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Being a Volunteer

Are you looking for a challenge? Doing useful work, helping people unable to look after themselves in another culture?
You’ll meet here an international team in a Portuguese setting.
You’ll be able to learn the Portuguese language (the 8th most spoken language in the world).
Of course you come to help people who have a difficult life, but meanwhile you’ll have the opportunity to learn to know yourself better and to become more responsible, secure and independent.
Many volunteers have been here before you. Discovered new things in themselves. Found it difficult to leave after a year… Many of them still visit us as friends.
Living in a community in Portugal in the 21st Century is a constant learning process.
Casa de Santa Isabel is an innovative project, where not everything is already settled, although it is a firm organisation with a good reputation.


Voluntary Work

The voluntary work shall take place in the realm of curative education or social therapy.
In particular the field of activity will be to assist in the guidance and care of children, adolescents or adults with developmental disabilities 1) in the residential setting, 2) during community- and leisure activities and 3) during activities or work in the elementary school or in the craft shops (oficinas).

Room, Meals and Others

All co-workers have a private room and free meals. They have access to and use of the kitchen and the washing machine. The houses supply bed linen, towels, soap, shampoo etc.  free. At times co-workers have to share the bathroom.

Free Time, Working Hours and Holidays

 Like all long-term co-workers, volunteers are alternating 1 or 2 days free per week.
- All volunteers have 3 hours free time daily: mornings between aprox. 09.00 – 12.00 hours, 
  or afternoons between 14.00 – 17.00 hours. These hours can be interrupted by tutorials, 
  meetings or studies/ courses/workshops.
- Holidays: Christmas- aprox. 8 days, Carnival- 2 days, Easter- aprox. 8 days and 
  summer holidays starting around 1st of August each year.
  Colleagues of each house together organize their holidays in such a way that the care and 
  accompaniment of the people in our care is continuous and secure.

Contract, Insurance, Finances and Telephone/Postal Costs

- If nessesary, the Casa de Santa Isabel shall contract health/accident security for the
  full period of voluntary service 
- The voluntary service will be for 1(one) year.
- Your monthly stipend will be aprox. € 200,00.

Courses and Partaking in Meetings

- All untrained colleagues attend our introduction course. 
- Non-Portuguese speaking colleagues will regularly attend the language lessons (until Christmas).
- All volunteers regularly attend house meetings,  private tutorials and regular 
  meetings with their mentor or other meetings of the community.

About Casa de Santa Isabel

Location and Leading thoughts

The Casa de Santa Isabel was founded in 1981 as a life-sharing community for mentally handicapped children, adolescents and adults and their co-workers.
Permanent co-workers strive to create a total therapeutic environment elaborating on the thoughts of the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue Dr. Rudolf Steiner and a community impulse.

Apart from structural and working relations with the Portuguese Ministries of Education, Welfare and Work, the institute is a working member of the Conference for Curative Education and Social Therapy in Dornach, Switzerland.

The houses and the land of the community are situated in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela, a mountain ridge in the Centre of Portugal, some five minutes on foot from the village of São Romão and 3 kms. from the small city of Seia. We live on eroded granite. The soil is quite poor. The vegetation has changed during the years we have been working here. Some 4000 leaf trees were planted to substitute the many pine trees and eucalypti.
Three of the houses, the elementary school and the workshops were built on a plateau near São Romão. Children, adolescents, adults and their co-workers live there.
Nearer to Seia lies a piece of land called the ‘Formigo’. In a small valley and around a organic vegetable- and an herb garden and many walnut trees, three houses were built were  adults companions live  with their co-workers.


People in our Care and Co-workers

All the 80 resident- and external people in our care have some form of developmental- or mental handicap. Some need a wheel chair; many have to deal with a bodily impediment.
During the weekend many of the students go home. The same is not the case for some of the children and the adults living here, being orphans or abandoned, their families showing no interest or being unable to cope with their handicapped grown up child.

10 Children go to our elementary school, following an adapted Waldorf School curriculum.
70 Young adults and adults learn and work in the transition class and the workshops with their teachers, work masters and other co-workers / volunteers. There is the bakery, the pottery, the wood workshop, the weavery, the washhouse, the work in the vegetable garden, recycling and the work in the forest. Some of the adults are at present gaining life- and work experience outside of the community.

At present we are 25 residential- and 25 external co-workers. The community has always had a very international character and many languages are spoken. Right now there are colleagues from Brazil, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Chile, Colombia and yes, of course also from Portugal. A bit more than half of the residential co-workers have experience of many years in the work and are trained: special education, education, biodynamic agriculture, and forestry. The other colleagues have come here for a year in order to gain life- and work experience and doing voluntary work abroad.
The external co-workers live in São Romão and in Seia. They are trained in their profession (work masters, curative education) and through working here for many years.


House Life

All resident co-workers live and work in the houses, sharing the life of colleagues to a large extend and accompanying a group of up to 3 children, adolescents or adults. The creation of a ‘home’ and an active and positive environment for colleagues and for the people in our care is an important factor, as all of us need to feel respected, to relax, to be seen, to be able to go our inner path and to live and work with pleasure, being able to meet our destiny. The houses are also ‘home’ for the students and companions. We help and also comfort them in their struggle from waking up until going to bed: self care, hygiene, dressing, meals, walks, outings, cleaning of the house, cooking during the weekends etc.  All the things that might happen during the time everybody is at home.
Trying to create a therapeutic environment and sharing the life of others is not always an easy concept to live by. In practice it means that one shares a house with the others, having a room in the house where one works, quite close to the people one takes care off.
Volunteers have an experienced supervising and assisting co-worker and at times share the responsibility for a group with another co-worker, depending on the constellation of the groups.


Elementary School and Workshops

The children follow an adapted Waldorf School curriculum in the mornings and have artistic activities and gymnastics or take walks in the afternoons. 
Adolescents and ‘companheiros’ learn and work during the day in the workshops on the premises. A number of the adult handicapped work at present outside of the Casa de Santa Isabel.

Daily tasks of the co-workers

Apart from sharing in the house activities and assisting group of 1 to 3 children, adolescents or adults, we all work in some other field, be it the workshops, the land and the forest group or the afternoon lessons in the elementary school.

Volunteers and those doing their alternative service have during workday’s free time from either 9.15-12.00 am. or from 4.15- 5.00 pm., to be combined with the houses where they live.

This implies that the days are demanding as life sharing and work at times superimpose. It should be said that the life and work in a Latin community like ours is much slower and much less stressed than a similar community or institute in Northern or Central Europe.

Introduction Course/ Portuguese Lessons

All volunteers or new co-workers without previous specific training take part in our introduction course (History and culture of Portugal, anthroposophy, deficiencies).

A schoolteacher is coming twice a week during 1 1/2 hours and teaches the language till Christmas. New colleagues usually quickly grasp the essentials of the language permitting them to communicate in the national language. Most of the co-workers speak at least one foreign language.

Official/Internal Organization

Since 1975 the Casa de Santa Isabel has the juridical form of an association, with co-workers who have been working here for minimally one year as members. The association is recognized as an IPSS (Instituto Particular de Solidariedade Social – Private Institute of Social Solidarity) by the Ministry of Social Affairs. There are longstanding agreements with the Min. of Education, the Min. of Soc. Affairs and the Min. of Work to meet the financial needs.

The internal organisation is a flat one. All co-workers in the different areas work in autonomous mandate groups, taking consensual decisions: the co-workers council, the different houses, the school, the workshops, the land group, the therapists, economic group and the direction.
All otherwise autonomous groups answer to the council and abide by its decisions. Co-workers can join the council after one year, or earlier depending on life- or professional experience. Decisions are consensual.
Co-workers belonging to administrative- or representative supporting groups like the economic group and the direction are chosen by the members of the council. The members of the council choose the three members of the direction every three years.

Medical Assistance and Therapies

Once a month our homeopathic physician visits us during a few days. He attends our special people and also co-workers. For any urgent matters we recur to local doctors and the nearby hospital.

We have a resident curative eurythmist  and a co-worker giving therapeutic baths.

As therapies we offer eurithmy-therapy, therapeutic baths, ointments, quirofonetics and speech.

Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs

Some co-workers smoke. It is strictly forbidden to smoke in the houses or the workshops, it is also forbidden to smoke near the people in our care.
Portugal has the highest rate of alcoholism in Western Europe. There are a great number of bars in the village. We cannot allow using alcohol and whatever soft or hard drugs on the premises and on the land of the Casa de Santa Isabel. The craving for and use of alcohol and drugs and the inevitable after effects do not enable us to do the heavy work we do. It inhibits us from assessing and living with the handicaps around us, from finding dynamic developmental steps to be taken with the children, adolescents and adults. It also shields us from the at times very difficult processes we have to go through with the people in our care and the confrontation with our own limitations. It endangers the high standard and the reputation we have.

Pocket Money for Volunteers and Social Fund

Portugal belongs to the poorest members of the E.C. and the financial possibilities of the Casa de Santa Isabel and of the Social Fund are corresponding.

In principle all short- and long-term colleagues receive board and lodging, and they have to be insured. 

- Volunteers joining us directly, that is not through a sending organisation, will sign a volunteer contract upon arrival. This enables them to be included in the Portuguese national health care system. At present they receive a monthly stipent of 200,-- € per month. Portuguese national health care does provide dentists on paper. In practice dentists only treat private patients. This means that all dental appointments have to be paid. Please have your teeth in order before coming here, as we can only help financially in ‘crisis’-situations.
- In  case volunteers bring proof of health insurance, valid in Portugal, they receive 200,--€ per month.
- Co-workers, who after one year of service, wish to join the community for a longer period, participate in the Social Fund of the co-workers. In practice the Fund functions not unlike similar funds for Waldorf School teachers. The Fund provides for medical costs not sufficiently covered by the National health Service (dentists), study fund for children, donations,  extra allowance for holidays, participation in conferences and the like.  Participants receive at present a monthly stipend of 400,-- €, as well as 75,-- € per child p. month. Telephone costs and the use of cars of the community have to be reimbursed monthly.

Religious life, Interdisciplinary Workshops

Religious life plays an important part in the life of the community, marking the Christian festivals of the year, the day, the meals and the weekend. In some of the houses the bible is read  before starting work, culminating on Sundays in a very short and simple celebration in our hall. Participation in both is free.
The hall of our school is as well used as the place for workshops and study with quest speakers, guests and friends from outside the community.

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