We usually say that MEERU | Abrir Caminho started before it was established when, in the spring of 2016, Safaa, Mahmood, Omar and Rafif – a family who had run away from Syria – arrived in Barcelos, a town in the north of Portugal. They were welcomed by a group of young people who lived in the village, among whom was Isabel, a member of our team. Through sharing their day-to-day life with this family, and providing some of the informal support they needed, Isabel and her friends became the first Proximity Team without knowing it.
This first experience brought us to where we are today. Through our core project – MEERU Aproxima – we are building a network of people that, based on the idea of proximity, are transforming their communities. Thus, the purpose of MEERU APROXIMA is to promote a sense of belonging and community engagement among migrant and refugee families living in Portugal. Through our programme we find, train and mentor volunteers who become, along with these families, builders of genuine bonds of affection, belonging and trust.
We start the process by finding families who have recently arrived in Portugal, through contact with the entity who is formally responsible for their integration. Then, we recruit people who live in the community that undergo an intensive training process. In the end, these volunteers constitute Proximity Teams that commit to sharing their life with these families through weekly meetings for moments of leisure, to create authentic and long-term relationships. The programme lasts eight months, but the relationships perpetuate through time.
MEERU is the result of many stories and is the meeting point of many people. Our project aims to be the bridge between those who are looking for a place where they belong, in Portugal, and those around them. Our volunteers are the open door to a world of commitment, availability, service, and friendship. And our team wants to be an answer to the urgency lived in our current reality. MEERU was born with the ambition of being the testimony of a world of many worlds, at home. Through Dialogue and Proximity, we want to develop communities where the values of collaboration, respect, acceptance, and authenticity prevail.
Two and a half years after we started, we are eager to meet more organizations and people who, like us, work every day on the integration and inclusion of refugees and migrants based on a culture of Dialogue and Proximity. Thus, we are very happy to have joined the Network for Dialogue, in which we hope to learn and share a beautiful and very rich journey with our fellow members.