, do desprezo e do preconceito, conseguem levantar a cabeça e ter uma vida digna. É muito difícil.

Rosa guarda consigo imensos momentos marcantes ao longo de tantos anos de trabalho. Relembra episódios atrozes que ninguém espera confrontar, mas foi nesses momentos que sentiu as “sinergias da comunidade” a intervir. “Nunca vi tanta gente a tentar encontrar resposta sem comprometer as crianças”, afirma acerca de um desses episódios.

Manuel Barbosa

Chefe dos Bombeiros

Bombeiros Velhos de Aveiro

A chama que não se extingue

Manuel Barbosa demonstra um grande dever cívico. Considera que ao ajudar qualquer pessoa, está apenas a fazer o que lhe compete. “Quando uma pessoa se coloca em risco para ajudar o outro, sem ter conhecimentos ou meios, será sempre um herói”.

Manuel Barbosa é Chefe dos Bombeiros “Velhos” de Aveiro desde 2000. Tendo começado o seu percurso como bombeiro em maio de 1979, completa 41 anos de serviço. “Desde que comecei a exercer a função, verifiquei uma grande evolução nas condições [do quartel, equipamento e serviços]”.

Como Chefe, Manuel começa o seu dia a orientar a equipa, garantindo que os serviços não se acumulam. “Temos também a prestação de socorro que tem que ser gerida. Tenho que garantir que não há nenhum congestionamento nestes serviços, seja de pessoal, equipamento ou tempo de resposta”.

Quando uma pessoa
se coloca em risco para ajudar o outro,
sem ter conhecimentos ou meios,
será sempre um herói

Ao longo dos muitos anos de missão, já passou por diversas ocorrências, desde incêndios a prestação de primeiros socorros. “Nunca ninguém está completamente preparado para isso”. De modo a se proteger e poder prestar auxílio, teve de aprender a não se apegar muito a uma situação, dado que “logo a seguir vem outra”. “Não é de todo fácil. O que mais me afeta é chegar ao local da ocorrência e haver crianças. É a parte mais emocional para qualquer bombeiro, porque as crianças nunca têm culpa. Muitos de nós somos mães, pais, avós e torna-se sempre algo emocional”.

Até hoje, o episódio que mais o marcou foi o incêndio florestal, de 1986, em Águeda. “Começámos a operação por fazer um briefing sobre o modo como iríamos proceder e dividimo-nos em grupos. Infelizmente, o incêndio cercou alguns de nós... Perdemos 13 bombeiros. O fogo foi mais rápido.” Quando conseguiram controlar o fogo e cessar o mesmo, “foi complicado chegar ao local e encontrar os corpos carbonizados de colegas com quem tínhamos acabado de estar a trabalhar lado a lado. Fica sempre aquele sentimento de que poderia ter sido qualquer um de nós. Perante o fogo o homem é um ser frágil”.

Apesar de todas as advertências, momentos complicados e horas longas que a atividade de bombeiro acarreta, o Chefe Barbosa não deixa o quartel tão facilmente. A sua filha e genro são também bombeiros. O sentido de camaradagem e espírito de equipa está fortemente enraizado. “É como uma família!”.

Margarida Gonçalves


Unidade Clínica da Borralha

Ler as entrelinhas do silêncio

Para muitos, a ideia fantasiosa de um herói é a daquela pessoa que consegue fazer tudo e mais alguma coisa. Porém, Margarida Gonçalves pensa de outra forma. “Um herói, na vida real, não deve ser quem faz tudo, mas quem está presente naquilo que faz, com humildade, gratidão e compaixão”.

Margarida é psicóloga, com bastante experiência no contexto comunitário, social e com idosos. Atualmente, trabalha como psicóloga clínica, não perdendo, no entanto, o contacto com o ambiente social da psicologia, área que lhe interessa desde os tempos de faculdade. Afirma que o seu objetivo é “trazer a psicologia à rua, à comunidade”. Psicologia “sem estigmas e sem preconceitos, que tanto existem ainda hoje”, lamenta.

Só quem é louco, é que vai para o psicólogo”, continua a ser um dos principais preconceitos existentes. A desvalorização da doença mental e a dificuldade em pedir ajuda são fatores que dificultam o trabalho dos profissionais. A forma como a sociedade analisa e se comporta é também um fator determinante para a evolução dos comportamentos, “todos nós somos agentes de mudança”, afirma.

Todos nós temos algo
de novo a aprender com
todas as pessoas com
quem nos cruzamos

Margarida acredita, “todos nós temos algo de novo a aprender com todas as pessoas com quem nos cruzamos”. Coleciona na memória valiosas lições, fruto da experiência e do contacto, da ligação e da empatia. “Nem todos têm de sentir o que estamos a sentir naquele momento, naquele contexto”, aprendeu num dos episódios mais marcantes do início da sua carreira. Era Natal no lar, época em que todos se reúnem, família e amigos, e o lar se enche de animação. Porém, nem todos se sentiam assim. Margarida recorda como se aproximou de um dos idosos, sozinho e desanimado, “doutora, a festa é exterior, não interior”. Para o homem, era mais um dia, Natal ou não, em que não tinha a família em seu redor. “O meu coração tem muita tristeza”, continuou ele, momentos antes de lhe virem as lágrimas ao olhos. “Foi um banho de humildade. É necessário sermos humildes, gratos, olhar para a pessoa no seu todo e termos compaixão”, algo que a psicóloga reconhece estar em falta na sociedade.

Porém, nem tudo corre como planeado e há casos em que não se consegue ajudar. Quem faz a mudança “é a própria pessoa e esta pode não querer mudar”. Aqui destaca a influência da sociedade, a crítica e os olhares. Ao início, Margarida sentia uma revolta interior, mas “a prioridade são as emoções da pessoa, dar espaço e ter noção que a mudança de comportamento não é imediata”. Mesmo não resultando como planeado, o importante é “chegar ao final do dia e pensar se fiz o melhor que podia fazer. Se a resposta for sim, ótimo. Se não, amanhã é outro dia”.

O que faz Margarida mais feliz? A resposta é simples. Conseguir “fazer ver à pessoa que pode ser muito mais do que aquilo que acha que é” e ao final do dia, saber que “naquele momento, naquela situação, eu estive lá”.

João Henriques


Centro Local de Apoio a Migrantes

Ouvir contra a indiferença

Esta história, como o próprio fez questão de realçar, não é só sobre João Henriques, Assistente Social e Animador no Centro Local de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes (CLAIM), mas sobre todos aqueles que ajuda diariamente e aos quais quer dar voz.

Há três anos e meio que João trabalha no CLAIM, é aqui que todos os dias presta serviço a migrantes e refugiados. Com vista à sua integração e autonomização no país, presta atendimentos, apoio social e promove atividades culturais. “A minha abordagem no dia-a-dia é, acima de tudo, a de escutar”, explica sobre o seu trabalho. Acredita que só assim poderá realmente colmatar as necessidades daqueles que procuram o seu apoio. Sobre o que o levou a escolher a profissão, afirma não saber explicar, talvez tenha sido por influência da mãe e irmã, também elas assistentes sociais, “quando tenho consciência de mim, já era o que eu queria ser”, confessa.

Relatos de vidas turbulentas não faltam a quem lhe recorre, pessoas que parecem “por vezes invisíveis”, que, por não estarem integradas na comunidade, acabam por ter dificuldade no acesso aos serviços de saúde, educação e cultura. Pessoas que “precisam apenas de facilitadores que os possam apoiar na concretização dos seus objetivos”. É para estas que João trabalha, escutando os seus problemas e celebrando as suas conquistas. Por estar tão por dentro das dificuldades que enfrentam, sente a responsabilidade de lhes dar visibilidade, “isto não é sobre nós, é sobre as pessoas”.

Enquanto não houver uma maior
abertura por parte da comunidade
para integrar essas pessoas,
estamos a promover a exclusão social

As dificuldades não se sentem só no acesso a serviços básicos. Também se ouvem nas conversas racistas e xenófobas que, embora desiludindo João, permitem-lhe ter uma melhor compreensão sobre a sociedade para que nesta consiga intervir. “Enquanto não houver uma maior abertura por parte da comunidade para integrar essas pessoas, estamos a promover a exclusão social”. Assim, a história de João é a de um aveirense que quer dar protagonismo a todas as pessoas que, de algum modo, sofrem discriminação, tendo sempre plena consciência de que “não é através de um clique que as coisas mudam. É um trabalho de continuidade”.

João afirma não ser um herói, “parece-me um pouco exagerado”. Mas os heróis não usam capas nem têm superpoderes, são pessoas que na sua humildade nem se apercebem que para todos aqueles a quem dão a mão, não têm outro nome senão esse.

Ondina Pereira


Centro Hospitalar do Baixo Vouga

Um coração que bate sem preconceitos

Quando questionada sobre o que é um herói, Ondina enaltece os “heróis das coisas pequenas”. Se cada um fizer a sua parte, se cumprir com excelência a sua missão, então “cada um é um pequeno herói naquilo que faz”.

Enfermeira há 25 anos, Ondina Pereira trabalha no Departamento de Psiquiatria e Saúde Mental (DPSM) do Centro Hospitalar do Baixo Vouga. Apesar de ter estado alguns anos no serviço de ortopedia, há 10 anos que integra a Unidade de Intervenção Comunitária, um dos serviços do DPSM. Aqui faz parte de uma equipa multidisciplinar que realiza visitas domiciliárias e presta apoio a utentes referenciados pela Unidade Hospitalar. “É um cuidado de proximidade”, refere sobre o seu trabalho, onde faz o acompanhamento e reabilitação de doentes mentais, visando a sua autonomia e integração na comunidade.

Queria fazer algo que me permitisse estar perto das pessoas” explica sobre o que a levou a escolher enfermagem. O gosto por esta profissão fez com que nunca se tenha arrependido ou duvidado da carreira que escolheu e afirma ser “enfermeira por vocação, na psiquiatria por paixão”. Contudo, não é apenas o interesse por esta área que faz de Ondina uma boa profissional, mas também o facto de valorizar cada utente como uma pessoa individual que vai para além do rótulo da doença que enfrenta. “O cuidado de tratar os outros como pessoas, independentemente de terem uma doença mental, seja ela qual for” é o mais importante para a enfermeira. Neste ponto, denuncia o estigma ainda existente na sociedade perante os doentes mentais e psiquiátricos, reforçando a necessidade da sua desmistificação. Defende que todos “vivemos numa balança entre a saúde e a doença mental”, e apesar de “encontrarmos mecanismos de defesa”, todos podem ter os seus momentos de desequilíbrio, pois “a doença mental é de todos”.

O cuidado de tratar
os outros como pessoas,
independentemente de
terem uma doença mental,
seja ela qual for

Por trabalhar e viver em Aveiro, é natural deparar-se com alguns destes antigos utentes na rua, depois de regressarem à vida em comunidade. É nestes encontros ocasionais e despropositados que, por vezes, se depara com utentes que se encontram instáveis. É sua responsabilidade sinalizá-los e encaminhá-los novamente para os serviços de psiquiatria. “Às vezes, a nossa missão como enfermeiros ultrapassa as paredes do hospital”.

Outra ideia que pretende desmontar é a imagem de uma “psiquiatria agressiva” com utentes violentos. Afirma que “a nossa maior arma é a comunicação”, realçando a importância de tratar com dignidade cada utente, de lhes prestar atenção, de os compreender e, com isso, acalmá-los. Para o conseguir fazer, não se deixa influenciar pela opinião que outros têm sobre os seus pacientes, independentemente de os considerarem violentos ou agressivos. “Somos nós que estamos ali naquele momento, não são os outros, somos nós”.

Rui Figueiredo

Agente Principal

Polícia de Segurança Pública

A serenidade de uma luz de presença

Para Rui Figueiredo, “um herói é alguém que faz um serviço para o qual não lhe pagam. Que cumpre a sua missão porque tem amor à causa”. Fazendo o seu trabalho por gosto, Rui certamente já ganhou o título de “Herói” para muitos daqueles que o encontraram pelo caminho.

Rui Figueiredo é polícia desde 1998. Iniciou a sua carreira em Lisboa, tendo sido depois transferido para Espinho, onde começou o percurso pelo qual se iria diferenciar. Aqui, fazia o acompanhamento de idosos, trabalho que continuou quando se mudou para a esquadra de Aveiro. Quando iniciou a sua função, os números de acompanhamento eram escassos, com apenas 4 casos sinalizados. Atualmente, o grupo aumentou para 90, o que demonstra o impacto que Rui teve.

Com uma apetência e um talento natural para ajudar o próximo, Rui lida também com vítimas de violência doméstica. Dada a fragilidade dos grupos de atuação, a preparação emocional é de extrema importância. Rui confidencia: “Tenho que ter bastante controlo emocional. Nunca sabemos como vai ser o nosso dia.” O papel de um polícia é o de tentar amenizar as situações, “em casos de violência doméstica somos como que o controlo do agressor e a salvação da vítima”.

Todos aqueles que
salvam a vida de alguém,
vão ser sempre um herói
para aquela pessoa

Após 22 anos de serviço com grupos de saúde mental delicada, Rui deparou-se com inúmeras situações que o marcaram. No entanto, destaca um episódio de uma criança vítima de violência doméstica: “A menina vivia com a mãe numa casa sem condições. Dada a situação de emergência, a criança foi retirada e encaminhada para a esquadra.” Dali a criança sairia para uma instituição. Contudo, a mãe advertiu a menina de que a assistente social a levaria para um lugar horrendo. Perante o medo que a menina sentia, Rui explica, “fiquei com ela até que o transporte chegasse”. Rui teve que se ausentar por momentos, mas ela recusou-se a ir embora sem se despedir dele. “Fez-me um desenho, que ainda hoje guardo. Abraçou-se a mim quando se foi embora. Fui para casa o caminho todo a pensar nisso.

Apesar de nem sempre ser fácil e de muitas destas ocorrências acabarem por ficar consigo, Rui Figueiredo não trocaria o seu trabalho. Quer seja zelar pelos outros, encontrar um idoso que a família não sabe o paradeiro ou apoiar vítimas de violência doméstica, “o nosso trabalho é estar presente e intervir”.

Micaela Oliveira

Médica de Família

Extensão de Saúde de Oiã

O peso de um ombro amigo

No meio de uma crise pandémica, “médico” e “herói” são termos quase sinónimos. Apesar de concordar, Micaela Oliveira, médica de família, defende que “não é preciso ser médico para se ser um herói”. Para si, um herói é “alguém que consegue fazer a diferença na vida dos outros. Pessoas que, com gestos maiores ou menores, conseguem melhorar o dia de alguém”. Acredita que qualquer um pode ser um herói, “quer na sua profissão, quer com o vizinho do lado”, o importante é “perceber que alguém está a precisar de nós” e ajudar.

Com o seu dia a dia “virado do avesso”, Micaela refere as mudanças sentidas no trabalho, despoletadas pela pandemia. “Para além das consultas presenciais, temos também as consultas por telefone e email”. É ainda da sua responsabilidade o acompanhamento telefónico de doentes COVID-19, tanto confirmados como suspeitos. “O trabalho aumentou para o dobro”, explica a médica. A situação atual trouxe ainda outras mudanças no seu quotidiano a um nível mais emocional. Não acredita que “o trabalho acaba na porta do centro de saúde”, por isso, inevitavelmente, as emoções de um dia de trabalho permanecem no seu pensamento. Afirma que agora é mais difícil, “estamos continuamente em risco. Venho para casa a pensar: será que eu estou a contaminar a minha família?”.

Micaela refere existir ainda alguma disparidade de opiniões no que diz respeito ao trabalho dos médicos de família, nomeadamente no reconhecimento da importância desta especialidade. “Quem tem uma boa relação com o seu médico de família, reconhece a importância do nosso trabalho, mas infelizmente há ainda a perspetiva de que só os médicos do hospital é que resolvem os problemas”.

Temos de tudo, pais que quando
o filho nasce nos mandam fotografias
a dizer que correu tudo bem, e filhos a lamentar
“infelizmente o meu pai acabou de falecer”

Sobre o que a levou a escolher a sua especialidade, revela que procurava algo “generalista e abrangente”, no qual tivesse a oportunidade de contactar com crianças. Mas refere que a escolheu principalmente pelo facto de poder interagir com diferentes gerações de uma família e acompanhar a sua construção e crescimento. No entanto, existe ainda o outro lado, o dos idosos que começam a estar sozinhos. “Temos de tudo, pais que quando o filho nasce nos mandam fotografias a dizer que correu tudo bem, e filhos a lamentar “infelizmente o meu pai acabou de falecer”. É um trabalho de extremos”, conclui.

Apesar de acompanhar várias famílias, Micaela confidencia “não guardo uma família em especial, vou guardando histórias”.