It’s important to be there
Porto | Portugal
Udream was founded 4 years ago, the 20th of August 2013. - says Irma de Magalhaes, current leader. - The idea came from a student of the faculty of economy. He had tuberculosis when he was 16, so he spent a lot of time in the hospital. He realized there was not enough emotional support there, neither for children, nor for parents. He decided to open a student organization which would fill this gap.
The students started supporting the children and their parents, donating their time, hope and something special.
We keep company with children from the oncological hospital 15 min from here. We go there every day. Additionally, we select a few children per semester to grant wishes. We work very closely with them, their families and doctors to understand what makes them happy. One of the last wishes we granted was to Marcia, an 8 years old girl, she has a lot of energy. It was not easy to connect with her family, though. Because of the struggle with her health, they didn't pay attention to her education, she had problems finishing the year. We thought we could help there. Marcia didn't believe that planes are real, she thought even a train is something you just color in your book and she loved big fishes. She also wanted to be an astronaut one day and a hairdresser another. She had a lot of dreams. We designed a perfect day for her based on that. We flew to Lisbon with her family and we went to the aquarium with big fishes. She couldn't believe it was real. Then we took her to the little city of professions, she could be an employee of the supermarket, take the driving license, go to a disco place. In the evening we invited the parents out for dinner, just the two of them, and our volunteers took care of the children. Next day we returned to Porto by train. Then we thought: ok, what about long term impact? We offered her a computer, books, pencils, whatever is needed to go to school plus four years of tutoring. Every day she meets for 1h with her tutor who explains her things and does homework with her. Her grades really improved and now she is one of the best in her class. Because she has a tutor, her mother has more time and she was able to find a part-time job, so there is more money coming into the house. This is the impact we want to have in each family.
Their work doesn’t finish once the wish is granted, not even when the child goes back home from the hospital or their long term commitment expires. Sometimes they intervene again into family life years after the first meeting.
One of the most impactful stories we have here is about Luis. He was a big FC Porto fan. We took to his place a group of supporters, they proved very developed social awareness. It was a magical day. Luis was one of our first children, we didn’t have the long term impact thing yet. But 2 years ago we had to act again. He had cancer, he managed to get better but then he had a relapse. He had two brothers. When we first met this family, the oldest one got arrested and had to present himself at the police station every day. The younger sibling had cognition problems. Both parents were unemployed. And that time they were pushed away from home, they didn’t have any place to live. We decided to do something. For about one month all organizations stopped just to help this family. We found another house near the house they had, we found a company to pay the rent for 1 year and in Continente, a big supermarket chain, we managed to get food for half a year. We sent them for a weekend in a hotel with a spa - they never entered a hotel before -. We had 48 hours to rebuild the house. During that time we destroyed the walls, we built them again, we painted it, we had an artist who put nice graffiti in Luis' room, we created a garden, which Marta, his sister, likes. Every little detail in the house was designed as they liked it, colors, graffiti, they had food.It was near Christmas, cherry on top – a beautiful Christmas dinner. Everything is done in 48 hours. They came from the hotel and their faces when they saw the house... You know you make a change in somebody’s life.
Unfortunately, Luis died two months later, but the impact affected the family. The older brother decided to change and help the family, he found a job one month later. And the students understood everything was possible. Impacting students is one of the core ideas of the organization.
With time we also understood that although we work a lot on the human side of things, we didn’t really pay enough attention to our members’ lives. Many of them don’t know who they are and what they want. That became one of the priorities for us. We have self-knowledge workshops, we have a lot of moments of sharing thoughts and emotions, we build our own self-confidence and get more and more difficult tasks outside, to see what we love, to connect more with other people. It’s also part of my personal story. I was pushed to a degree I didn't like. Firstly my parents wanted me to be a police officer, in Portugal it's a very stable job. My grandfather was a policeman, a very honorable one, he had a lot of diplomas on the wall. For a year I trained to go to the academy, but a few weeks before the physical test, I realized I had a heart condition that didn't allow me to pursue my parents’ dream. I thought: ok, this is bad, but now I can do something I really like. I can go to college, something I really envision for my future. When it came to deciding which course to choose, I wanted psychology, but my parents said: you won't have a job after the degree, it would be better to go to law school. I went for law - they gave me a very strict and rigid education. I was 19 by that time, I didn't go out at night, I didn't even know how it is to go to a birthday party, my parents didn't allow me. It was my cage for a lot of years. Finally I went to another city and for the first time I was free. I started to be involved in many projects. I was in the Students Union of the Faculty. I co-founded the Debating Society in Porto, we expanded all over the country. These experiences with other people became more and more important and the degree... well, it was there but I didn’t really think about it. In the middle of this journey I found Udream. I got through the recruitment process, the first time in my life. I started to work at the HR department. I was building things for people to make them more comfortable, to give them space to grow. With time I started to think that maybe law was not really for me. This year I finally changed, I’m studying psychology. It's not as beautiful as I expected, reality is always different, more difficult. But finally I feel at home. I think that if it wasn’t for Udream I would not have the courage to really shift my life. That courage comes not only from things that we do, but from the common respect of each member, of each one's uniqueness, we are welcomed and loved for who we are.
In Udream you can also learn things you want to learn. They developed a lot, starting from granting wishes and ending up with being a structured organization with many departments.
We have a self-sustainable model and with this we are bringing not just awareness to students, but also more technical abilities. Udream has five departments: the department of human relation - our volunteers who are going to hospitals and keep company to children; the human resources department, which does the recruitment process, team building, they are responsible for our formation schedule; The external relation department, which aims at building relations with companies to get money for granting wishes and other activities; the finance department assures one of the main things of our project, which is the associate card. In that card programme there are companies from Porto which offer discounts for our members and give us monthly fees. We offer them a small consultancy plan - if they need help with marketing or organizing team building. They also get visibility. Then we have associates who pay to have this card. And the last, the marketing department, is responsible for everything that goes public: videos, design, etc.
All people working in those departments are students from 18 to 25. They have professional training which prepares them for their function mostly led by alumni, who on the one hand already have professional experience, on the other understand the culture of the organization and its most urgent needs. Beside the daily work in their own department, they also form mixed groups for special tasks, for example urban campaigns.
Some time ago we started with urban campaigns with the aim of bringing awareness in the community. Once a month a team is formed and has the freedom to use their own creativity to design the action. They think and decide together what is the problem in the society they want to tackle. Then, they think about how to bring awareness to people on that topic. For example, this Friday at sunrise, we are going to put tickets on 6.000 cars, in Porto, Braga and Aveiro - same day, same time -. People will think at first it's fine, but inside there will be a message like: sorry for the momentary panic, but it's a good day to say somebody you love - I love you. Just do it. It seems simple, but it's so forgotten. Once we went with posters to traffic lights to say: what is the best thing today? Your smile! And then we gave people a cake. Another campaign we did was with people who work at night. They are almost forgotten. People who clean our garbage, doctors, firemen. We went to some of those working places to talk to them. We took little notes, cookies, café and tea. We asked them what's the major pitfall about working at those hours. Most of them told us about families, they don't have time for kids, spouses. Some firemen and doctors said: we only see people in their worst time, some people are dying, and we have to say to them everything will be ok, which may not be true, but it's important for them to hear it. To be there with them.
To be there… to be conscious about other human beings. This is what makes Udream so unique.
One of our internal cultural features is to really put ourselves in perspective and think about the other person first. Of course we think about ourselves, we want to develop but we are trying to do things not for our own pleasure but for the comfort of others. It's a kind of humbling thought that is needed to make a change. We are not doing this to be prized and feed our ego, we do it because it's right. Of course it's ok to be happy with helping others, but once you put the other person first, your focus changes. We have to transcend ourselves so we can be present for others. We have to be courageous, strong and resilient. Deal with failures and things which don't go well. We have to be open to others and try to help them in some way, but also accept to be helped. You will be hurt, sometimes it won't be easy, but it’s part of the process. Put yourself in perspective, don’t let your fear lead, learn from other people’ stories. And love what you do.
More about Udream: udream.pt