Last week I got the opportunity to take a break from the normal routine and go and help out with the summer activities for the young people at Juventude Cruz Vermelha in Prado, a small town about 5km outside of Braga. Here they work with several Roma communities in a similar way to Geração Tecla, providing various types of support to the families.
One of the great aspects about Prado is that they have a beautiful river running next to the town and during the summer, with the centre only a five minute walk away, it is a great place to take the kids for them to have a swim, play games and just enjoy the good weather. We went to three different beaches during my week with them and each one was just as beautiful as the first. I don’t think I have ever experienced a river like it before with the water so fresh and clear; I could literally see tiny little fish swimming around my feet.
We were also able to go kayaking and the young people really enjoyed being able to do something different and go out to explore the river. There were sand banks where we could stop and have a quick dip in the middle of the river, and they also really enjoyed hearing the echo of their voices as we passed under a bridge near the beach from which we set off. I did end up getting rather wet in my kayak though as some of the kids’ techniques at using the paddles did result in a lot of splashback.
There was one rather amusing moment on Wednesday afternoon. We had been to visit the swimming pools in Braga in the morning before returning to Prado to have a picnic and spend the afternoon at the river. Out of nowhere a bag of make-up was produced and out came the nail varnish. I was more than happy to put my feet forward to be painted and I must say a rather impressive job was done on my nails.
A lot of table football was also played before and after activities, with the games highly competitive. The young people were keen to see how I shaped up and a few of them were a lot better than me to say the least. However this was a really good opportunity to build up my relationship with the young people and to communicate with them as best I could with my limited Portuguese.
If we had not also spent at least one afternoon playing actual football then I would have thought that something was wrong. The football club in Prado is located behind the centre and we were able to use one of their smaller five-a-side pitches to have a small game. This was a lot of fun and it also descended into something of a water fight due to the high temperatures that we have recently been experiencing as everyone tried to cool down.
We also spent one afternoon doing some art and craft. By taking a load of wine corks and a hot glue gun, you are able to make a really simple mat for your hot pans. You glue the corks together in pairs and can then arrange them in a way to make a neat pattern. After this you can decorate it in any way you see fit; by using varnish you can keep the simple appearance of the corks but you can also paint them and even add a bit of glitter. The results were excellent, with the young people working together and helping each other to create the mats.
I had such a great week getting to know the kids in a very relaxed environment and they equally seemed to enjoy having me around to take part in the activities with them so the week felt like a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. I really enjoyed communicating with them and getting involved with their activities; it was a massive help for my Portuguese and a few of them even relished the opportunity to try speaking a bit of English with me, something I was more than happy to do.