Casa de Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Portimão has been a refuge for needy girls since 1949 – and it is indeed a very special home. This year it is celebrating its 70th anniversary and, to mark the occasion, a special party and concert by Portuguese singer Viviane will be held at the TEMPO theatre on Sunday, December 8.
The Resident visited the home last week and spoke to Ana Maria Silvestre, the president of the home’s board of directors, to find out more about its long history and duties of caring for 38 girls.
“The home was initially located in Praia da Rocha and it was started by a group of women linked to the Catholic Church who wanted to help local factory workers care for their daughters by providing them with a place to eat and some comfort,” she told us.
But the home was too small, and the institution moved into larger premises in the centre of Portimão, which over time also no longer met their needs.
A better future for the girls was finally secured when the then mayor of Portimão, the late architect Martim Gracias, found some land and designed the building where they are located today.
“All for free,” said Ana Maria, adding that the home has been based at the current premises for over 30 years (in Travessa de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, near Aqua Shopping Centre). It boasts individual rooms which provide privacy and a better quality of life for the youngsters.
The home provides a safe and caring environment for 38 girls, aged from five to 18, who are all welcome to continue living at the home even after they come of age.
The decision of who is placed into the home’s care is made by the Commission of Youth and Children Protection (CPCJ), the Court of Minors or Social Security.
“The girls’ backgrounds vary greatly; either because their mothers are involved in prostitution, others because their parents are in prison or yet others because their parents simply do not have the means to care for them,” the president of the board told us.
The institution’s goal is to provide a family-like structure so that the girls feel safe and stable and are thus more likely to thrive.
Two of the home’s residents are great examples of this, having completed university degrees in law and company management.
While children in the home’s care are required to attend catechism classes and complete First Communion, they are then free to choose whether they want to continue the religious path.
“We do not impose anything on anyone and just recently we welcomed four Muslim girls into our care,” the president of the board said.
Like so many other IPSS (social security supported institutions), funding is a daily concern for Casa Nossa Senhora da Conceição.
“What social security pays us does not cover our expenses in the slightest. As much as we try to convince them to increase their subsidies, only a set amount is paid per person taken into care. So, they tell us to be creative…” she explained.
To generate more income, some institutions provide services such as after-school activities for children and kindergartens. But as Ana Maria Silvestre explains, “we simply do not have the means to do so”.
“As our revenue doesn’t cover our expenses, we rely on citizens to help us in any way they can. For example, we have a dentist and an optician who kindly offer their services free of charge. A local bakery provides us with bread.
“People don’t always feel comfortable donating money, so there are many other ways that they can help, for example by donating essential items such as personal care products (shampoos, etc),” she said.
You can also choose to become a ‘sócio’, a membership which costs a minimum of €1 per month, or even offer to volunteer somehow.
“For example, we have an English lady who comes in every week to teach the girls English.”
Ana Maria Silvestre is also hoping people will support the institution at its 70th anniversary party on December 8 at TEMPO at 5pm. Well-known Portuguese singer Viviane will be performing with her band, while the institution is also planning to thank all the entities and companies that have supported Casa Nossa Senhora de Conceição over the years.
Admission is free but tickets must be picked up from the theatre’s ticket office.
For more information on how you can help, contact CNSC.
+ 351 282 410 570 | [email protected]
Thirty years of help from Dominican Sisters
Anyone who knows the girls’ home well is aware of the support it received over 30 years from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who have since retired.
These religious sisters – they were 30 in total – would help with the girls’ religious education and would also assist the staff in caring for them. The last Dominican Sisters left CNSC in 2016.
“They were basically volunteers,” home director Ana Maria Silvestre told us. “They had room and board, but eventually left due to old age or ill health.”
The Catholic Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena is a Dominican congregation of religious sisters under the patronage of St. Catherine of Siena.
By MICHAEL BRUXO