Build back better: Meet the volunteers transforming communities across Portugal

Build back better: Meet the volunteers transforming communities across Portugal
Copyright Just a Change
By Mohamed ElashiMichael Rupp
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"I was amazed when I saw 'Just a Change' tackle a very big problem in Portugal." Rundown homes and their occupants are being given much needed tender loving care by the volunteer group which aims to actively involve beneficiaries with repairs and renovations.

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

Driven by compassion and solidarity, a remarkable movement quietly makes a difference across Portugal's scenic landscapes. 'Just a Change' is a non-profit organisation of dedicated volunteer builders transforming people's lives in rundown homes, one repair at a time.

These modern-day heroes are on a mission that goes beyond construction. They are architects of change, determined to rebuild lives and restore dignity. From bustling city streets to peaceful rural corners, their efforts resonate, echoing the struggles of families trapped in housing deprivation.

These volunteers are modern heroes who go beyond building to repair lives and dignity
These volunteers are modern heroes who go beyond building to repair lives and dignityMichael Rupp/Euronews

The journey of 'Just a Change'

A group of university friends would regularly busk in downtown Lisbon. They became friendly with local homeless people along the way and would buy them food with their earnings. After several weeks, rather than providing temporary relief, they wanted to do more. Their initial efforts of sharing meals with people without homes evolved into a deep commitment.

College friends António Bello and Lourenço Almeida e Brito busked in downtown Lisbon before starting 'Just a Change' in 2015 to help others
College friends António Bello and Lourenço Almeida e Brito busked in downtown Lisbon before starting 'Just a Change' in 2015 to help othersJust a Change

Guilherme Fogaça is Head of Operations at 'Just a Change', and he explained to SCENES, "They decided to take a step back to think about this problem, and they came to the conclusion of addressing house poverty."

In 2015, Guilherme joined 'Just a Change' as a volunteer. "There are way more organisations feeding the poor, and they are doing it better than us because they have years of experience. The first houses that we made, we jokingly said, 'They're probably worse than before because we had no experience,'" he jokes. "We started gaining more experience, recruiting more volunteers, and securing additional financing. With the help of financing, we could hire professionals who taught us," he adds.

'Their conditions are zero to none.'

The organisation's first step is to locate families living in housing impoverishment. Through a local network of social partners, they identified those needing assistance. The volunteers acknowledged the severity of their situation and often welcomed the assistance.

The volunteers say that the homes they help reconstruct are in a poor state
The volunteers say that the homes they help reconstruct are in a poor stateJust a Change

"I was amazed when I saw 'Just a Change' tackle a very big problem in Portugal", Lourenço Duarte, one of the volunteers, tells SCENES. "The conditions they have are zero to none," adds volunteer Carolina Sampaio.

Once the families are identified, 'Just a Change' mobilises the necessary resources for project implementation. The team gathers materials, coordinates logistics, and recruits volunteers who are willing to contribute their time and skills to the cause.

"You meet them at the start. You know their lives and see where they live," Lourenço continued.

Carolina Sampaio (left) enjoys helping because she watches families lives change
Carolina Sampaio (left) enjoys helping because she watches families lives changeMichael Rupp/Euronews

"I feel accomplished because you can really see the change in these families' lives," Carolina adds.

'It was already completely destroyed.'

The core objective of 'Just a Change' lies in rehabilitating houses in precarious conditions. Throughout the process, they prioritise building relationships with beneficiaries and actively involve them in renovation work.

Antonio Da Silva thought his house was beyond repair. "It was already completely destroyed," he told SCENES.

Antonio Da Silva inspects his new house after declaring it to be beyond repair
Antonio Da Silva inspects his new house after declaring it to be beyond repairMichael Rupp/Euronews

"To take a bath, he had to heat water in a pot, take it to the bathroom and mix it," added Antonio's daughter, Sofia. "The roof was almost falling," she describes.

The volunteer experience

By involving the families in the process, 'Just a Change' fosters a sense of empowerment and ownership, allowing the beneficiaries to take pride in transforming their homes and sharing these special moments with the volunteers.

"They are very impeccable people, hardworking and ready for everything," says Antonio.

"They are wonderful people, always with a smile on their face. They never give a bad answer. They are always satisfied, always wanting to help. All of them, they are dear to me," adds Sofia.

These volunteers are diligent, ready for anything, and constantly smiling
These volunteers are diligent, ready for anything, and constantly smilingJust a Change

A lasting impact

Volunteer builders like Lourenço and Carolina bear witness to the profound impact of the work of 'Just a Change'. With unwavering determination, this organisation strives to ensure that the positive changes achieved during rehabilitation endure in the long term.

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Today, 'Just a Change' is a professionally qualified organisation with 19 full-time staff members and thousands of volunteers throughout Portugal. Through their efforts in diagnosing, mobilising resources, renovating homes, and providing follow-up support, these builders are transforming the lives of families in need and bringing hope to communities across the country.

Additional sources • Mohamed Elashi

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