Field Programs (a.k.a. organized in-country group trips) available to Summer 2014 voyagers in Lisbon, Portugal, ran the gamut from “Fado & Folklore Music Dinner” to “Portuguese Cooking Experience” to “Surf and Yoga.” One of the more meaningful, impactful options was a service visit to the Casa do Gaiato summer retreat outside of the small village of Sintra to help with the charity’s beautification project.
Casas do Gaiato — which means “houses of the children” — were founded by Priest Americo Monteiro de Aguiar beginning in the 1940s to house and educate young boys who had been orphaned or otherwise mistreated in their homes. Group homes are located not only in Portugal, but also in Angola and Mozambique. The Casa do Gaiato north of Lisbon houses about 65 young men ranging in age from 8 to 25 years old.
Twenty Semester at Sea students, staff, and dependent children wielded rakes, hoes, wheelbarrows and paintbrushes to clean up the grounds and paint a few interior walls at the Casa do Gaiato’s summer “holiday house.” At this Sintra-area rural retreat, some of the Casa do Gaiato boys spend a couple weeks in the warmer-weather months enjoying a rustic lodging experience near the Atlantic Ocean. Scout troops and other groups also use the house for only a donation to the Casa do Gaiatos.
However, this volunteering day was not all work and no play. Morning was spent getting dirty, but after a filling lunch of Portuguese dishes — including the ever-present cod fish, bacalhau — students played a game of futebol with some of the Casa do Gaiato teenagers on a weed-strewn dirt field. The play was intense, and, alas, the game didn’t go nearly was well as the U.S.-Portuguese World Cup match-up earlier in the week. (In other words, the skilled Portuguese teens outscored the SAS players about 13-3.)
Since this service project was one of the first group excursions for many students on the Summer 2014 voyage, working together in painting and gardening teams offered them a chance to get to know one another while doing some good. “A service project like this helps us go from being just classmate acquaintances to true friends,” said Ashley Materys, who attends Bowling Green State University.
Jessie Hines, a student at San Diego State University, noted that spending the day helping the less fortunate is more satisfying than simply, “checking off a list of sights on a typical tour.”
Pat Larsen of Denver, Colorado, who is one of two staff psychologists on the ship, said, “I’ve been on a lot of field programs on a few different voyages, and I’ve always found that service trips are among the most rewarding. I’ve made some of my favorite Semester at Sea memories by helping others.”
All photos by Carly Jurach.