Helga Sierra
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Journal: Stories on Creativity & Adventure

Learn about the artist's process, photo stories, traveling & more. 

Velhos de Portugal

Velhos- Viejos-Old people.  

I love their wrinkles.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the little town of Marinhais, about an hour away from Portugal. Its a small town of about 5,000 people. The roads reminded me of Abilene, TX where I spent 5 years as well as Choluteca, a major town/city in Honduras. Life was slow, fun things to do included riding my bike or exploring the surrounding city of Santarem with my friend Vanda when she got off from work. 

I had been thinking that I hadn't served much if you will. Granted I moved from a country and have been in tourist mode for a while, but I know my heart well enough to know that spending time with certain groups of people and serving them in whatever capacity needed builds me up, it gives me purpose. Its is part of my purpose. That same day my friend Katia, a social worker, had me over for dinner and said : "Hey I work at a Day Center where, anywhere from 50-100 older people or people with disabilities come hang out for the day. We also have a nursery and kindergarten as well as the headquarters for 3 other day centers and several social workers who work directly with some of the poorest families in the neighborhoods."

I got to learn first hand from the director the scope of what they do and why. The European Union funds them, and there are similar institutions throughout all the EU countries. Operations may run differently, but they have these same tasks. I thought I might come back a different day and hang out but my plans changed. 

The day I visited, I took portraits of all the old people. Some were weirded out and some were ready to be snapped. While being behind the lens I got to ask them to smile or learn a little about their story. I met 2 different 95-year-olds that looked like they had years to go. 

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October 1st was Dia de Los Velhos, so my friend Katia used my photos to make a little art show at the center. The pictures were in black and white resembling the style of photography that they grew up with. 

I love their wrinkles and smiles. Sometimes old people are forgotten because they might not smell nice, or talk slowly or need help. Maybe? But inside of them is a lifetime of struggle, knowledge, experience, life. I guess I appreciate them because some of my favorite memories are spending time with my grandparents. 

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The day center gives them a space to leave the house. Each person has a bin with a set of clothes in case of "accidents" happening or if they want to shower there or get manicures, pedicures, hair cuts and health check ups. 

There is a nurse on staff and a full team of cooks who take care of their meals. Every day they go back to their families. I like this model better than a nursing home. I remember the first time I went to a nursing home in Texas. I had to get some volunteer hours for school and was so sad.  It smelled awful. Every room looked more lonely than full. I had a sense that they were forgotten and as we talked to several people there we heard about how families just dropped them off and rarely visited. I don't think that is the case everywhere, but think about it: those old people took care of you or your mom, they need friends now.  Just because they might act a little differently doesn't mean that they aren't valuable, instead, they probably have cool stories to share.  

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My grandmas are really young (I mean they both have smart phones so we can text each other) but sometimes its hard when they walk slower or take forever to pick out what they want at the grocery store, either way they are fun to be around, hanging out with them is where I can learn, being around them is where I can challenge them even if we are many years apart. 

 
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So take care of your old people. Give them hugs, hold their hands, let them know they matter. 

If you don't have old people in your life, find them, they make life just a little more interesting. 


NEXT WEEK: GUEST BLOG

with Raquel Cruz, Honduran Artist Living in South Korea. 

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I have been wanting to collaborate with Raquel for a while, so in this post you'll learn about why creating is important to her, her major influences and see a little bit of Asia in a different way.