From Aberdeen to Supporting Migrants & Refugees - Gabriela FariaGabriela Faria

MA (Hons) Politics & International Relations, 2016
From Aberdeen to Supporting Migrants & Refugees

It is less than three years since Gabriela Faria graduated with a first class honours degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, but already she has achieved more than many will in a lifetime.

Just nine months after graduating, Gabriela (25) officially founded the Lisbon Project, a non-profit organisation that exists to protect and integrate the lives of migrants and refugees in her home city. A year later, she married husband Ruben, and since then she has given birth to daughter Jade. She and Ruben also pastor an international church in Lisbon called Riverside.

Born in South Africa, but raised in Portugal, Gabriela began her studies at the University in 2012, and Aberdeen soon became her home from home.

“I got my first proper job, I opened a bank account and paid rent for the first time – by the end of the first semester, I was already a different person. I come from a very sunny, colourful town called Cascais so it was a challenge to face the cold and rain, but the people I met in Aberdeen brought so much light to my every day.”

Gabriela enjoyed her studies and the flexibility of the course, which she found challenging and interesting.

“Looking back, I love to remember those days that I had to ride my bicycle to classes, study hard for exams, go to work, and still try to be a good friend. But I also remember those sunny days when we all hit Seaton park for a picnic or had bonfires at the beach, and dancing the night away with some of my best friends.”

During her course, Gabriela completed internships in Africa and Asia, the plan being to get a job following graduation using the experience she had gained. That all changed, however, when she returned home to Portugal in the summer of 2016.

“I started meeting migrant and refugee families facing extremely difficult situations. Although there was a bureaucratic response to immigration, there was no human response, no place where people could go, ask questions and feel heard, be spoken to in their language, be treated as more than a file or a number.

“So, two months after graduation, I started an NGO and seven months after that we officially registered the Lisbon Project as a non-profit organisation.”

The Lisbon Project was an effort to mobilise the private sector in order to have a more human, quicker and more efficient response to the migration challenges faced by the city and, in just three years, it has become a well-established organisation that has assisted more than 600 registered migrants and refugees, and mobilised more than 200 volunteers.

The project serves the migrant and refugee community primarily through different programmes: education, employment, housing, legal aid, health and wellbeing, social store and co-communities. At any given time, a team of about 50 volunteers and 10 corporate partners provides access to a range of services such as language classes, CV editing, skills training courses, legal advice, health care assistance, fitness opportunities, provision of essential food and living items, as well as community building activities.

“My job is to make sure we are attentive to the needs of our community, listening to needs rather than assuming we know them and to make sure we are coming up with sustainable solutions, as well as mobilising the local community to serve as donors, partners or volunteers in order to make it all happen.

“We are financially dependent on private grants and donations, which made it all seem impossible at the start, but our motto, which is written all over our office, is ‘It only seems impossible until it is done’.

“I had no previous experience in project management, much less leading an organisation of this dimension, but I have learned on the job. I have had incredible support from men and women who are older and have far more work experience, who have been generous and humble enough to provide me with their counsel, for which I am very grateful.”

To those thinking of studying at Aberdeen, Gabriela has these words of encouragement: “Your education at university is so much more than the theory you are being taught – it also teaches you how and what to prioritise in life, it is shaping your character defining values of commitment, hard work and integrity, it is challenging you in ways that stretch you and take you to another level of maturity and depth.

“Have fun, enjoy being a student and all that that entails, create memories with your friends, and travel on your breaks. And when you graduate, look around you, see the needs of others as an opportunity to create change, however that may look.”