12th Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy - Study visits at SSE Portugal (I)

News | 21 January 2022
On November 17th, third day of the Academy, the participants virtually joined a study visit to two Portuguese SSE organizations. The first SSE organization visited was the Rugby School “Escolinha de Rugby da Galiza” managed by Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Cascais. The second organization was the Museum of the Silk of Castelo Branco (Portugal) managed by Associação Portuguesa de Pais e Amigos do Cidadão Deficiente Mental. The session was moderated by Ms. Bethania Pagin (União das Misericórdias Portuguesas) and facilitated by Mr. Fernando Baptista (ITC-ILO).

The “Escolinha de Rugby da Galiza'' is a Rugby School managed by Santa Casa da Misericórdia of Cascais, Portugal. The virtual visit started with a video of the School, an inclusive space that welcomes children from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. It aims to prepare athletes but also to prepare women and men to work as a team respecting diversity, interculturality, engagement, acceptance and the value of work.

After the video, Ms. Pagin welcomed the Director of the Escolinha, Ms. Maria Gaivão. Responding to Ms. Pagin’s questions, the Director provided an overview of the School and the work of Santa Casa da Misericordia. The latter was founded in 1983 after a call for action of the local institutions to find solutions for the so-called “end of the world community”, where vulnerable and marginalised families lived. The mission of Santa Casa da Misericordia is to try to break the vicious cycle of poverty and to change the mindsets of the youth toward making better choices.

The Rugby School was founded in 2016 with the same philosophy. Rugby was chosen over other sports because it is a good way to teach respect for diversity. The athletes are seen as individuals and their individual characteristics are valued on the field. The students also learn self-control and self-motivation playing this sport. The School initially welcomed 120 children, and now has 160 athletes, 11 employees, 20 professionals providing other services along with a large group of volunteers and supporters. Besides the rugby club, the School offers a number of services to the children, their families and the wider community, notably: after-school study support, holiday centre, job-related skills development, and leisure for the elderly. It also developed social projects to support poor families, in collaboration with other stakeholders such as the local food bank.

As this is a community initiative, continued Ms. Gaivão, people usually do not pay for the services. Therefore, partnerships with other stakeholders, as well as community engagement, are pivotal to effectively implement the activities of the School. A steady collaboration has been established over time with the social security centre, other local institutions and private companies. The contribution of volunteers is also critical, she noted. The organisation faces some pressing challenges. As an SSE organization operating in the social and economic realms, it is necessary to concentrate on the priorities and to not lose focus. Furthermore, it is important to make these efforts as a community, developing a vision that can motivate and engage different actors towards a common goal.

The second virtual study visit brought the participants to the Silk Museum of the Portuguese Association of Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped Citizen (APPACDM) of Castelo Branco, Portugal. A short video introduced this project and the association. APPACDM is a Portuguese association founded in the 1970s by parents of children with mental disabilities. The goal was to create opportunities for inclusion and improvement of the life of their children, in a time when the Portuguese educational system was not able to integrate them effectively. In the 1990s, APPACDM Castelo Branco acquired a farm, the Quinta da Carapalha, and started the production of silk to provide social inclusion for their disabled members. This activity contributes to help the users to better understand themselves and how to interact with others in a collaborative and protected environment.

In 2016, the Silk Museum was founded, in cooperation with the Municipality. It offers different contents, activities and products. One section is dedicated to the global and local history of silk. There is a multimedia centre explaining the production processes, and a documentary on the biomedical uses of silk, developed in collaboration with the biomedical school of Porto. Activities are offered to schools, there is a store and a cafeteria. Through these activities the museum provides the disabled people opportunities of interaction with the local community.

After the video, Ms. Pagin invited Ms. Maria de Lourdes Pombo, President of APPACDM of Castelo Branco, to answer some questions on their work. Ms. de Lourdes Pombo retraced the story of the Association, that was born as a group of relatives and friends of children with disabilities in the area of Castelo Branco. It eventually opened up to other children and families living in other areas. It now reaches and supports 647 disabled children and their families. The farm provides social and economic support to the Association, while offering a space to implement activities. Managed through SSE principles, it has developed many linkages with the community, where it has a very good reputation. The Farm and the Museum involve workers with specific expertise to work with disabled people. The users also contribute to the work activities according to their capacity, and they can be compensated with up to 290 euros/month for their work. They also offer scholarships, internships and training courses to those who want to develop skills and work experience in the field. Many of them also decide to work for the organisation itself.

Ms. de Lourdes Pombo then explained how the sustainability of the organisation and the project is guaranteed through different sources of funding. A protocol with the Ministry of Education guarantees support to the Museum, which is considered a social service to the community. The local government also economically and technically supports several activities. Local private companies also provide support, including through donations. The families of the users also contribute, but only according to their means, on a sliding scale. In addition the products of the Farm and the revenues from the Museum bring in income to the organisation.

At the end of the session, the Director of the Silk Museum, Mr. Manuel Barreto, recognized APPACDM and the many stakeholders and professionals from the community that supported the establishment of the Museum. He noted that the Museum offers the disabled people a possibility to grow by exchanging with different people that come to visit the museum.

Click here to watch the recording of the session in the original audio, or interpreted in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

For more information on the 12th edition of the SSE Academy, click here.