Evelin's long-term volunteering in Benedita, Portugal

I have spent 6 months as a volunteer in Benedita, Portugal from April to October 2022. Although I have already been in love with their language, I didn’t expect to love the country and its people this much as well. Actually, I went with no expectations, I just wanted to help this organisation that had selected me as their first volunteer ever with 3 other girls from Egypt and Turkey.

The start was hard because the others were having visa issues, so I spent 2 months alone as a volunteer, but I was almost never feeling alone. The workers and the leader of the organisation were always trying to integrate me in their daily life, I honestly felt like a family member with them. At the same time, I wanted to be accepted by them, I can say I was frustrated because everything was new and I just wanted to fit in, you know. Even if I look back and say I was stupid for trying so hard, I think it is normal human behaviour, so I couldn’t have done it differently.

The first days were hard also because of the language… Although I have learnt it at home with two different teachers, I have never reached a really high level of speaking it. In Benedita very few people speak English well, so I had to develop my Portuguese as fast as I could in order not to feel like I can’t be myself.

I learnt in this situation that language can be a huge barrier between people with different nationalities and I realized how lucky I am to speak so many languages and not have a difficulty learning another one. I felt like I was in a cage while I couldn’t explain myself as I wanted and after studying on this online portal, we had access to, I felt like a bird who was released from its cage. And of course, after a while the stress and the frustration were gone, I got to know a lot of good people, I made friends, I started to travel around the country, and I was enjoying every moment of this adventure.

One of my main tasks was to be with children between the age of 6 and 12 after finishing school. We helped them do the homework, we played with them, we made food for them. It was very challenging at first as I didn’t understand them well, but they were always trying to help so we could communicate, they welcomed me every day with a hug, telling me everything that happened to them at school and wanting me to spend time with them. Honestly, I didn’t really want to take care of children, I never really understood how they work, and at this age they can be hard to handle. Of course, we had our hard moments, our fights, our issues, but if I see it as a whole, it was a wonderful experience that helped me understand children’s behaviour and needs. I have always wanted to be a mother, but now I am even more sure, even knowing how hard it can be, I see the beauty in it.

My other role came one month after starting the project. My boss asked me if I wanted to try and teach Portuguese to beginners as part of non-formal education. I was surprised because as I told you, my level wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. And I was surprised because I didn’t expect her to trust me with this important task. It was heart-warming and scary and the same time. I had 3 weeks to prepare everything for the first class and I didn’t know where to start but knowing that someone who barely knows me believes in me this much, gave me strength to believe in myself as well. And I can say I managed to do this task as well as I could and if I felt lost, the organisation was always there to help me. My class was made of immigrants from Pakistan and Venezuela, so I had to speak with them in English and Spanish. It was challenging for the brain to speak 3 languages for 3 hours, but I just loved teaching and I didn’t even get tired because of the adrenaline. And after my colleagues arrived from Turkey and Egypt, I started to teach them Portuguese as well. They were really good students, wanting to learn as much as they could because they understood how important it is.

So, if somebody asks you to do something you have never done before, just dive right in, even if you are scared to fail, remember that every start is hard and you’ll probably have to work hard, but the experience will be rewarding in every sense. You’ll be proud of yourself; people will admire you for having had the courage to do it and you’ll feel the gratitude in people’s eyes.

We also had a week without children, and we took this time to learn gardening and did some creative activities to decorate our room. We also organised international dinners where we cooked and baked the most typical food of our countries for 20-25 people. After dinner, we made a presentation about our own country and the participants could ask about it. We enjoyed this a lot, exchanging cultural differences, flavours, music, dance, habits, and traditions.

Also, it makes you realize how lucky you are for having been born in Europe, for having the opportunity to travel without borders, for being able to walk alone on the street at night as a woman without being scared that something could happen to you. Traveling makes you appreciate your home, your family, the values you received, and it just makes you grateful. That’s why helping others and traveling are my two favourite things and volunteering in a foreign country includes both.

So, if you ask me, would you go again? I would say a hundred times, YES. Because traveling to a completely new place, with nobody knowing you, you learn and understand so many things about yourself, the world, and the people. Every day is a learning process, every situation is a challenge, you feel like you are learning things from the beginning, and this forces you to be humble because if you aren’t, you’re making your own experience harder than it should be. You need to be flexible, adapting to everything that comes, you must ask questions if you don’t understand something, because if you don’t, you might have a false impression about a certain situation or person. You learn that there is so much more to things than what we see, what our preconception is. So don’t overthink it, if you’ve always wanted to try yourself, JUST GO AND DISCOVER YOURSELF AND THE WORLD while you are young and can do so with European Youth Portal. It will be for sure an unforgettable, life-changing experience that will add a lot to your personality and to how you see the world.

Hosting organisation:

Barafunda, AJCSS (Youth Association of Culture and Social Solidarity) is a non-profit nongovernmental organization with over 35 years of experience in social inclusion, community intervention, training and education (including formal, non-formal and informal education). Their aim is to promote the cultural, social and economic development of the territory and people and promote equal opportunities, arts and creativity.



EEE volunteers volunteering project

Date: 01 April 2022 - 30 September 2022

Volunteer: Rives-Abreu Evelin