People and Planet
Long term volunteering
Written by Isabel from Ireland
Isabel, VSI Ireland’s European Solidarity Corps Volunteer, recently completed her European Solidarity Corps project with Rosto Solidário! VSI wishes her all the best in the future. They reached out to Isabel for her thoughts and reflections at the end of her experience. Here’s what she had to say!
“People and Planet’, Rosto Solidário, Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal | Sept 2021- June 2022
Before anything else, I want to express my gratitude for being able to take part in this wonderful experience. As a young EU citizen, we often forget how lucky we are to be able to take part in these brilliant initiatives such as the ESC, that allow young people to volunteer anywhere in Europe for up to a year, all expenses paid for. One thing that I especially like about this programme is the support given to volunteers. This varies a lot depending on your sending organisation (organisation in your home country who ‘send’ you over to your project), but in my case I’m extremely grateful to VSI for being so kind and supportive throughout the whole project and for all the check-ups to make sure things were going smoothly during my project.
In relation to the project itself: it’s very hard to condense such a joyful, eye-opening, and enriching experience in just a few paragraphs, but here is my attempt.
In September 2021, I came to Santa Maria da Feira, a small town in the North of Portugal (outside Porto) to begin my 9-month-long ESC project on social and sustainable development, suitably named ‘People and Planet’. A few weeks before going, VSI gave me a briefing of everything I needed to know before the trip, and helped me to prepare all the necessary documents etc. I felt ready and excited. When I got to arrivals in Porto airport, I was instantly greeted by my mentor from Rosto Solidário (RS), who warmly welcomed me and brought me to the house where I’d be living for the next 9 months. Having this kind of support network (made up of VSI and my mentor from RS) made moving to a new country instantly easier. I never felt alone.
As a Rosto Solidário volunteer, I was involved in such a broad range of activities, from working as a teaching assistant in local schools, to planting native trees in nearby mountains. Speaking to volunteers around Portugal doing similar projects, I also realised that we were especially lucky to get the chance to be involved in so many activities. When I think back, it was actually hard to explain to relatives and friends what it was exactly I was doing; each day and each week varied a lot depending on what Rosto Solidário’s priorities for that each week/month.
To get an idea of the kind of work I was doing, here is a breakdown of my typical week as a Rosto Solidario volunteer:
In the morning we would work from home and prepare posts for the volunteering Instagram page. Usually, we would post about our activities from the previous week, or about an international day, or about a topic related to the work we were doing.
In the afternoon we would go to our ‘upcycling’ Atelier to upcycle old furniture and clothes. For example, we would fix broken old chairs and tables by sanding them, gluing them if necessary, and then adding a layer of paint or varnish. We would turn old cloth and jeans into tote bags and dresses. These transformed, ‘upcycled’ pieces would then be donated to families in need, or else sold at Rosto Solidario’s fair called Feirinha.
I would spend the morning in a local primary school, helping different classes with English. We would work on different topics each week (the seasons, the family etc.) usually in an interactive and nonformal way.
In the afternoon I would go to another school work as a special needs assistant, supporting Cristiano, a young boy who had just moved to Portugal from Australia who didn’t speak any Portuguese, and who had intellectual learning difficulties. I would take him out of the classroom and help him learn basic Portuguese words and phrases through games, art and non-formal activities.
Weekly meeting with the volunteers and the mentor from Rosto to talk about how our activities were going.
Going to the upcycing Atelier in the afternoon.
Maintenance of our community vegetable garden, ‘horta’. The fruit and veg would eventually be donated to our food bank and then distributed to local families in need.
Later I would spend the afternoon in school working with Cristiano (the boy from Australia).
On Fridays we would usually help Rosto Solidário with different jobs they needed- working at the clothes bank and preparing clothes for particular families in need, or else preparing material for workshops.
The weekends were either free for us to relax or travel, or else we could participate in activities such as:
Feirinha- a small fair where would sell from our upcycling Atelier, as well as clothes and other items. This took place every couple of months on the weekends.
Serra da Freita reforestation- We worked with Movimento Gaio, a local group that works in a local mountain range, reforesting the area with native trees.
As well as these regular activities, we also helped out with other Erasmus+ projects such as ‘stairways to SDG’, going to nearby schools giving a workshop about the UN Sustainable development goals, as well as projects about social inclusion and protection of natural spaces near rivers.
I also helped Rosto to translate some content for their website and for project applications into English.
The experience of trying so many different activities and of being in contact with a lot of different realities was hugely enriching. It gave me the space to reflect about my values, my strengths and weaknesses, about what I like and don’t like. I cannot stress enough how important this is for people to try at least once in their lives, especially for those who have finished university and aren’t sure where to go next, or who are having doubts about their career path, or simply for those who want a year off to try something new.
Thanks again to VSI, to Rosto Solidario for allowing me to have this experience that was a very happy chapter in my life.