Just a Change

Portuguese youth give a second life to derelict housing

Ever since it began back in 2010, the Just a Change project has already refurbished 51 homes in Portugal. These volunteers are young university students supported by their sponsors. They are now in Óbidos to restore homes (and dignity) to a good handful of inhabitants.

Volunteers in the Just a Change Association have already seen their share of extreme poverty: Housing without electricity. Housing with no running water. And often with neither electricity nor running water. Situations of extreme poverty that isolate people from others in their communities.

Gonçalo Coimbra, the project’s co-founder, says that “some people almost never leave their homes, either because this is physically impossible for them, or because the stairwells are in such a bad state that they’re afraid of falling.”

This Association, a completely not-for-profit one, seeks these people out. Young volunteers re-establish conditions required to live with dignity by restoring these houses, with work that transforms not only these homes, but also lives.

A group that’s growing

This project saw the light of the day back in Lisbon, Portugal in 2010, when two of the founders decided to go to the city centre one day to play the guitar and earn a bit of money.

When they started, the two young men had decided to use the money donated for their personal expenses, but they finally decided to use this money by purchasing meals for homeless people.

And as they wanted to continue helping others, the two friends brought a larger group together to roll out several initiatives to earn money that they would then invest into community actions - they even did a flash-mob in one of Lisbon’s main streets with over 100 participants.

Very quickly though, the group realised that there already were quite a few associations that brought hot meals to the poor and they decided to target “hidden poverty in homes.”

Brooms, paint and hammers”

So, they took some “brooms, paint and hammers” and set off to overcome their first challenge, said Gonçalo. Now, six years later, Just a Change has already refurbished 51 homes.

Town halls and various institutions such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation support the Association and house the volunteers (when the work takes place far from Lisbon) during construction and supply the building material. And meals are often prepared by those who own these run-down houses.

Gonçalo says that in six years, over a thousand young people have worked on these various sites. Sometimes though, Just a Change needs professionals to supervise the work.

Rehabilitating the country and the city

This programme has just kicked off two different projects. During the academic year, young university students Rehabilitate the city in the heart of Lisbon, working either in the morning or in the afternoon, depending on their course schedule.

The second project, Rural Portugal, takes place only in summer and “employs” young people from all over Portugal and even a few foreign volunteers.

Gonçalo adds that this year, a volunteer came from the United States just to take part in one of the Just a Change “vacation camps” where for ten days, groups of 50 young people work in isolated parts of the country. They are currently in Óbidos, restoring ten homes.

In the future, the Association would like to create a branch in the city of Porto, to help more people whilst opening their arms to all young people who want to be of used for others, though they are forewarned: “they must be available, have a large heart and be determined!”

Written by Gisela Gomes, translated into English by Jacquie Bridonneau, and sent by our EAPN de Beja friends.