Are we able to reduce inequalities by valuing our differences?
How can we improve social cohesion? How can we work on social differences? What impact does the distinct contexts where each of us was born, the family structures, the difference in education and opportunities have?
Social mobility in Portugal remains still very low despite the effort of several organizations. The Association "Gambozinos", being one of them, works around a very particular element – the human relationships. Policies and theoretical principles are essential to bringing about social change. Still, the human relationships that we create are the key factors motivating each of us to be part of the change. This is what inspires me at Gambozinos.
I was eighteen when a friend of mine challenged me to visit a neighborhood in Peniche (Portugal), where fishermen and their families lived. Most women worked in canning factories while the men were fishing. Soon I understood that it was there where I wanted to play a role and contribute to what we call "the Gambozinos' dream": to gather people from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds through human and social development.
How do we put this into practice?
We learn how to live together with what nature gives us through summer camps, sleeping in tents, diving in a river, and playing outdoor games. Far away from urban centers, we learn to respect nature and its balance. Setting aside the superfluous things, we could focus on knowing each other for ten days, living without discrimination, and valuing differences. During the year, in activities and meetings in the neighbourhoods or outside them, we work on self-knowledge,seeking what we are good at, knowing our limitations and overcoming prejudices. Being connected to Jesuits, the Association proposes all these through spiritual growth and conveying Christian principles in a current and straightforward language, adjusted to the different people and ages.
I have been working closely with children and young people from several places in Portugal, where Gambozinos are present, such as Braga, Lisboa, Pragal and Peniche. Firstly, I expected to see significant changes in people's lives; then I understood how changes are slow and depend on several economic, political, and social factors. In general, the financial difficulties and housing conditions remain the same, education level is very low, children get the same jobs as their parents, there is no family planning, and the affective and emotional lacks are huge.
It is hard to change this reality; however, few inner and relational changes have a great power to build the path of social cohesion and social justice. Today, thanks to the work of Gambozinos for the last 25 years, this path is visible: there is a kid (today a young man) from Peniche who is currently working in a leading industrial group in Lisbon; another one from Pragal who is a well-known sportsman in Portugal; families from Braga who regularly share a meal with other families from different backgrounds; a teenager who aspires to enter medical school was raised by his grandparents who cannot read; young people with a comfortable life that exchange their commodities for weeks living in these neighborhoods.
What Gambozinos provides is not only a time where we meet and dedicate time to people from different contexts: it offers an opportunity to build a way of life. The way I am today at work, at home, with family and friends, how I manage priorities and challenges, is highly influenced by the experience Ilived and still live in this Association.
Nowadays,I have a close relationship with several families in Peniche: visiting each other, having lunch together, being present in the important moments of each others' lives.
I'm convinced we don't need to go to the other side of the world to contribute with impactful and sustainable actions. It's possible to find the role we want to play, working on social differences and constructing social cohesion here,where we are now.