Dedicated staff are the backbone of ADRA’s work, but we still wouldn’t be able to reach as many communities and individuals without our volunteers.
One place this is especially evident is Portugal. Despite only having two staff members, ADRA Portugal operates 70 national projects. This is possible because around 700 people, nearly 10 percent of the total Adventists in Portugal, volunteer with ADRA projects.
The main focus of ADRA Portugal’s national social work program is to provide food to low or no income families. ADRA has a partnership with a major supermarket chain in the country, which donates both perishable and non-perishable food items, which ADRA volunteers distribute to beneficiaries.
Churches and individuals contribute in many different ways. A church pays the rent of one building where items are stored and volunteers serve beneficiaries and a church member owns another, both allowing ADRA to use the buildings free of charge. Church members, Adventist schools, and Pathfinder clubs help fundraise to cover the operating costs or to pay for services and goods that aren’t donated. One fundraising activity involves an annual Christmas concert, where handicrafts made by volunteers, and even beneficiaries, are sold.
David is the manager of the project in Setubal. He has been volunteering with the project for 15 years, and has been in charge for the last 10. He has seen the project grow from almost nothing. It started as a Dorcas project, then Adventist Community Services took it over, and it finally became an ADRA project eight years ago. He says that the volunteer work is a gift God has given him.
David is ably supported by a group of warm, hard-working women, like Isabelle, who is responsible for the clothing, but says she does everything. She has been volunteering with the project for more than 10 years, and jokes that she is “part of the furniture!”
“I like it and I have the time,” she said. “It gives me a sense of happiness and fulfilment.”
Happiness is a common theme amongst the volunteers. Seventy-four-year-old Amélia, who immigrated from Angola in the 1970s, has been volunteering for more than 16 years.
“She is always smiling and making fun,” David said. “If anyone is sad, she makes them happy.”
Arminda, the wife of the local biblical promoter, is a new addition to the volunteer team. She volunteered at a hospital for eight years before joining this project.
“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” she said. “We are doing our job happily. We are following Christ’s example of feeding the hungry.”
Another ADRA project is a social shop in a town called Seixal. They accept donations of used clothing, which they sell to raise money to pay rent, utility bills, and diapers for babies. They also distribute food and offer practical training classes on topics such as healthy eating, cooking demonstrations, and how to cope with depression.
Patrícia is the founder and coordinator of the social shop. She used to work in a health center, but she felt she could do more. She left her job to devote herself exclusively to her family and to ADRA. She says her reward is the joy of the people they help, and seeing the positive changes in their lives.
She tells one story about a man who was referred to ADRA by a social worker. He was living alone, struggling with financial difficulties, and battling depression and suicidal thoughts.
“Now, he’s our brother,” Patrícia said. “God used us to save that life. We keep in contact. Now he’s working, and has a wife and two children. And sometimes, when needed, he helps us with the social work.”
While many volunteers are retired or don’t work for other reasons, others volunteer on top of their regular job. One such volunteer is Isabel, who has been volunteering with ADRA for six years.
“One day I felt I needed to do something different,” she said. “Everything in my life was so quiet, so I decided to help other people. My life is quiet no longer!”
Isabel is a university professor, and manages a project that has a particular focus on young people. The project partners with a local school to work with students who have a troubled home life. They also assist young mothers with baby supplies and have been able to help several women and girls who were victims of domestic violence.
“It’s not difficult at all,” Isabel said. “I don’t feel troubled doing it. If we’re tired during the week, we come here and forget our problems, they all seem so small. Giving is better than receiving.”
ADRA International President Jonathan Duffy visited the three projects on a recent trip to Portugal, and spent time talking to the volunteers.
“We really appreciate how people give their time and effort to work with ADRA to reach vulnerable people in the community,” Jonathan said. “We wouldn’t be able to achieve what we’ve achieved as an organization without volunteers.
“I’m reminded of the Margaret Mead quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ If more people follow the Portuguese Church’s example of Christian service, I believe that we can indeed change the world.”