Name: Joao Barata
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
University: Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território
Degree: Spatial Planning/Geography
Languages spoken: Portuguese, English (intermediate) and Spanish (intermediate)
Past-travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Supporting People with Disabilities in Delhi, India
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: July 2016
Claim to fame: Joao has been doing volunteer work in his home city for almost three years. He volunteers in a center for people with cerebral palsy, and he visits an elderly woman once a week to chat and see if he can help in any way. Plus, he’s involved in a small project where he helps take care of kindergarten children. UBELONGers rock!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I heard the news all the time and always wondered what it must be like living in a developing country. At the same time, I felt there was a lot I could give to others and I just felt I had to go give something back. I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be easy but I always felt I ought to give it a try.
After searching in many websites, I discovered UBELONG and its projects and I was amazed. First because it seemed very easy and simple to apply. Second due to its approach – since it works with local organizations I knew I would be ´needed’.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I must say there were days that I wasn’t doing a great job. But by working with people with disabilities I developed my patience and I have come to know that sometimes we just have to wait a bit. Not every day would I see developments. I mostly worked with just one child and some days I felt our bond had weakened from the previous day. But there were other days when I would see some results and I can tell you that the feeling of satisfaction is beyond what you can imagine.
What is your favorite memory?
At the center where I worked there used to be some group activities. There was praying time, singing, physical exercises and it was lovely to see them doing it together. But the one that I was very fond of was when we went to a playground and they would laugh and play with each others. Seeing them on the slide, for example, was fun. Some of the students would just play with the others and you could see their friendship. I will always remember one time I saw one of them kissing a colleague just as an act of friendship.
But my favorite memory was one time I was on an auto-rickshaw and I say a homeless girl on the other side of the street. I just looked at her and when she realized it she just sent me a kiss. Priceless.
What did you take from the experience?
Above all, the capacity to get through all difficulties. As a joke, me and some of the other volunteers used to say: ‘if you can make it in India, you can make it anywhere’. And that includes either at working or on our ‘free time’. It was a priceless experience. The things you get to know – about a different reality, about people and habits, food, ways of dressing, life itself, and even about yourself – it is simply incredible. But it is shocking too. The way some people still see disability is difficult to bear, especially if you come from a reality like Portugal.
And, obviously, I got to learn a lot about teaching in general and teaching differently-abled children in particular. I got to know some of the most amazing people in the world. The work the teachers are doing there and the director of the center I was volunteering at is just great. They are so kind and patient and give so much love to those children. It was really touching.