Casa do Povo means ‘House of the People’ and this is exactly what this organisation is in the town of São Bartolomeu de Messines. It is a place where the people of the municipality of Silves can go to take part in a variety of events, to socialise and to learn.
The Casa do Povo’s mission is to “contribute to the development of the community in the social, educational, sports, cultural and leisure areas guided by an integrated service of quality and proximity”. They aim to “be recognised as a dynamic and reliable institution that provides a quality service, capable of promoting the global and harmonious development of individuals through an integrated and innovative intervention in their different responses”.
Did you know most parishes in Portugal have had access to a Casa do Povo since the first one was inaugurated in the village of Barbacena, in 1934, by dictator António Salazar?
These Casas do Povo, which became community meeting houses for villagers, were a social institution run by an organisation of rural workers which offered economic and cultural support for the local population.
They also provided healthcare and education with women being taught homemaking skills and the men taught agricultural skills. Both were also taught handicrafts. Casas dos Pescadores (Fishermen’s Houses) were also created to provide the same services for fishing communities.
From 1982, the Casas do Povo became a public entity for social and cultural development, working with the local authorities to resolve problems that affected the local population. Nowadays they are linked to Portugal’s social security system and there is even a National Casa do Povo Day celebrated on September 11.
I first learnt about the Messines Casa do Povo through artist and Rotarian David Trubshaw of the Rotary Club of Silves who have for years raised funds for donating to the Casa do Povo’s projects.
The Messines Casa do Povo was also inaugurated in 1934 and has, therefore, been supporting the local population for 85 years. It is one of the most active institutions in the Algarve, becoming the community centre where the local population can help and support each other. Their activities and services are geared to promoting social integration for individuals and families, encouraging participation and volunteering.
I was amazed to learn about all the different activities and projects that the Messines Casa do Povo is involved in. The dedicated team of 130 workers are always looking for ways to expand their services to meet the needs of the population and over 4,000 people regularly use their services or take part in their activities.
The Casa do Povo organises community parties and holiday camps, theatre shows, dance and music lessons (for piano, accordion, guitars, drums, violin), have a choir, offer bureaucratic assistance and activities for the elderly.
On the sports side, there are 16 different types of sports taking place in the Casa do Povo’s sports pavilion with teams and classes for abled participants and adapted classes for disabled participants, such as wheelchair handball. There is a sport for everyone from the ages of five to 100! These include handball, athletics, badminton, amateur fighting, judo gymnastics, swimming, running, hydro-gymnastics and tennis.
As with many Casas do Povo, there is a nursery (for children aged 0-3) and an infant school (3-6 years) as well as after-school clubs to support working parents.
However, it is their recent projects that are so vital to the community. In recent years, the Messines Casa do Povo has created a sensory room for children and adults with communication and mobility difficulties, which has been supported with generous donations from the Rotary Club of Silves who recently donated another €10,000 to their causes.
Since April 2016, the Casa do Povo has had the successful Sorrir-M (Smile-M) support system in place to assist disabled individuals between the ages of 11 and 46 in developing their motor and communication skills. In 2019, the Casa do Povo wanted to further expand their assistance to incorporate individuals over 18 years who suffer from mental illness and so the socio-occupational unit project was developed with the aim of creating a dedicated mental health day centre. Despite the lack of upfront government funding, they forged ahead with the building work thanks to funds raised by Casa do Povo and from generous donations.
The centre is now ready and awaiting official approval to open. With a psychologist, psychometrist (who assesses the patients’ neuropsychological functioning), special needs educator, social educator and volunteers, the centre aims to assist with integration in the workplace, home visits, social skills training, leisure and sports activities.
Activities are geared to promote the development of life skills, autonomy and social rehabilitation and the individuals’ families will also have support and guidance.
The Messines Casa do Povo also has a project for the development of social community support that works throughout the Silves municipality for assisting those in vulnerable social situations, through parenting education and working for the prevention of childhood poverty. There is also their food bank for distribution of food to vulnerable families and a social canteen.
Clearly, the Casa do Povo in Messines is an amazing place providing for the local population’s welfare, educational, social and leisure needs. For a little town in the hills, the scope and variety of activities and support on offer is incredible. It is always a hive of activity and their Facebook page is a testament to how much they do.
The Rotary Club of Silves has for many years been a staunch supporter of the Casa do Povo, thereby showing how important it is to support our local community in their endeavours to support the local community. Donations and volunteers are an important part of their operations.
The Casa do Povo is hosting a poetry and tea party, entitled ‘Tea with Letters’, as part of their celebrations of the birth of Messines-born (1830) poet João de Deus, who is renowned for his work which was used to teach the Portuguese language in schools during the 19th and 20th centuries. I have been invited to attend and I am looking forward to taking part in one of the activities organised by this remarkable institution.
So now you know!
For more information, visit www.casapovomessines.pt
By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.