Fifteen rundown houses in the Algarve have been renovated by a group of young volunteers from ‘Just a Change’, a non-profit association in Portugal that “rebuilds homes of people in need”.
The association organised 11 “Camp In” initiatives throughout the country this summer, four of which were held in the Algarve.
A total of 55 volunteers renovated eight houses in Faro and Loulé between July 11 and 25, while 59 volunteers breathed new life into seven houses in Portimão and Lagoa from August 1 to 15.
Most of the volunteers were young university students who opted to dedicate part of their summer holidays to helping those in need, the association explains. Many of them travelled to Portugal from other parts of Europe, such as Germany and Spain.
All the homes renovated in the Algarve were deemed in serious need of a revamp and are lived in by elderly and disadvantaged people.
One of the 15 homes renovated in the region was built 120 years ago in the rural community of Arão (Mexilhoeira Grande) in Portimão, its residents an elderly, bed-ridden woman and her son.
Said João Tavares, the head of the Portimão ‘Camp In’, “the house was in very poor shape”.
The renovations involved reinforcing the walls and replacing the roof, as well as building a new restroom, installing a kitchen counter, connecting the house to electricity and sewage system, placing new windows and painting it.
According to councillor Teresa Mendes, Portimão Council faces “great difficulties” when trying to assist these people as the current laws “do not allow us to intervene, as they are private houses.
“So, this partnership represents a great opportunity; firstly, because we end up helping disadvantaged people in need of better housing conditions, and also because this project involves youngsters and promotes activate citizenship,” she said.
“It is a fantastic partnership because the council investment is small considering the works that are taking place. If that weren’t the case, it would be almost impossible to provide the quality of life some of these elderly people need,” said Mendes, adding that she hopes this “magnificent experience” will be repeated next year.
Lagoa Council has also praised the initiative and vowed to continue “working to solve the problems relating to poor housing conditions in the borough”.
But as ‘Just a Change’ points out, the initiative is about more than renovating houses.
“We are not a construction company,” explained Tavares. “We don’t just renovate houses; we also try to change people’s lives for the better. What’s at stake is their reintegration in society because many of them have felt excluded for some time. Our involvement, which provides a priceless human learning experience, is able to change this introspective behaviour and even create synergies with neighbours who are ready to help.”
The ‘Just a Change’ project is also supported by IKEA Portugal.
“These initiatives make total sense because IKEA believes that our house is the most important place in the world and we should all feel like we have a safe and comfortable home,” said Ana Barbosa, head of sustainability at IKEA Portugal.
“Unfortunately, that is not a reality for everyone, but we can reach out to disadvantaged families and provide them a dignified home. Nothing makes more sense for our company than contributing to a mission that has the same goal,” she said.
Two new “Camp Ins” are already underway in Vila Pouca de Aguiar and Tondela in northern Portugal, while the last will begin on September 12 in Torres Vedras.
“Anyone can sign up for Just a Change,” said Tavares, adding that most volunteers are university students who “use their summer holiday to help those who need it the most”.
The association was founded in 2010 and has already renovated over 220 homes and 60 social solidarity institution facilities across the country, improving the “living conditions of around 4,700 people in 18 boroughs” thanks to the “altruistic collaboration of around 5,000 volunteers”.
More information about the project can be found online at www.justachange.pt