By Bernadette Abbott

Christmas came early for one family, newly arrived in the Algarve, when two years of separation, heartache and a traumatic journey, came to a happy conclusion. It’s a story certain to warm your hearts on the coldest of January evenings and one which reflects what can be done when this amazing community pulls together to help families in need. 

On 29 November, I was contacted by Carene to ask if the Algarve Network for Families in Need could help with acquiring some household items for a family recently arrived from Venezuela who literally had nothing. A request was made on the Network Facebook page and more than 100 responses were received. Over the following weekend, Carene and her Helping Hands group cleaned, painted and furnished the accommodation for the family and even decorated a Christmas tree. My interview with Carene revealed more about what had happened.

What can you tell us about the family – how did you get to know about them?

The father works in Parchal at a project that my husband, Nuno, is connected with. While visiting one day, Nuno met him and asked about his background and family. The man explained how he had come from Venezuela two years previously to find work, with the plan to bring his wife and children over as soon as he could. He hadn’t been able to save any money because wages are low and he sent everything to his family in order for them to survive because inflation is so bad in Venezuela. 

He was desperate and ready to give up but Nuno offered to help. The company advanced him some money so he could buy plane tickets and his family were finally able to get here. They had to walk across the border from Venezuela into Columbia and fly to Spain. From there, they came to Portugal and had been here for almost two weeks when I learned about them. They are so happy and grateful to be all together again.

What did you do to help the family when they arrived?

First, I visited their home to assess their needs. The apartment was dirty – the mattresses were disgusting. The apartment was full of junk left by previous tenants. It had the potential to be really liveable, but it was cold and they didn’t have hot water or gas, although we planned to try to get that connected within a day or two.

I had a set of bunk beds and a couple of twin mattresses but we needed a big bed for them, sofa, chairs, bedding, pots and pans – literally everything you need for a home. That’s when I contacted Algarve Network for Families in Need.  

So, having assessed their needs, what did you do next?

Once we knew of all the offers of items, we arranged for a truck to be available and then planned to go to the apartment at the weekend. We had arranged for the family to stay away on Friday so that we could clean and paint. In that way, they would come home and get a good surprise.

That sounds really ambitious did you achieve all that in one day?

Haha, it was ambitious and no, we didn’t finish on Saturday; however, we returned on Sunday and by the end of that day, they had a nice cosy home.

So is everything completed now?

Not quite. We just now need a kitchen unit and a kitchen table and chairs. If anyone can help with this, we would be so grateful.

It must be so satisfying to have been able to do this amazing work for this family.

We were really excited to be able to do this for the family and hope that they will be very happy in their new home.

What a truly heart-warming story this is. But how disturbing to learn of the circumstances under which some families are living here. Let’s all be vigilant, look out for our neighbours and work together to make a difference. 

We would like to thank every single individual who offered support for this family. There are far too many to name here, but they include Madrugada, Nandi and the Reverse Advent Calendar Initiative. 

Together we are stronger.