Empowering Young Women and Helping Elderly People in Portugal
In the midst of difficult economic times in Portugal, the Portuguese Federation of Methodist Women (FMM) has continued to step up instead of stepping back to extend care to those in need.
In partnership with United Methodist Women since 1996, FMM has
- Provided scholarships to 14 young immigrant women at universities, nine of whom have graduated.
- Trained unemployed women to provide health care to elderly.
- Founded several kindergartens and after-school programs.
We do this in order to improve life not only for members of the church but also for all within the larger communities we serve.
FFM’s work is essentially devoted to women. Our projects—first developed to meet the needs of local churches—have continuously helped women since we were first organized in 1980. Women are often the unseen backbone of society, and the Federation of Methodist Women shares this role. Our aim is “to know Christ and to make him known, as well as to love and serve.” It is with these words in our hearts and minds that we engage both young and elderly women to become responsible for our neighbors.
Today, as a result of our network with other women’s organizations, FMM has opened new doors in new communities to serve the many who suffer. The importance of our projects has become more evident as we have had to enlarge the scope of our work in children in nursery, academic support and health care for the elderly.
We serve communities in and around the cities of Porto, Braga, Aveiro and Lisbon. Below are details of our work and the communities we serve.
We financially support young women in their school and university activities. This sponsorship project began in the year 2000 and serves both local women and African immigrant women. Of the graduates we have sponsored, all of them are involved in church activities. Three of them are working at our center for the elderly in Valdozende. One of them is finishing her theological studies and has recently been ordained as a pastor in the Aveiro district.
Health Care Training
We are also engaged in empowering unemployed women through health care training. We train women to provide organized and scheduled support to isolated people with health problems, most of whom are elderly. We presently serve many communities, from north of Portugal to Lisbon. In 2011 we built a home for the elderly in the village of Valdozende, where 20 people live and receive care.
Holiday Camp for the Elderly
Since 1998 we have organized a weeklong holiday for elderly women, open to all women who are interested. At this holiday camp, there are activities that focus on spirituality, handiwork and crafts; visits to local museums; and leisure time on the beach. Over the years, the number of participants has increased along with the duration of the program because of the warm environment and positive feedback from participants. Lately, elderly men have attended the program and experienced beneficial outcomes. In every camp we currently have between 35 and 42 people.
Valdozende is a village situated up in the mountains, 21 miles from the city of Braga in northern Portugal. Its 400 inhabitants face a number of problems: isolation, economic difficulties and the effects of globalization.
Considering the village’s limited human and material resources, members of the local Methodist church established a kindergarten, a nursery and after-school programs with the help of other area churches and friends abroad. This diaconal project has been an example of the loving power of God at work. Children who had previously been left alone at home while their parents worked in the fields or in nearby towns have now found a place of refuge and joy, as well as an educational program that contributes to their growth and future opportunities.
The social witness of the church in Valdozende has been extended to young people by the opening of a house for students in Braga, and to the elderly by the establishment of a day center where they can have meals and enjoy activities together. Today the center accommodates occupants from not only the village but also surrounding areas.
Porto, the largest city in northern Portugal, is an area with the typical problems of a big city: violence, drug abuse, homelessness. It is the second largest city in Portugal and is home to the largest Methodist church as well as three smaller ones. The women’s group within one of the churches—Mirante Church—has developed a social center where daily activities for elderly men and women are held. There, two or three volunteers keep the elderly engaged, talking, and doing handiwork. The church also has a space where, once a week, we gather unemployed women to learn handicraft as a way to support themselves and raise money for the church.
At the second biggest church in Porto—Monte Pedral church—we had a program from 1995 to 2008 for children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds: the Cultural Challenges After-School Program. In Monte Pedral, there are deep social problems such as drug abuse, alcoholism and unemployment. Children lack supervision outside school (in late afternoon, on weekends, during holidays), and the teens who are unsupervised are much more likely to engage in activities that put them at risk. Violence in schools is not new. Bullying is a widespread problem. But participation in our after-school activities improved the behavior of teens.
The Cultural Challenges After-School Program sought to fill the gaps between school activities and to provide educational and vocational training, such as in sewing, craftwork and traditional jobs. Other educational activities included camps for civic learning, Bible studies and ecological projects. During the time the project operated, it provided a wonderful witness from our church for the neighborhood’s children and families.
Braga, in the north of Portugal, has both rural and urban areas and is home to a mixed socioeconomic community. Many young couples from surrounding villages travel to the area on workdays. To help parents, the Methodist church created an extension of the Valdozende project, with at-home support for children (nursery, kindergarten, after-school program) and the elderly. The impact of this project has been similar to that of the Valdozende project.
Aveiro is a central and progressive industrial area with five main congregations. There, we have developed activities to help local communities of women who are strongly involved in the church. This project has grown beyond all expectations. It is now financially autonomous, so monetary support from the church is no longer needed. Now we seek to develop smaller projects to encourage reflection on the big social questions that the area faces. We have been engaged in promoting various activities like spiritual weekends and holiday camps for youth and the elderly who are members of the churches or the surrounding communities.
We have two Methodist churches (Moita and Alameda) in the suburban areas of Lisbon, where racial problems and challenges with social integration are common. There is also a church missionary area in the southern surroundings of Lisbon, where most of the inhabitants are immigrants from Africa, and where there are also Roma who live in poverty.
As we persist through challenging economic times in Portugal, the needs of members of these communities are truly great. In the past we have provided support to economically disadvantaged families, but conditions have continued to deteriorate, and even in urban communities the need for assistance has increased. Our projects are essential in these hard times.
Hope for the Future
Our intergenerational and multifaceted projects have improved relations among people of different ages, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The younger generation is learning the value of family and community. The projects have also influenced the communities and the families of the women who come to our camps for the elderly every year, which is why the women’s husbands can now participate in them. One of the women told us about the changes in her husband’s behavior: He became a different man at home and is willing to help with the work of FMM at any time.
We learn the lessons of Jesus and try to act according to his sayings and teachings, sharing with our neighbors the dignity and hope in eternal life. We feel that we must persevere for both the love of God and the love of our neighbors.
“To know Christ and make him known, as well as to love and serve” is, and will always be, our theme, our vision and our mission.