This article has been written by our volunteer Jessica Castanheira.

I arrived at OCC without any expectations, just to do my best and learn the most I could for two months as a short-term volunteer. However, one month was enough to understand that what I was experiencing was too important and too intense to finish in two months. The opportunity arrived and I decided to become a long-term volunteer. And I can say for sure that it was the best decision I could have ever made.

I was a teacher for adults and children, and I learned so much from it. Classes with adults often finished with conversations sharing some personal stories, which now I understand was the result of the safe space we were able to create in these classes. 

On the complete opposite, there were classes with children aged between 8 and 12 years old. These classes were never boring, always challenging, but so rewarding. It was amazing the process of gaining their trust while sharing knowledge and exploring their creativity. Education can definitely open doors for every individual, especially for children.  

Outside the classroom, there were always moments to socialize with the rest of the OCC community. From the simple conversations in the Cafeteria to the shared dinners and activities, I was able to establish connections beyond the language barrier. For instance, there was a woman with whom we barely understood each other because we didn’t speak the same language. But we managed to create such a special bond that the day before I left, she told me that I was like a daughter to her. This was, and still is, a priceless feeling.

I was lucky to meet strong, determined, and full-of-life people, both volunteers and community members, whose friendships I know will prevail for many years. However, after hearing so many different life stories, paths, and injustices, the “bubble” where I was when I arrived started to fade away, and my perception of the world started to change. I am privileged because of something no one can choose: the place where I was born. In a world that is so often filled with darkness, a simple action can bring light to someone else’s life, giving them a little bit more strength to continue their struggle for a dignified life.

It is said that home is not a place, it’s a feeling. And this was the feeling I had at OCC.

This project is funded by the European Union through Eramsus+.


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