Volunteering process, especially when you leave your country and go to another place is always challenging and it gives an unforgettable life experience. Recently Cristiano Alves was a volunteer in Spain. He was sent by Teatro Metaphora, under the European Voluntary Service project “Discovering Common Roots – IBERIA”. He was working with people who are HIV/AIDS, ex-drug addicted, ex-prisoners and with special needs. I asked him to share his experience with us, so here is his interview:
– Cristiano, please, tell us shortly about yourself and the project, how did you become a volunteer in Spain?
– My name is Cristiano Alves, I’m 20 years old, and I’m from Machico. At school, I studied sociocultural animation and my professional experiences did not go much beyond the curricular internship integrated into the professional course. I became aware of the existence of this EVS project through Teatro Metaphora. I applied for the project and went through an interview and selection process, I remember the day when I received a call from Teatro Metaphora and the sentence: “You have your flight to Spain next Tuesday …” I realized that I would embark on this new and scary adventure, at the end of the day we go to an unknown country, a new language, a new way of living, everything new, usually the volunteers go in pairs, but I went alone. I was always interested in this type of work. It was a big opportunity to satisfy the curiosity that I had for this field and that could be in the future become my job career. It’s was an experience full of feelings, understanding, connection, and emotions.
– What was the first expression in a new country?
– When I arrived, everything was very strange to me. For example, the subway lines! We don’t have it in Madeira and I never used to it. Then was a language shock as I realized that Spanish is not quite similar to Portuguese as we think, the way they speak is different and very fast, it was also not easy to learn how should I speak and take care of the people, with whom I was going to work, because for six months they would be present “twenty-four” hours a day in my life.
– Can you tell us more about the place and the people you were working with?
– My project took place in a village called Navahondilla. This village has around 300 inhabitants, so it was quiet and uncrowded. I worked with people with HIV / AIDS, ex-drug addicted and ex-prisoners among other special needs. My daily work as a volunteer at the institution was followed by all those who needed to perform their daily tasks, bathing, personal hygiene, clothing, and food support, cleaning and organization of the institution, such as laundry, cleaning of all the house and also workshops and occupational leisure activities. These activities were included physical and mental stimulation, with dance, music, writing, English, painting, culture and gymnasium.
– What were the main struggles working with these people and doing this type of volunteering?
-In the beginning, it was really crazy. I left home, my comfort zone, family and friend, But I can say now for sure – it was the best six months of my life. Every day was different, I was learning useful things in a peaceful place, I also learned how to wait and how to live life without being constantly thinking about the future and what I would do after finishing this experience.
– Do you think this experience has changed you and if yes, how?
– I think This experience has changed me a lot on a personal level, The people I met there have touched my heart in every way. They were very thankful, that I was by their side, and you can not imagine just when I was saying “Buenos Dias” how important it was for them, It’s like you are their sunshine and you make them happier. The first change I noticed at the end of a few days was my gratitude. I realized what I was doing was very helpful for my personal growth and also by listening to their different stories, I analyzed how a bad decision can change our life.
– What do you think about the situation in Portugal and Spain regarding the integration of these kinds of people?
– I think that in Spain the integration of these people is easier than in Portugal, perhaps because it is more “liberal” country and less discriminatory in general, they give these kinds of people the second “chance” and not judging them by their appearance or by what is written in their background stories.
– Let´s sum up, What do you want to say to people?
– To summarize, I would say that it is sad that Madeirans let these opportunities pass by and it’s difficult to understand what is the reason for that. I am not sure if it is because of fear, or lack of knowledge. These opportunities make us grow, learn and give us nice memories for the rest of our lives. There should be more NGOs and other institutions to promote these kinds of projects. There are plenty of opportunities on various topics: art, music, health, social integration. I feel that what I did and the place I went to is like a second home, where I found a new family. I would certainly do all over again!