Eurodesk Alumni Stories: Marisa Penagos

I first became aware of Eurodesk when I was accepted to take part in a European Solidarity Corps project. Through the Eurodesk network, I reached out to Voluntary Service Ireland for support and information before departing and they were there for me throughout my experience abroad. I never had any issues while I was volunteering abroad but it was reassuring to know the support was there if I did need it.

In September 2020, I travelled to Santa Maria da Feira in Portugal to take part in the ‘People & Planet’ project with Rosto Solidário – a non-governmental development organisation that fosters global citizenship and solidarity.

Its scope of work includes four main areas: International Development Cooperation; Global Citizenship Education; Volunteering; and Family-based Social Support. Gender Equality, Human Rights and Social Inclusion are also some of its cross-cutting subjects. I chose this organisation because I wanted to be immersed in a wide variety of projects that benefit both the local and global community.

One of my responsibilities was to manage the volunteer social media sites to raise awareness of their work. I also worked with other volunteers to start a community garden, or ‘Horta Solidária’ where we grew a variety of fruit and vegetables to be donated to the local food bank. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of this project – from making our own compost, preparing the land, planting the vegetables, and harvesting the fruits of our labour. I like to think that this is my small contribution towards Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, which aims to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.’

We also set up our own business, ‘Novo de Novo’ meaning ‘New Again’, which upcycled old or broken furniture and transformed leftover textiles into clothes, bags, and decorations. Upcycling has a hugely positive impact on the environment, reducing the need to produce new or raw materials, minimises waste sent to landfills and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and water and air pollution.

This project taught me a lot of new skills in crafting and upcycling, as well as marketing and business, while also doing so much for the environment. I was involved in other environmental projects with the organisation Movimento Gaio. As a group of volunteers, we planted over 80 young trees, making sure to protect them from strong mountain winds and potential gorse fires.

I had many other rewarding experiences and opportunities while in Portugal, including volunteering at The Association of Friends of Animals of Santa Maria da Feira (Aanifeira) animal shelter and at Centro de Apoio Familiar e Aconselhamento Parental (CAFAP) – the Centre for Family Support and Parental Counselling – where I helped to produce a game used to promote awareness of Child Abuse Prevention Month. I also tutored a secondary student in English once a week which was a hugely fulfilling experience – not just helping her English language skills but offering support and a listening ear to a young person during such an uncertain time. I was elated when she passed all her exams.

I was involved in The Triple Europe Game project, which was developed by Rosto Solidário in Portugal, to make young people aware of the role European policies play in their lives. Using gamification strategies, the project tested young people’s knowledge of topics such as the environment, migration, internal development, and food security. I had the opportunity to use the game when facilitating a workshop with young people from the local area where I was volunteering in Portugal and since the summer of 2020, all youth workers in the Eurodesk Portugal Network have access to it!

Time is our most precious resource, so to those of you thinking of travelling, working, volunteering, or studying abroad, I say… Go for it!

Marisa Penagos, 28, County Kerry.

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