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

Teacher

Santiago Elementary School

To know is to transform

Rosa doesn’t think of herself as a hero, but admits that has met many. “With some of them I learned a lot”.

Rosa Gadanho, recently retired, was for more than four decades a teacher. She was also involved in the creation of the school libraries in the Municipality of Aveiro. She has also been a firefighter, when only men exercised the activity. “We do not want skirts around here!” was the mentality she faced and overcame. At the moment, Rosa volunteers at the Prison Establishment of Aveiro. Always concerned about social problems within the community, she emphasizes “we’re here to do things!”.

She started her career with children with special education needs, where she worked for 36 years. She closely followed the transition of the children from CERCI’s (Cooperative for Education, Rehabilitation, Capacitation and Inclusion) to the regular schools. Rosa argues that “the place for the kids is close to the other kids. The way that people can accept one another is by living in community”. It was harsh, the schools were poorly prepared for these children. “Some [kids] would stay locked, alone and isolated when their parents went to work. We are better, but there’s still a long way ahead (...) we’re still far away from providing them a dignate space”.

The true heroes are those that
despite all difficulties,
disregard and prejudice,
can lift their heads up
and live a dignate life

It was at Santiago Elementary School that for more time she worked and dedicated herself. “It was a battle”, she remembers. A school, built to answer the needs of a “problematic” neighborhood to the eyes of many. A neighborhood filled with families with difficulties, economic but not only that. “At the beginning, the children of the neighborhood attended Glória Elementary School and the impact was very disturbing. So the instituted powers gathered together and rapidly created Santiago School. Everyone would ask us “why do you want to go to that school?”.” The fight against the stigma and the negative image assigned to the establishment was something that proved to pay off. The creation of the kindergarten and the library, the emphasis on the environmental issues, the collective work, all of this helped to strengthen the connection between the school and the families. Today, the Santiago School can’t even respond to such demand.

And what’s a hero like to the eyes of whom saw many? “For me, the true heroes are those that despite all difficulties, disregard and prejudice, can lift their heads up and live a dignate life. It’s very difficult.

Teacher Rosa keeps within herself lots of striking moments throughout so many years of labor. She remembers atrocious episodes that no one expects to have to face, but it was during those moments that she felt the “synergies of the community” intervene. “I’ve never seen so many people seeking to find a solution without compromising the children”, she states, regarding one of those episodes.

Manuel Barbosa

Firefighter

“Bombeiros Velhos” Fire Station

The inextinguishable blaze

Manuel Barbosa demonstrates a great civic duty. He considers that by helping anyone, he’s just doing his part. “When someone puts themselves in risk to help another, without the knowledge or means, they’ll always be a hero”.

Manuel Barbosa has been chief of the firefighters since 2000, having started his path as a firefighter in may of 1979, completing 41 years of service. “Since I’ve started to exercise my function, I’ve noticed a great evolution in the conditions [of the fire station, equipment and services]”.

Being Chief of the “Bombeiros Velhos” of Aveiro, Manuel Barbosa starts his day guiding the team, ensuring that the services don’t pile up. “We have as well the aid assistance that must be managed. I must ensure that there isn’t any sort of congestion in these services, be it personal, of equipment or response time”.

When someone
puts themselves in risk to help another,
without the knowledge or means,
they’ll always be a hero

During the so many years of mission, he’s been through many diverse occurrences, from fires to first aid provision. “No one is ever completely prepared for that”. In a way to protect himself and be able to assist, he had to learn to not attach himself too much in a situation, given that “just after that there will be another one”. “It’s not easy by all means. What affects me the most is arriving at the occurrence site and noticing children. It’s the most emotional part for any firefighter, because children are never to blame. Many of us are mothers, fathers, grandparents and it always becomes emotional”.

Up to this day, the episode that struck him the most was the forest fire, in 1986, in Águeda. “We started the operation by gathering up for a briefing about the way we would proceed and we split up in groups. Unfortunately, the fire surrounded some of us... We lost 13 firemen. The fire was quicker.” When they were able to control the fire and cease it, “it was complicated to arrive at the site and find the carbonized bodies of colleagues with whom we just were working side by side. It always remains the feeling that it could have happened to any of us. Before the fire, men are fragile”.

Despite all the urgings, complicated moments and long hours that the activity of a firefighter brings upon, Chief Barbosa doesn’t leave the fire station behind that easily. His daughter and son-in-law are also firefighters. The feeling of comradeship and team spirit is deep-rooted. “It’s like a family!”.

Margarida Gonçalves

Psychologist

Borralha Clinic Facility

Reading between the lines of silence

For many, the whimsical idea of a hero is of that person who can do every single thing. However, Margarida Gonçalves thinks in another way. “A hero, in real life, shouldn’t be who does everything, but who’s present in everything they do, with humility, gratitude and compassion”.

Margarida is a psychologist, with experience in the community context, social and with elderly. At the moment, she works as a clinic psychologist, not losing the contact whatsoever with the social environment of psychology, a field of her interest since her university’s times. She states that her objective is to “bring psychology to the streets, to the community”. Psychology “without any stigmas nor prejudice, which still remain present up to this day”, she laments.

Only madmen go to a psychologist”, still remains one of the major existent prejudices. The devaluation of mental illness and the difficulty in asking for help are factors that hinder the work of professionals. The way that society analyses and behaves is also a determining factor for the behavioral evolution, “we are all agents of change”, she says.

Everyone of us has something
new to learn with
all the people which
we cross paths with

Margarida believes, “everyone of us has something new to learn with all the people which we cross paths with”. She collects in her memory valuable lessons, born of the experience and contact, of connection and empathy. “Not all of us should be feeling what we are feeling at that moment, in that context”, she learned in one of the most striking episodes of her early career. It was Christmas at the nursing home, a period when everyone gathers, family and friends, and the house fills up with cheer. However, not everyone felt like that. Margarida remembers how she got closer to one of the elders, alone and dispirited, “doctor, the party is external, not internal”. To that man, that day was just another one, Christmas or not, that his family wasn’t around. “My heart is full of sadness” he continued, moments before his eyes turned misty. “It was a shower of humility. It’s necessary to be humble, grateful, to look into each other in their whole and have compassion”, something that the psychologist recognizes is lacking in society.

Nevertheless, not everything goes according to plan and there are cases that help is not successful. Who changes “is the person themselves and they may not want to change”. Here, she highlights the influence of society, the criticism and the bad looks. At first, Margarida felt an internal revolt, but “the priority is the person’s emotions, giving them space and having the notion that behavioral change is not immediate”. Even not working as planned, the important thing is “reaching the end of the day and thinking if I did the best I could do. If the answer is yes, great. If not, tomorrow’s another day”.

What makes Margarida the happiest? The answer is quite simple. Being able to “show the person that they can be much more than what they think they are” and by the end of the day knowing that “in that moment, in that situation, I was there”.

João Henriques

Social Worker

Local Centre of Support to Integration of Migrants

To listen against the indifference

This story, as the oneself wanted to highlight, is not about João Henriques, Social Worker and Animator at the Local Centre of Support to Integration of Migrants (CLAIM), but about those that he helps daily and to which wants to give a voice.

It’s been three years and a half since João works at CLAIM, it’s there that everyday he supports migrants and refugees. In order to their integration and autonomization in the country, he provides assistance, social support and promotes cultural activities. “My day-to-day approach is, above all, listening”, he explains about his work. He believes that only in that way he could really assist the needs of those who seek his support. Regarding what led him to choose this profession, he states that he can’t know for sure, maybe it was the influence of his mother and sister, being them also social workers. “When I have conscience of myself, I already was what I wanted to be”, he confesses.

Reports of turbulent lives are not lacking to those who consult him, people that seem “invisible at times”, that for not being integrated in the community, end up having difficulty accessing health services, education and culture. People that “just need facilitators that can support them in the concretization of their objectives”. It’s for these ones that João works for, listening to their problems, cheering their victories. For being so much involved in their difficulties, he feels the responsibility of giving them visibility, “this is not about us, it’s about the people”.

As long as there isn’t a wider
receptiveness in the community
to integrate these people,
we’re promoting social exclusion

Struggles aren’t only felt when accessing basic services. They can also be heard in racist and xenophobic chats that, despite disappointing João, can allow him to gather a better comprehension about the society in order to intervene in it. “As long as there isn’t a wider receptiveness in the community to integrate these people, we’re promoting social exclusion”. Thus, the story of João is one from a citizen of Aveiro who wants to give protagonism to all people that, in some way or another, suffer discrimination, while always having conscience that “things don’t change with just a click, it’s necessary a continuous work”.

João says he’s not a hero, “it sounds to me a little bit exaggerated”. But heroes don’t wear capes nor have superpowers, they’re people that in their own humility don’t even notice that to whom they give their hand, there’s no other name besides that.

Ondina Pereira

Nurse

Hospital Centre of Baixo Vouga

A heart that beats without prejudice

When questioned about what’s a hero, Ondina highlights the “heroes of the small little things”. If each one of us do their part, carry out their mission with excellence , then “each one of us is a small hero in what they do”.

Nurse for 25 years, Ondina Pereira works in the Psychiatric and Mental Health Department (DSPM) of the Hospital Centre of Baixo Vouga. Despite having worked for some years in ortopedy, it’s been 10 years since she’s part of the Community Intervention Unit, one of the services of the DSPM. Here she’s part of a multidisciplinary team which carries out domiciliary visits and gives support to referenced utents for the Hospital Unit. “It’s a close care” she states about her work, where she assists the monitoring and rehabilitation of mental illness patients, ensuring their autonomy and integration in the community.

I wanted to do something which allowed me to be near people” explains Ondina about what led her to choose nursing. The love for this profession made her never regret or doubt the career she chose and reveals that she’s “nurse by vocation, in psychiatry by passion”. However, it’s not only the interest in this area that makes Ondina a good professional, but also the fact that she valorizes each utent as an individual person who’s more than the illness rotule they carry. “The care of treating others like people, independently of carrying a mental illness or not, whatever it may be” is the most important to the nurse. In this state, she condemns the stigma still present in society before the mental illness and psychiatric patients, reinforcing the need for its desmistification. She defends that everyone “lives on a scale between health and mental illness”, and despite “finding defense mechanisms for ourselves”, we all can have our moments of imbalance, since “mental illness is everybody’s”.

The care of treating
others like people,
independently of carrying
a mental illness or not,
whatever it may be

By working and living in Aveiro, it’s only natural to encounter some of these former utents on the streets, after coming back to their life in community. It’s in these occasional encounters that, at times, she comes across with former patients that seems unstable. It’s her responsibility of flagging them and referring them back to the psychiatric services. “Sometimes, our mission as nurses goes beyond the hospital’s walls”.

Another concept that she aims to disassemble is the picture of an “aggressive psychiatry” with violent patients. She states that “our greatest weapon is communication”, highlighting the importance of treating with dignity each utent, providing them attention, understanding them and, with all that, calming them. To be able to do it, she doesn’t let herself get influenced by others' opinions about her patients, independently of considering them violent or aggressive. “It’s us that are there in that moment, not the others, it’s us”.

Rui Figueiredo

Policeman

PSP Precinct of Aveiro

The serenity of a night light

For Rui Figueiredo, “a hero is someone who does a duty for which they’re not paid for. Who fulfills their mission because of their love for the cause”. Cherishing the work he does, Rui has certainly been acknowledged as a “Hero” by the many that have crossed paths with him.

Rui Figueiredo is a policeman since 1998. He started his career in Lisbon, having been transferred to Espinho afterwards, where he began to pursue the route that would differentiate himself. There he monitored the elderly, a task he continued to carry out when moved to Aveiro police station. When he first started, the monitoring was scarce, with just 4 flagged cases. At the moment, the group size has increased to 90, which shows the impact Rui has made.

With an appetite and natural talent to help others, Rui also deals with victims of domestic violence. Given the fragility of the many groups of action, emotional preparation is extremely important. Rui confides: “I must have a lot of emotional control. We never know how our day will be.” The role of a policeman is to try to ease the situations, “in cases of domestic violence we are like the aggressor's control and victim’s salvation”.

Everyone that
saves somebody’s life,
will always be a hero
for that person

After 22 years of service with delicate mental health groups, Rui has come across numerous situations that marked him. However, he highlights an episode with a child victim of domestic violence: “The girl lived with the mother in a house without living conditions. Given the emergency of the scenario, the child was removed and taken to the police station.” From there the child would be taken to an institution. Nevertheless, the mother averted the girl that the social worker would lead her to an horrendous place. Before the fear that the girl felt, Rui explains “I stayed with her until the transportation arrived”. Rui had to leave for a moment, but she refused to depart without saying him goodbye. “She gave me a drawing, I still keep it up to this day. She hugged me just before leaving. I went home and through the whole way I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Although it’s not always easy and many of these occurrences end up staying with him, Rui Figueiredo wouldn’t trade his job. Whether it’s watching over the others, finding an elder that the family doesn’t know their whereabouts or giving support to victims of domestic violence, “our job is to be present and intervene”.

Micaela Oliveira

Physician

Health Centre of Oiã

The weight of a friendly shoulder

In the middle of a pandemic crisis, “physician” and “hero” are terms almost synonyms. Despite agreeing, Micaela Oliveira, family doctor, argues that “it’s not necessary to be a doctor to be a hero”. In her perspective, a hero is “someone who can make a difference in others’ lives. People who can, with big or small gestures, brighten up someone’s day”. She believes that anyone can be a hero, “either in their profession, or with the neighbor next door”, the important is “realizing that someone is in need for us” and help.

With her day-to-day “upside down”, Micaela refers to the changes she felt in her work, triggered by the pandemic. “Beyond presencial appointments, we also have consultations by phone and email”. Beyond all that, it’s also her responsibility to monitor the COVID-19 ill, either confirmed or suspect. “The amount of work has doubled”, explains the doctor. The current situation also brought forward other changes in her daily life in what comes down to a more emotional level. She doesn’t believe that “the work ends at the health centre door”, and thus, inevitably, the emotions of a workday remain in her thoughts. She affirms that now it’s more difficult, “we’re continuously at risk. I come home thinking: am I contaminating my family?”.

Micaela also states that there is some disparity of opinions in regard to the family doctors’ work, namely the lack of recognition of the importance of this branch. “Who has a good relation with their family doctor, recognizes the importance of our work, but unfortunately there is still the perspective that only the hospital physicians are the ones who solve problems”.

We have everything, parents that when
their child is born send us photos
saying everything went alright,
and sons and daughters mourning
“unfortunately my father just died”

Regarding what led her to choose her specialty, she reveals that she sought something “generalistic and extensive”, in which she had the opportunity of being in contact with children. However, she says that she mainly chose the branch for the fact of being able to interact with different generations of a family and follow their construction and growth. Nevertheless, there is still another side, the elderly that start to be left alone. “We have everything, parents that when their child is born send us photos saying everything went alright, and sons and daughters mourning “unfortunately my father just died”. It’s a work of extremes”, she concludes.

Despite following-up with many families, Micaela confides “I don’t keep any family in special, I keep stories”.

Centro Social Paroquial da Vera Cruz

Calm but steady resilience

Community knows CSP Vera Cruz (est. 1971) more through their work with children and elderly, but in fact this institution has various services and projects in many more areas. For example, “Alternativas” - social intervention project for youngsters with special vulnerability that aims to raise awareness and work with them in the prevention of addictive behaviours and CLAIM - that offers support to migrants.

Solidarity should be something natural. A basic responsibility since we live in society.

In Dra Paula’s opinion, the pandemic brought to light some crucial realities and vulnerabilities that most people were not aware of. On the positive side, it also sparkled the need to help others, she explained.

In CSP Vera Cruz they accept help in goods, and they accept volunteers. The first condition is to do it in a conscious way and to be respectful of families and beneficiaries in general.

When it comes to solidarity in general in Aveiro, Dra Paula Hipolito drew attention to the fact that we are lacking better and effective responses in some areas, such as the eldery and mental health. She manifested her concern on the conditions that many elderly are living in Aveiro. Another area that lacks services is mental health. Dra Paula explained that “sometimes just finding a job for someone is not a solution”, underlining that if a person won't be able to do it properly and won't be functional in the society, a different type of support is needed.

When asked about what are the areas and topics that are less exploited in our region and what are those which are more difficult to be accepted and sensitized among the population, Dra Paula says that in her opinion it is roma communities, since there is still prejudice towards this community.

I must have an excessive confidence about solving social problems. I consider that solving a problem is not difficult at all, it is only a question of priorities.

About the cooperation between organizations in Aveiro, Dra Paula Hipolito feels it is easy to communicate with other organizations but underlines that “a more cohesive and dynamic social network would help”.

Services of CSP Vera Criz are free, with the exception of kindergarten. There, parents pay according to their salary.

More areas that need to be worked on further are - dependencies, especially in her opinion, the digital dependency and in parallel, urge for digital literacy.

Finally, Dra Paula leaves us with a comment on how she thinks a social response can be effective:

It has to be lasting in time, and not to be based on punctual actions, it should be seen as a work in progress and in all the aspects that concern a human being. Sometimes people working in the social sector get tired and that can't be an option. It is a quest of resilience and humility to believe in people and embrace them as people and not as the problem they represent. The best thing that can happen to someone working in social intervention is when their job is not needed anymore because it means that people have the tools to be in harmony with themselves and the outside world.

AMA - AMigos do Abrigo Quintã do Loureiro

A group of enthusiastic volunteers who help
four-legged fluffy friends who got lost or were abandoned

There is much that can be said about AMA - Amigos do Abrigo Quinta do Loureiro, a group of enthusiastic volunteers who help four-legged fluffy friends who got lost or were abandoned.

The entire shelter was built and exists only thanks to voluntary work. The reward that volunteers get is the well-being of around 80 grateful dogs. At AMA, they rely on donations from those who want to help, and assets fundraising in supermarkets. Every day the animals' space is cleaned, the water changed and the food replenished. They also get to cuddle a lot and, whenever possible, they are taken out for walks. A wonderful work is being done, but there is always room for improvement.

From AMA they tell us that their goal is that "all the small and big babies find a home and a family that gives them all the comfort they deserve because without adoptions, the space remains crowded, nevertheless the best quality of life for those in the shelter is guaranteed."

There are several ways to help, such as becoming a volunteer, by becoming a godfather/godmother of a doggie (8€/month or one bag of food/month), becoming a member (12€/month), coming to visit the shelter and walking around the pups and, of course, adopting or becoming a foster family. You can also help with food collections in supermarkets or events, such as the Christmas market or Feira de Março.

“We are volunteers from different age groups, different backgrounds and professions. At the shelter, we try to create an environment as familiar as possible, providing the animals with a welcoming space, lots of pampering, pleasant walks and periodic baths. We guarantee medication and visits to the veterinarian for all of those that need it. We always accompany all adoptions, ensuring that it is a thoughtful, responsible and lifelong action.” - explain the volunteers.

Nothing explains better the spirit of this place than a text that one of their volunteers, Leonor Afonso, wrote. It goes: The AMA is the best place to be. I am so happy to know that I am helping dogs that need help. They are really cute. I love to cuddle with them, I get happier than Caramelo when he gets his paté. Trust me, he's crazy about paté. The volunteers are friendly and I have a lot of fun. I'm always thinking about the shelter dogs and I always like to know what's going on with them. One of my favorite things are the walks; I always take the same dog, Barbas. He is my favorite dog at the shelter and I would like to be able to adopt him one day. He is a beautiful and sweet boy, like everyone else, he is very cute and cheerful. His best friend is Messi and he is also waiting for a home. The most beautiful babies in the world need help. We can all help. There is always a shelter near us in need of help. Being a volunteer is the best in the world.

AMA does not have an address, it’s at Quintã do Loureiro, Aveiro (GPS coordinates: 40.667661, -8.587619).

Associação BioLiving

The nature is of everyone and for everyone

BioLiving is a non-profit association, whose motto is “Nature and Education for All”. Its main objectives are:

  • Promotion of sustainability;
  • Encouraging environmental citizenship and public participation in the defense of natural values;
  • Boosting the social economy;
  • Promoting inclusion, peace and solidarity, using education, natural resources and nature protection as their trigger;
  • Providing monitoring and scientific consultancy in the fields of forest, biodiversity and environmental education.

In short, BioLiving aims to demonstrate that nature belongs to everyone and to all.

Despite the practical actions of nature conservation and habitat restoration being a central component of their work, in BioLiving they believe that it is necessary to educate and train communities for sustainability and citizenship, both through moments of non-formal learning and through technical and scientific training in the field of nature protection and biodiversity.

We spoke with Sofia Jervis from BioLiving who explained to us that the main challenges that the association faces are tied into how difficult it is for an organization to survive in Portugal due to how limited the support available is and to the fact fact that the environment is still not considered a top priority in Portugal.

There are many ways for the local community to get involved and help BioLiving in their mission, Sofia explains:

Besides volunteers on the field, we also need volunteers to help with the events, with administrative work, and design. These tasks are mostly done by volunteers who spend more time with us - they have different types of responsibility. It is difficult to guarantee human resources also for marketing activities and they are important. It is not enough to have a website, we have to maintain it and there we need IT support.

Those interested can contact BioLiving via email, Instagram or Facebook. They should send their CV and tell them in which area they could help.

The final message Sofia leaves for our local community, and hopefully, future volunteers, is:

Get up from your sofa and do something. Being an active and involved citizen, taking part in associations and doing other types of activities besides studying and leisure, is important. You need to get involved, be part of it, try it, you can choose and go to an environmental or social organization, work with children, the elderly, whatever, but being involved and getting to know the world that way makes a big difference!

Centro Social e Paroquial de Angeja

Contributing to well-being

The mission of the Social and Parish Center of Angeja is to contribute to the well-being of its users, through a set of quality services. They promote social development through an intervention focused on social problems in the municipality, supporting the community/vulnerable audiences, and reducing inequalities.

The Institution gives responses to different social challenges, namely, the Home Support Service, Day care center and Social Center, aimed at elderly people with various vulnerabilities that affect their well-being, quality of life and autonomy. They support clients' daily activities, namely, food, personal and home hygiene, and clothing treatment. It provides recreational and socio-cultural activities. It supports 70 people and their families.

When it comes to children, the institution provides conditions for an integral and harmonious development, through the Free Time Activities Center, with 20 children, in which it develops playful pedagogical activities and support for study. It seeks to promote social change, supporting children and young people in the municipality's Roma communities, promoting their social inclusion and reducing social inequalities.

Filipa Almeida, from CSP Angeja, spoke to us mainly about the project Olá Ritmos of this institution. Currently, they have around 270 participants, among which, around 63 direct and 204 indirect participants. Direct participants are understood to be the project's priority audience, namely, Roma children and youth. Indirect participants are family members and the community in general.

We believe that all activities, at any given time, had some impact on our participants. In this sense, we highlight the development of personal and social skills, from the Ludic-pedagogical Atelier; support to families through Family Intervention; support for the study; the development of digital skills, which includes the Computer Workshop, the ICT Initiation Course and the Audiovisual and Photography Workshop; intercultural dialogue, the exchange of knowledge and experiences between both communities (majority and minority). Here I would like to underline the Knowledge Workshop, the importance of cultural diversity, Music and Dance Workshop; and, finally, raising awareness about the rights and duties of citizenship, fostering social inclusion and motivation for social participation, where the Awareness Raising Actions for Participation and Citizenship stand out. In addition to these activities, the project activity plan is also based on other activities, namely, the “Olá_Ritmos” Club, the Workshops with Educational Agents, the School Radio Club Rádio Escolar and the Student Association.

The main need is connected to the lack of human resources, taking into account that they have many participants and activities. Furthermore, the lack of material resources, particularly in terms of transport, is also one of the difficulties we face. This need is due to the fact that they intervene in a large area of the municipality of Albergaria-a-Velha, as their participants live spread over several parishes, with a significant distance between them. However, in order to combat this difficulty, there is a reinforcement of the support of our promoter and manager, the CSP of Angeja.

The dissemination of the project is in fact another of the difficulties felt by the team, which is due to the characteristics of the public with which they intervene, as they are still very much marginalized by society in general. In order to combat this difficulty, we emphasize activities that promote intercultural dialogue and the sharing of knowledge and experiences between both communities, majority and minority.

If we had to summarize what working on this project is in a few words, without a doubt it would be dedication, adaptation, learning and versatility. The dynamism, continuous learning with our participants and the dedication, affection, attachment and care we feel for them are keywords that characterize our daily life. We can say that each day is different from the previous one, and that we are constantly put to a test. Intercultural dialogue, the deconstruction of myths associated with ethnic minorities, and social inclusion are the main points of our project. Thus, the active participation of the community in general is one of the points to improve in future projects.

CSP Angeja accepts volunteers. Anyone can join. For more information, get in touch with the institution via email.

Mon Na Mon

Solidarity and multiculturalism, hand in hand

Mon Na Mon is the association of “sons and friends” of Guiné-Bissau It is a humanitarian and non profit organization that promotes mutual help. “Mon na mon” in creole language means “hand in hand”.

The main objectives of the association are to facilitate multicultural encounters, promote interculturalism, create connections between people, create a more positive image of immigrants, but also to support those in need - at school, at the university, and in life in general.

The association is a home of a cultural group that promotes traditional dances of Guine Bissau and other African countries.

There is also a study space where volunteers offer help once per week with homework, but the objective is to have more volunteers and more hours dedicated to this.

“This is important as the first barrier for youngsters who speak crioulo comes already at school, and it is related to portuguese language. Many times they dont succeed at school because of this, even though crioulo is similar to Portuguese in some way” - they explained to us in Mon Na Mon, and underlined that there should be more opportunities for cultural exchanges in Aveiro, because the locals might show more interest in African music, food, habits.

Hopefully, new projects are coming in Mon a Mon. They are working on partnerships, but also receiving new volunteers in order to be able to provide more and better services to those in need. In the meantime, they will keep working on what they stand for: intercultural encounters and solidarity.

If you would like to join Mon Na Mon, please get in touch via email.

Florinhas do Vouga

A symbol of solidarity in Aveiro

“Florinhas do Vouga” is certainly the symbol of solidarity in Aveiro! The institution was founded in 1940, by Bishop D. João Evangelista de Lima Vidal. Eighty years later, it is the most known IPSS in our city, offering different responses to various social challenges. Today, 75 people work in Florinhas, with the help of 110 volunteers.

The institution operates mostly in the parish of Glória, where one of the most problematic social neighborhoods in the city is located (Bairro de Santiago), also responding, whenever necessary, to requests from neighboring parishes and others, some of them outside the municipality. They are working in the areas of Children and Youth, Elderly Population, Families and Community, and Drug Addiction.

During a conversation with Andreia Ruela from Florinhas, we learned about the biggest challenges that the institution has been facing, and especially due to the pandemic.

During the pandemic, the prolonged suspension of our services was felt and it became clear how important the existence of routines is. The lack of activities to stimulate fine motor and cognitive skills for which families do not always have the capacity to support, had an impact such as loss of autonomy, and facing overwhelming emotions. This is a new reality that families were not used to - tells us Andreia.

The existence of large families with various problems, with no income from work, that are depending on income from social benefits, and in general vulnerable families, led the Institution to act as a mediator in the Community Program for helping those in need and to look for synergies in order to optimize its existing resources and respond to social emergencies. Some examples of this program are the “Mercearia e Companhia” action, which supports approximately 200 families each month with food, clothing and other items, and the “Warm Supper” which distributes a daily food supplement to the homeless people from Aveiro.

Another challenge is related to mental health. Although the institution offers support through a partnership that they have with a psychologist, they feel more is needed to be done.

More and more people, and especially young people, need this type of help. We have cases with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, people who are lost and need help to find their way out of this situation. Unfortunately we aren’t always able to give an adequate answer to it.

The institution has another preoccupation - they would like to improve their work when it comes to the issues of healthy food, so that the food baskets that they offer can be more nutritious. The products that families receive from the EU and Banco Alimentar most of the time are deep-frozen or cans.

This comes very handy in terms of logistics, but our wish is to work with local producers, to include their products. We are neglecting the environmental and economic side, and it is a difficult path and a difficult management because they need to arrange the logistical part to receive and store the products that arrive and they also work in the uncertainty of what producers may have. Meanwhile, many families appear with eating disorders such as obesity, anorexia. It is spoken about hunger, but not about nutritional poverty.

When it comes to collaboration with different local associations, Florinhas do Vouga is open to it. Andreia Ruela says it is important to identify needs that cut across all local organizations and share resources.

Even if the activities we have done with other associations are punctual, they are always challenging and it is important for our institution to also feel challenged and open doors to collaboration. With Bio Living we did the sowing of acorns, wild animal footprints in plaster with the children and these are always very positive activities. We always notice the impact, it stays with the children, it stays with the users. With Agora Aveiro we made the origami and it was good. It was a one time action that we later reproduced and did several times. It allowed children, elderly people, different groups, with different skills to come together. There is sharing of material resources, but we would also like to share human resources, providing spaces... Associations need to be challenged in this regard.

There are many things on “to do list” of Florinhas do Vouga, but even more on the list of what has already been done. In global terms, the Institution has adopted a strategy of effective prevention, promotion and inclusion of the target population and so they will keep their fight for a better tomorrow for everyone.

Florinhas accepts volunteers and occasionally they need different goods (clothes, hygiene products, etc.). Volunteers are needed for different social responses, such as “warm dinner”, study support, digital skills... To stay tuned, follow their Facebook page or get in touch via email.