Where there is love, there is affection!
Article by Daniela Maia, Mission Partner,
Province of Portugal.
A blue and white tiled hallway, an aquarium, and a painting: this is what I saw when I first entered the Casa dos Afetos – the 'house of affections' which would come to reveal itself as my calling. I was very young then and had many dreams. When I arrived, I was shy but determined, with the smile of someone who wanted to change the world! These little worlds!
At that time, 18 years ago, I was chosen to be part of a mission: one filled with expectations and challenges. Offering love, smiles, nurture, and affection. It would become my task to give hope and believe in every young person's intrinsic ability. My first challenge was to learn how to offer affection in a proportionate and balanced way. From the very first moment, I embraced deep within my soul the Congregation's project and the vulnerable young mothers who had little family support of their own, believing, as Saint Mary Euphrasia said, that "nothing is impossible for love."
Here, my desire to grow and evolve was renewed, sharing and teaching what would comfort restless minds and aching hearts from my experience and perspective. During this time, I had to face many complex, complicated, and exhausting days. However, every heartwarming, sweet, gentle, and joyful moment helped me overcome these and stay focused on the goal. I think of the Lar Luísa Canavarro Integration Community as a "school of mothers": this is what I call it and how I see and feel about it. It is a place where the days and lives of these young mothers are transformed as they willingly seek help to become mothers.
The young women learn to look after their babies, to hold and nurture them – care which often they didn't receive themselves – and learn that motherhood is a valuable and lifelong bond. This learning is complimented by further development across several levels: personal, academic, and professional. The women receive daily nourishment of love and care, and they experience moments of constant affection that offer them a framework on how to feel and behave. As soon as our goals as a "school of mothers" are achieved, we then become "granny's house," given the close and supportive relationship that has been established. Once the young women reach the autonomy they desire, training and education give way to accompaniment. At this stage, we enable them to live autonomously in a balanced and life-giving way. In addition to all the support, we offer a safety net they can depend on for their constant sense of stability.
After all these years of experiences and life stories, shared tears, smiles and frowns, and emotional embraces, I believe I have become a more enriched, aware, and attentive person and, as such, a better professional. I began to value the small details resulting from close interaction with vulnerable and disadvantaged young women across many levels… every smile is crucial, and each of my words tries to stroke their often-restless hearts. I came to understand in a different light the meaning of Saint Mary Euphrasia's message: "One person is more valuable than the world".
After all this growth and personal and professional enrichment, I've been offered a new challenge, a new opportunity within the same mission. The Congregation has entrusted me to take on the new role of technical director. This will allow me, once again, to develop my innate desire to improve our interventions with young women and continuously adapt how we respond to the daily needs that arise. Overflowing with the Euphrasian spirit, Firmness and Kindness will continue to guide me in this privileged work with young mothers.
In the future, I wish to be the anchor of my team and colleagues in order to strengthen good practices. I look forward to us working together as a whole, not merely as a sum of parts, to support the growth of these young women.
For our girls, children, and babies, I wish that their paths will be filled with affection, stability, balance, and many smiles, for we are and will continue to offer the support and be the family they don't have, or who have abandoned them.
A heartfelt hug to the entire community of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd!