My name is Theresa and I have completed six out of nine months of my EVS in Lisbon, Portugal. It has been a very varied, funny, challenging and rewarding experience. I had previously studied in Lisbon and fell in love with the city – its beautiful hilltop viewpoints, antique trams through the cobbled streets, and unique nightlife and music – however, I wanted to experience real Portuguese life by volunteering within the local community.
My project is based at the department for old people at a borough council (Junta de Freguesia de Carnide), where they organise educational and social activities for senior citizens. Everyone has been very friendly and encouraging of my linguistic efforts, so I really feel part of the community, and as though I have gained about 100 surrogate grandparents! Some of the activities I’ve been involved in are: a soup festival, helping with English and IT lessons, a protest against cuts to local government, a trip to the Algarve, and a “sardinhada” – a huge party with lots of grilled sardines and traditional music to celebrate the national holidays in June.
As part of these holidays, each district of Lisbon performs a march, including athemed song and dance, and these are displayed down the main avenue. The old people and children from Carnide also gave a performance and I was asked to be the “godmother” of the march (shown in the photograph). It was so much fun to wear such an elaborate costume and an honour to participate in something so typically Portuguese. Another highlight of my project has been the summer camps during July and August, in which we took 100 people to the beach, swimming pool and different cultural activities every day. I am frequently amazed at how much energy and silly sense of humour these old people have, for example the event we did on the last day of the summer camp: a cross-dressing fashion show on the beach, which everyone took very seriously!
I live in an apartment in the city centre with other volunteers from Macedonia, Spain, Slovenia and Brazil. The flat is great and we often have big international dinners, with other EVS volunteers from around Portugal coming to visit. At times, my EVS project has been quite challenging, and I have had to adapt to a lot of new situations and way of working. Living abroad is a fantastic adventure, but I think no one is immune to occasional homesickness (I was really sad to be away from London during the Olympics!) and at the beginning it’s exhausting just to cope with everyday tasks.
I feel that I am learning all the time during my project: a different language, how to engage with elderly people, the structure of local government organisations…as well as learning more about my own interests and capabilities, and becoming more independent and confident in myself. But the most important thing I have learned so far is that when you get old, the fun doesn’t have to stop!