What a week. What a long, long week. I don’t think I could have ever expected all that has happened this period, and the conversations I had. Writing this as I stare at the sunlit sparkling ocean, the 4-day headache consumes me whole. Not only did I interview employees from city hall and Santa Casa (the main response in Lisbon), but also ran my own activities, began planning the next one and, the cherry on top, had to have a serious conversation around boundary setting with users of our service. Whew!
My week begins Monday, where I planned and organised, with the help of Tiago, my interviews and conversations with people working in homelessness and employability of marginalised groups in both the city hall & Santa Casa. One of my personal objectives is to gain a deeper understanding about the homelessness issue in Lisbon and getting to converse with those on the field in the streets of Lisbon was a privilege that helped me understand more around the roots of the problem as well as the barriers needed to be overcome. They were honest & open conversations where I could understand different perspectives, and I will say, Portuguese people do not censor their opinions! :’D
I understood that the root causes of much homelessness in Lisbon is due to the increase in living costs and the non-adjustment of wages, their wages not reflecting the increase in, specifically, housing costs. More than half of the Portuguese population makes minimum wage and due to a boom in tourism with no governmental policy changes, there is now a significant housing crisis. Most people earn around £600 a month, with rent and bills around £450-500 meaning most people & families only have around £100-200 to spend a month which does not cover living expenses. This has caused individuals & families to not afford basic necessities, many not being able to move out until their 30s, meaning many homeless people are those without a direct support system to help them in this crisis.
One thing Portugal excels at is although the standards of living are not significantly high, they ensure that there is a minimum standard of living for all people. Housing is offered to almost everyone and support is always available, whether they decide to take it or not. They take care of their society but that means other projects and increasing the standard of living has had to wait until they’ve been able to fix base issues at their core, only being able to start working on themselves as a country since the revolution in the 1970s which overthrew the dictatorship.
Other than learning about Portugal’s fundamental issues, I also grew as a person by learning how to set boundaries with strangers, something I never imagined needing to do. Unfortunately, I experienced a couple of uncomfortable situations whilst volunteering at the shelter. Whilst the details of this I would prefer not to share, I realise it was a combination of me not being able to speak up and sternly hold my ground, and of others taking advantage of my being polite & then playing into a victim-role. I realised that this cannot continue any further and so I requested advice from a colleague at the shelter on how to best approach the topic. After her horror at what had happened, she advised me on how best to deal with the issue by having a conversation with those crossing the technician-user boundary and holding my ground, explaining it is inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour.
I have resolved the situation thus far but having to experience this had taken me out of my comfort zone yet allowed me to understand that it is ok and not necessarily ‘rude’ to hold your ground and protect your own self. Defining boundaries does not equal being a hostile person. Although I am good at that in my personal life, this is the first time I’ve had to do so in a professional setting & it’s helped me gain a principal skill. I am hoping that this does not occur again, and if it does, I now know the steps to take & who to speak to.
Pictured: 'Reem' in Pharaonic language
My activities for the week, other than partaking and supporting the running of scheduled lessons, were using the English language to explain another language, the ancient Egyptian Pharaonic language (pictured above). Due to it being different from their usual activities yet still maintaining features that support the development of set skills, many had commented it was their favourite of the week. In two weeks, with the support of one of the organisation’s psychologists, I am planning a special course for my remaining weeks centred around mental self-help, stemming from my experience working in a mental health organisation.
All-in-all, it has been a week and a half (figuratively). Yes, I was out of my comfort zone but that has helped me become a better version of myself, as an individual and professional, and that in itself is one of my main reasons for being here. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next, and hope I can further extend my capabilities.