Role models for the next generation.jpg

Role models for the next generation


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John Oliver and Jeanette Elliott moved from the UK to Portugal around five years ago and live in Ourique, Alentejo. John now follows his lifetime love of documentary photography, while Jeanette trains dogs and breeds Bengal cats as well as teaching belly dancing.

BEING A young person was never easy. You left school with expectations of finding a good job and eventually settling down to form a family.

We have had a little insight this summer into two very special young Portuguese people who might otherwise have taken the wrong turn in life. When you see and hear about youth crime and delinquency every day, to find young people doing something for the community is like switching on a light.

Back in the early summer we met the new crew for the helicopter to be stationed for fire duty at Ourique. The Canarinhos group, who were stocking up with provisions, agreed to pose for a group photo with the duty pickup truck. A few days later we also photographed the rest of the crew alongside the chopper. Several spoke English so we got a bit more inside knowledge about the activities they were involved in. A chance conversation one wet afternoon with crew member Daniel Tapadas led to an invitation to visit a project at Beja hospital, which crew member Teresa Parreira is also getting involved with.

Daniel had a tragic up bringing after the death of his mother when he was very young. As a teenager (like many young men) he fell out with his father. He joined the Air Force and made a new start to his life. This was curtailed after he fell 15 metres from the steps of the control tower, breaking his back. After a long recovery, he got himself fit and joined the bombeiros, later applying to the newly formed Canarinhos for fire fighting.

Teresa is a very articulate single mother having separated from her husband. As a member of the bombeiros fire crew, and with the support from her family, she also applied for the Canarinhos at the same time as her younger brother Pedro. Both were selected and entered training. The selection process is very stringent and as a young woman in a very much male dominated world she has probably had to work far harder to prove her capabilities. Now she is very much part of the team. We did ask the question of her brother, does he feel he has to look out for his sister? A very firm ‘no way’ was the reply. Teresa is very much in charge.


The team work in very close confines, especially this summer at Ourique as the original building was constructed to take just a crew of three. This summer crew cover was 11, all taking 24 hour watch duty in rota but eating, sleeping and working in the same space. In their spare time, they kept up their fitness training by using the nearby swimming pool. Daniel used to run marathons but his injury put a hold on that activity for now.

When off duty, they normally return home, Daniel to his wife and two year old son Duarte in Beja, while Teresa catches up on lost time with her young daughter Mafalda over in Serpa at her parents’ home.

What makes this pair special is that they also give up some of that precious time as part of a self funded theatrical group called Dr Dói Dói. Together with friends and relatives – nearly all connected with Canarinhos or the bombeiros crew – they spend Saturday afternoons entertaining the children on the paediatric ward at Beja’s main hospital. Dressed as clown doctors and nurses, they bring fun and laughter to what, for many children, is a very scary place. Under the watchful eye of nurse Carla Antas, the day we are there a young boy called Pedro from Alfindoas at first looks totally bewildered in his cot as the colourful group come in. Gradually, he stops hugging his mother and starts to smile, eventually joining in the silly antics. Older children in the day room are enthralled by the balloon sculptures crafted by Daniel (Dr Pizitorio). If someone could teach him magic tricks to perform for this age group it would work miracles. At the other end of the ward the parents of a very small new born baby have a little light relief from the tension they have felt over their first born son. He is soon to go home, hopefully to grow up in a more prosperous and stable world.

The manager of communication and marketing, Miguel Gois, who greeted us when we arrived, tells me about the various reference projects they are studying at Beja, of which the clown doctors was the first. It is hoped to encourage young people from schools and colleges to take part in social study groups who visit hospitals. Apart from the work in the paediatric ward, it is hoped to bring young people into the geriatric section. Here they will interact with elderly people, many of whom never get visitors. This will provide stimulus for the patients and as Miguel puts it, ‘it will humanise the experience of staying in hospital’.

If Daniel and Teresa become role models for the next generation of school leavers, the world could become a much better place.

To contact John Oliver, please email [email protected] and to get in touch with Jeanette Elliott, please email [email protected]