I had a wonderful experience in Lisbon, a city which is built on seven hills and gives you after a small climb a tremendous view on the river Taag on the beautiful bay area.
Before our meeting started it already occurred to me that there were a lot of homeless people around. Later we heard that the municipality of Lisbon decided that because of the cold (5 degrees Celsius at night) it would open up the metro gates so that homeless people could find shelter. This reminded me of the fact that in Amsterdam, providing shelter for the homeless people during cold winters, has not a preventive but a rather structural approach.
On Thursday we moved to our meeting place which was in Curraleira, at neighbourhood at the peripheral north-western side of Lisbon centre. This was former farmland and a place of favelas. The area had been turned into residential flats after the revolution in 1974 but now seems to be in the stage when it was built. We were welcomed by the deputy mayor, what an honour! Not just for us, but also for the locals around in the area, who seemed to be a bit invisible for governmental officials normally. Luckily there seems to be more and more attention for this area and its residents.
During the day we presented ourselves and the projects we’re running and we had a lot of possibility to exchange thoughts and experiences. During the presentations, it occurred to me that all four cities have very comparable issues: a lot of poverty, housing, unemployment and migration issues. A lot to exchange about. Everyone faces financial issues in their projects and the significance of a good meeting place occurred to me: the importance of a safe haven where citizens are welcomed. The way that everybody works with volunteers, and what volunteers ‘get out of it’ in reward, was very inspiring.
After an intensive tour through Curraleira, in which we learned more of its social and cultural history, we gathered back to share our inspiration by the pictures we took, a very inspirational method to share experiences. I took a picture of the washing place, which inspired me, since it was the former meeting ground for women. This is where daily business were getting done, but also where stories were shared. It reminded me of the local ovens that Peik Suyling builds currently in Amsterdam, which seem to have a similar function. It reminded me of the fact that women can be the stimulators within their families and their neighbourhoods!
Moreover, we spoke about the projects we’re involved in. Especially the projects of the Danes were appealing to me, the FabLab of Rasmus but also the sandwich-making practices with local ingredients, of which at the close of the day, all goes to the homelessness.
In our spare time I took a rickshaw with my Amsterdam SUIs. The driver, Jaou told us a lot of inspiring stories, also about one project where pictures of former residents with their local stories were attached to the walls in their streets. Maybe this is a beautiful idea to take back to New-West?
After we had the opportunity to see something of the beauty of Lisbon centre as well, I’m very thankful about the beautiful ‘present’ this trip was. It was a very inspiring journey which created a lot of new ideas!
Especially the Portuguese hosts made an ineffaceable impression to me. Their resilience and their capacity and willingness to take up action and to revolt is impressive. The problems in Curraleira are, as far as I can see, incomparable to our situation in New-West. This is, to a certain extent, quite relativizing.
Thanks to our great Portuguese hosts and my fellow SUIs who gave in a candid way insights into their working practices. This made the trip very inspiring!