Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP) integrated, for the first time this year, through the Porto Regional Centre, the "FLY 2021" Program, an european volunteering program and service-learning, intercultural, interdisciplinary, intensive and interuniversity. Coordinated by the University of Comillas (Madrid), the program brought together, besides the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, the Universities of Deusto (Bilbao), ESADE (Barcelona), Loyola (Andaluzia), LUMSA (Rome, Italy), Mateja Bela (Banská Bystrica, Slovakia).
Each partner university participates either with projects or by sending students to projects at other universities. In total, this summer of 2021, 45 projects were developed in which 150 students from the mentioned universities participated.
Católica in Porto, with its participation in the program, through the CAtólica SOlidária (CASO), involved 25 volunteers in a total of almost 2000 hours of service in the community.
Two projects were developed in Portugal:
- one took place in the city of Porto in the 1st week of July, and was attended by 5 Spanish and 2 Portuguese students. Together with the organizations U.DREAM and Porta Solidária from Marquês Parish, the students worked on social leadership issues, developing an urban awareness campaign and supported the preparation and delivery of meal kits to people in need.
Gonçalo and Rita, the two Portuguese students from Católica, shared a short testimony:
"Having the opportunity to host and to be volunteer with international students was one of the most enriching experiences I've ever had. Living together and interacting with young people from different cultures not only allowed me to develop very interesting work, which was reflected in the campaign we organized, but also allowed me to create bonds of friendship with people I would probably never meet otherwise."
"This was a very enriching experience from several perspectives. I increased my networking, meeting people from different countries and cultures and I got back into the Porta Solidária activities more assiduously, after a year with so few interactions!"
- the other project was developed in partnership with Just a Change, an organization that restores houses for people in need, in which 10 spanish students participated in summer camps in the cities of Faro, Óbidos and Sever do Vouga.
Besides the projects coordinated by CASO, it was also possible to send 4 students (3 from Católica in Porto and 1 from Católica in Lisbon) to 3 projects taking place in Europe.
Rita Oliveira, student of the Master of Law, has been in Malta since the beginning of July, working in a Jesuit refugee camp.
"Using my privilege in service to others and understanding, on the ground, the impact of migration policies was always a goal. The values advocated by Jesuit refugee service made my choice easy.
I work daily with a multidisciplinary team that allows me to see that the beauty of international law is in the little things. The days are long, but the constant contact with people makes a job that requires eclecticism rewarding. Mostly in supporting English language instruction for unaccompanied minors and adapting asylum seekers to the country (namely by creating resumes and helping them find jobs)."
Matilde Santos and Nicole Rosa, Psychology and Law students respectively, have been in Valladolid since July 17 and will return at the end of the month. They are working with migrant children at the University School of Agricultural Engineering, in partnership with the local Jesuit community.
"We are very pleased with the international volunteer experience we are doing at the University School of Agricultural Engineering in Valladolid. Every day we do a different task in the morning, from tutoring the children with their homework, working in the garden with Mandi, learning how to plant cauliflower or pick strawberries, or helping Mrs. Lourdes in the kitchen, who cooks for everyone. In addition, we have had many moments to socialize with each other and to reflect together with the Jesuit community of the school. We live with new realities and learn a lot from everyone. Everyone is very nice and does everything to make us as comfortable as possible. We are very grateful to be able to have this experience and enrich our way of seeing life. We highly recommend it to everyone."
"My volunteer experience has been amazing. I have been surprised by the friendliness and the wonderful people I have met here. This is a shelter for migrants who are not able to be independent right now. In the morning, we have three activities to do: help the migrant children with their school work, help in the kitchen and help Mandi (a man who came here from Senegal a few years ago in search of a better life and who now helps all those who need it) in the garden. In the afternoon we do activities related to ecology and we end the day with a reflection about the day. All these activities have challenged me to grow as a person, so I couldn't be more grateful to be able to participate and to do it with such special people. The most remarkable moment was talking to Mandi and understanding his life story and the difficulties he went through to get here. But no matter how many words I write I won't never be able to describe what I am living here and how much I am enjoying it.”
Rita Pelágio, student of the Social Work degree from the Faculty of Human Sciences of Católica in Lisboa, was in Madrid on a project with Cáritas, providing support for monitoring activities for people in situations of social exclusion to help them resume their steps towards insertion.
"For a Social Work student, belonging to the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, I believe that there is no greater pride than participating in a 2-week volunteering experience through Cáritas Madrid. Caritas Madrid has shown, once again, that it is an institution with legal and canonical autonomy, which allows it to have greater freedom not only in its vision but also in its action and to define exactly which areas of priority action to act accordingly.
The project that was assigned to me, "Cédia 24 horas", took place near the Madrid Center and was aimed at the homeless population. As its name indicates, this space was open 24 hours a day and received people who were urgently in a situation of social exclusion. In this center, they could stay 21 days, having access to their social worker and to essential goods.
During the period in which the users were in the center, several workshops were held with fundamental themes such as access to documents in digital format, the search for work, and also more cultural activities developed by the volunteers.
In all my experience in volunteering, I had never seen anything like this, the team was very united and professional, always ready and available for any occasion, showing great complicity with its users. People were happy and safe within the possible conditions, which allowed them to create relationships among themselves.
I was very surprised by this experience and somewhat sorry that it lasted only two weeks. At the end of each workday, Cáritas made sure to give a short training about some more projects that were in development to make volunteers interested in a future experience aware of them.
If you like volunteering, if you want to create new friendships, if you like helping your neighbor, come and volunteer with Cáritas and prove that young people can change the world!"