The 'SPEAK' social project from Share Your World, from Leiria, is the winner of the eighth edition of REN's AGIR Award, this year dedicated to Social Innovation in response to COVID-19. This project consists of a platform that helps solve the problem of social exclusion of migrants and refugees through language learning and the creation of an informal social support network. In second place, came the 'CoAction Against Covid-19' initiative, a project by Prochild CoLAB that promotes the well-being and mental health of children and families from the Guimarães Municipality during the pandemics. The Vocational School of Aveiro, with the integration of students coming from a problematic context in a 'Equipa de Socorro (rescue team)', won third place.
Since its inception in 2014, more than 48,000 people have benefited from 'SPEAK', a project that was created to contribute to the social inclusion of migrants and refugees through language learning, while creating an informal support network for these people. While until March 2020 the language groups were in-person, which eased the creation of bonds between the buddies (the people who help others learn a language) and the participants, with the onset of the pandemic, the project became, mandatorily, digital.
During the first phase, access to sessions and events by the community attending 'SPEAK' was performed through a website, but in 2021 a mobile application was created. This change democratised access to 'SPEAK', enabling it to reach many more people. Today, 'SPEAK' has 48,000 registered users and is present in 24 cities, across 12 countries. More than 3,000 buddies (people who share their language) from 126 nationalities have already been a part of the project. Of these, 2,000 are migrants, refugees, and locals living in Portugal.
With the AGIR Award, Share Your World will now be able to develop a second version of the application with more features, which is more effective and efficient, as well as more intuitive and user-friendly for its users.
'The pandemic has put migrant and refugee people at greater risk of social exclusion. Through the mobile application, we are developing with AGIR Award's support, our aim is to respond to this need. By bringing locals, migrants, and refugees together in the SPEAK app, we ensure they are surrounded by support, friendship, and mutually supportive social relationships and avoid the severe social, economic, and political consequences of this pandemic', explained Hugo Menino Aguiar, CEO of SPEAK.
Institutions from Guimarães and Aveiro also awarded
Promoting the well-being and mental health of children and their families, in pandemic time, through an online screening, evaluation and psychological intervention, is the basis of the runner-up finisher of the AGIR Award 2021: 'CoAction Against Covid-19' led by Prochild CoLAB in partnership with the Municipality of Guimarães, the Psychology Association of the University of Minho and the Center for Research in Psychology of the University of Minho. Targeting children between 3 and 10 years of age, in the Municipality of Guimarães (nearly 6,000 children), the project started during the pandemic, and a second edition is underway.
With the cooperation of each student's guardian, a set of questionnaire is filled out to identify children in need of possible psychological intervention. This specialised, free, and individualised intervention is provided by members of the Psychology Association of the University of Minho, and usually lasts around four months, but may be extended if necessary.
In the first edition, which began in February 2021, 1098 children were screened, and 220 children were pointed out with indicative signs of mental health problems. In the second edition, which will run throughout the current school year (2021-2022), the project will also focus on a few outreach actions to reach chidren and families in situations of greater social vulnerability. In fact, the AGIR Award will serve precisely to strengthen the project's human and material resources fundamental to its implementation.
'In addition to the pride and honour for ProChild CoLAB and partners to receive REN's AGIR Award 2021, it is absolutely essential for us to provide, for another school year, a pioneering community response in Portugal that prevents and mitigates child mental health problems caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, thus contributing to the well-being and resilience of children and their families in the short and long term, explained Marlene Sousa, responsible for 'CoAction Against COVID-19'.
The 'Rescue Team' project from the Vocational School of Aveiro (Escola Profissional de Aveiro - EPA) is the winner of the third prize of AGIR Award 2021. The project involves the integration of students into a rescue team. The majority of these students come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and live on the verge of poverty and social exclusion. This team can provide first aid in case of accidents or fires, conduct health screenings, and support colleagues with their personal difficulties, in a pool that exceeds 800 people. Their close connection with local rescue authorities has already prevented several unnecessary trips to the EPA, thus attesting the effectiveness of these students' actions.
This innovative initiative currently has 14 volunteer students from the two EPA poles (Aveiro and Sever do Vouga), and was expanded in 2020, with the creation of a COVID-19 support/assistance phone line, related to the difficulties felt by the school community in the context of a pandemic. With the support of a team of eight psychologists, these young people have been dealing with these requests, helping to provide support in pandemic-related situations of emotional vulnerability.
The empowerment of the young people has been done with training provided by local fire departments and by health professionals. However, with the AGIR Award, these youths can be officially certified through training provided by the National Firefighters School and by the Portuguese Red Cross.
According to Paulo Quina, EPA's Technical and Pedagogical Coordinator, 'with this award, the Rescue Team will be better qualified to act in a differentiated way and will be able to broaden its scope of action, for example, to people who are victims of poverty and social exclusion that have been duly flagged by social institutions that are EPA's partners. The EPA is grateful for this important validation and public recognition of the work performed by the Relief Team over its 11 years of existence'.
With the help of its employees, REN has already defined the theme for the next edition of the AGIR Award: Promotion of the environment, biodiversity, and combating climate change. At a time when the environmental consequences of our current common way of life are becoming clearer each day, it is urgent to find solutions to reverse the planet's current state. The AGIR Award seeks to support the projects of associations, companies, and non-profit organisations so they can continue to carry out their work in service of the environment, in the promotion of biodiversity, and in the fight against climate change, not only through possible monetary support, but also by giving them visibility that can be very useful in gathering additional support.
Find out more about the winning projects :
About the AGIR Award
The AGIR Award is part of the REN's policy of Social Innovation and Involvement with the Community. Every year, the AGIR Award chooses an area of social action and awards three projects. The most recent editions were dedicated to the topics of 'Promotion of Employment and Professional Integration of People in Vulnerable Situations' (2020), 'Promotion of Academic Success and Combating Early School Leaving' (2019), 'Natural Heritage Preservation' (2018), 'Labour Inclusion of People with Disabilities' (2017), 'Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion' (2016), 'Active Aging' (2015), and 'Job Creation' (2014).
The selection of the three best projects is the responsibility of REN in partnership with STONE SOUP, which accompanies and monitors the use of the funds donated to each supported project and assesses the actual social impact of the granted support. The winner of the first prize is granted a monetary sum of thirty thousand euros, the second fifteen thousand euros, and the third five thousand euros.
Additional information at www.ren.pt