Jul 26, 2016

JCV in Prado

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. 

Jul 12, 2016

Geração Tecla

Last week I spent a lot of time helping out at Geração Tecla so I thought now was a good time to explain what they do there and how I and the other EVS have been getting involved. Geração Tecla is a project that works for the social inclusion of young people and young adults from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds. They look to provide equal opportunities and foster social cohesion. The project works with the young people from the Social District of Santa Tecla which includes a large Roma community with whom a lot of their work is primarily with.

The overall aims of the project are:
  • To promote school inclusion of the children and youth of the Roma community
  • Promoting community and citizenship of children and youth of the Social District of Santa Tecla
  • To promote vocational training and employability of young people and young adults of the neighbourhood

During the summer a number of activities are run for the young people to enjoy and I was also able to help out with a number of them over the last couple of weeks, including one I organised myself!

I’m going to call the activity organised crazy games which explains itself in a way; I prepared a number of games for the children to just get stuck into and have some fun. These included an egg and spoon race, three-legged run and a leap-frog race. The best game was probably a water race where the teams had to fill up large jugs from a large bucket but the only way they could transport the water was with cups that I had cut a number of holes into. It is safe to say everyone got very wet.

We also spent a morning at Bom Jesus, a beautiful site, high up the valley side. There we all split up into teams for orienteering which gave everyone the chance to explore the area on a glorious morning. I went with one team and it is safe to say I probably did most of the map reading for the young people.

The day after the visit to Bom Jesus, I again went on an excursion with some of the children from Geração Tecla. This was very exciting as it was an opportunity for them to try American Football, a sport very few of them had experienced before. At a number of stations they were able to try kicking, passing, making runs and catching the ball and also flag football. Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves.

It is really good to help with these activities as it provides opportunities to those who would not probably get them and being able to help in delivering that, even if it is in a small way, is very rewarding. I also like to think that I have already developed some good relationships with the young people at the project and with another nine months of my EVS to go, I hope I can continue to develop these. The work those at Geração Tecla do is vital in equipping the young people and young adults with the skills that can help them as independent people later in their lives, whether it is a hard skill such as helping with academic work or soft skills such as communicating effectively or team work.

Another really exciting thing that happened last week was the painting of the stairs leading up to the building. Carlotta, with the help of Alifya, worked really hard to add some extra colour to the building and the results are excellent. I could try and describe it but I think the best thing to do is add a picture.

I also continue to go and play football with the young people, though the amount of times I have now been nutmegged by a number of the kids is starting to get embarrassing; they just have a technical ability that I am not able to contend with. Though I suppose not having much in the way of technical ability is pretty typical for an English football player; please refer to Euro 2016 for evidence. However what really continues to amaze me when I go to play football is the respect shown by everyone to one another. The young people are all extremely competitive but they are very good at refereeing the game among themselves and very rarely is there any disagreements, something which you would not find in England from my experience.

It was also a very important week for Geração Tecla as they held their party to mark the end of the academic year. A large chunk of the community was in attendance as well as a number of special guests, including the President of the Red Cross in Braga. Following some speeches a number of awards were given out to the young people who had shown excellent commitment to school over the course of the year. An important part of the work of Geração Tecla, celebrating those who have demonstrated this commitment is a way of continuing to highlight the importance of this to everyone. After the awards had been given out, we were able to enjoy some traditional Roma dancing by some of the older young people before some food and cake was laid out. A mad rush by the children ensued for all the good food before the adults were left to eat the healthy bits remaining.

Jul 11, 2016

Dia do Colaborador!

On 1st July, the Red Cross in Braga held its annual Dia do Colaborador - Day of the Contributor - a big party which celebrates all the work that everyone does here in the city. It was an evening of team-building, performances, fun, food and drink that was enjoyed by all.

We began with a couple of speeches and following this, with the Red Cross Headquarters a sea of red - everyone had been told to wear a red item of clothing - we undertook our first challenge, Human Bingo! In order to complete this you had to go round, finding people that fit the criteria, such as someone who wrote left handed or had been born in another country. One of these was also to find someone who had a beard for which I had to sign a lot of people's sheets. Unfortunately I didn't win but it was entertaining watching people get more and more agitated as they got closer to reaching bingo.

After this we were treated to a short but excellent performance by Carlotta along with our friend Nico whilst everyone enjoyed some snacks and a few drinks. Whilst Carlotta was performing it was great to think about all the different talents each of us four EVS volunteers has and all the different skills we bring together as a group. It was also wonderful to consider that all the people who were in attendance were all working selflessly to try and help improve the lives of others.

One really fun aspect of this was that all the different sections of the Red Cross received a challenge that they would have to perform later that day at the party. We all gathered excitedly to hear that we had to prepare a performance accompanying the song 'Bailando' by Enrique Iglesias. Here at Juventude we spent the afternoon practicing what I feel turned out to be an excellent performance. The women split into two groups and had a dance off while the men provided the accompanying backing music, complete with Luís on guitar. The performances took place after everyone had eaten and much to some people's dismay, I managed to capture ours on video so you can enjoy it again or for the first time below!

Following the conclusions of the performances there was not much left to do other than for everyone to have a laugh and dance the evening away. Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and I feel the evening was a great success.

Unveiling the Challenge

Rehearsing for the Performance

Rehearsing for the Performance

Nico and Carlotta Performing