Overlooking Belém, in Lisbon, the Segundo Torrão, in Trafaria, came into existence 40 years ago. What started as a fishing community that grew over time, is now the largest slum in size in Lisbon, where there are people living in shocking conditions.
As the houses are illegal, electricity provided through electricity contracts remains a dream for the inhabitants who have to steal electricity from the EDP street light in order to have power. This precarious situation has already caused serious problems that led to the situation being denounced throughout the media in January, following a situation that led inhabitants to spend more than 70 hours in the dark.
During those winter days, some of the children reported that when they were living in the dark, it was very difficult to eat cold food and they were afraid that their younger siblings would fall and get hurt because they couldn't see anything, Xana Gonzalez Leal, president and coordinator of Cova do Mar association, told The Portugal News.
"We were handing out head torches so the children could play," she said. However, it wasn't enough to stop cruel things from happening. "We had a mother who was desperate because she had antibiotics in the fridge for her one-year-old baby, and the antibiotics spoiled because there was no electricity. It is hard to believe, but these realities still exist in Portugal,” Xana added.
The right to play
Founded five years ago to provide support to children in the slum, Cova do Mar association has created a new project called Fábrica dos Sonhos project that has been giving a voice to this problem and helping children with a mission "to create a free after-school centre". Even though it is not a formal after-school centre, is a place where kids can play after school.
"There is a business around happiness and children's play, where parents buy happiness packages that can be summers camps, birthday parties or after school parties, to ensure that their children are happy with educational activities," said Xana Gonzalez Leal, president and coordinator of Fábrica dos Sonhos.
That is why they decided to create an association to defend article 31 of the convention on the rights of children, which states that children have the right to leisure and holidays and “the State has the duty to promote these activities," she said.
However, in our societies, this right has not been granted to all children. "There is no solution for children whose parents cannot afford it," she pointed out. Thus, the Fábrica dos Sonhos was born out of a dream to create a free "after-school centre".
Xana has a degree in management and worked for several years in the sector, but as time went by Xana began to feel the need to seek her mission in life and it was then that she found humanitarian work.
"I had done a summer camp monitor course and then we decided in August 2015 to set up a summer camp” - that's how the Cova do Mar association was born, with the first mission that no child had to pay to play.
"It was very spontaneous, it was something that came from the heart and, in my case, it was a radical change. I don't have long-term plans anymore, just doing what makes sense in each moment," she added.
After that, it was time for the Fábrica dos Sonhos. "We were already here in Cova do Vapor and, until then, we did everything outdoors. It was at a meeting with Almada Council, with the social intervention team, that they suggested we develop the project and start giving more support to the children of the Segundo Torrão".
Despite the fantastic social impact it has on the community, the Fábrica dos Sonhos still can't reach all the children who need help. "Unfortunately we can't reach all the children in the slum. Out of 3,000 inhabitants, we only have, this school year, 35 places. It's not enough", she lamented.
There may not be many, but every child they have receives total dedication. “Our job is not just to open the door, it is to open the door, to hug, to support, to find out how they are doing, what they are struggling with at that very moment", Xana stressed.
In their work they also try to involve wider society, for example, through the police. “We have moments when the GNR of Trafaria works in partnership with Cova do Mar in playful actions. We try to involve them in our work to demystify the idea that children may have of the GNR”, she said.
For example, at Halloween, “they usually go and scare the GNR in the police station, if we scare them well they get the jellybeans, if we don't scare them well, the GNR gets the jellybeans. Last year, it wasn't possible to go there in person, so the GNR came to the Fábrica dos Sonhos and the children had to win the jellybeans in a PlayStation challenge with the police”.
Over five years, Fábrica do Sonhos has already welcomed 112 children. It is open Tuesday to Friday from 3.30pm to 7.30pm and on Saturday mornings and relies on the help of donations and volunteers, as at the moment they can only afford one person on a wage.
The Portugal News has tried to contact Almada Council to ask for clarification on this social problem, but at the time of going to press, we had received no reply.