The "Bridge of Hope" association – Madrid

From the time I arrived in the community of Villaverde, in September 2011, I participated as a Little Sister of the Assumption in the association Puente de Esperanza (Bridge of Hope). On the 22 June 2012 we marked the end of that first year by a meeting for evaluation and celebration. In her opening remarks the president said to us: 
"Puente de Esperanza is what it is thanks to the contribution of each one and every one, according to her possibilities and qualities. It is a reason to give thanks to God and also to thank one another. Puente de Esperanza seeks to continue being that – a bridge of hope for all the persons who come to us. And, at times, it is not easy to maintain and transmit this hope because the situations these people are in are so difficult that we do not always have a response to offer – since they are beyond our possibilities. But we are here, and we will continue to seek out and imagine new ways of helping them. 
We will also continue to denounce, through our life and our actions, the unjust situations of which so many people are victims. 
I am sure that this evening will be an opportunity for us to reaffirm our hope that another world is possible and that we will retain our dream of Utopia." 
But what exactly is Puente de Esperanza? 
It is an association that emerged from a group of religious women of different congregations, beginning as an association in November 2005. 
The process for its apparition had started earlier. The increasing presence of immigrants of a variety of cultural and geographical origins in a specific neighbourhood of Madrid led to a group of Congregations, including the Religious of the Assumption, becoming aware of the situation and deciding to collaborate in the field of immigration. They planned to do this through an inter-congregational project that might give some small response to the cries of an immigrant population which, they could see, was increasing in number and whose situation was becoming more and more insecure. 
They had the intuition that it should not be a personal project but rather a Congregational one. This would give it a permanent character, something that would not be possible if, in the event of some of them being changed, the commitment were solely that of specific sisters. The provincial of the Religious of the Assumption contacted the provincials of the six religious congregations present in that area and also us, Little Sisters of the Assumption, who are not in the area but who already had as a project to work at inter-Assumption level. 
They saw it was necessary to have a reception centre where the immigrants could recognise themselves and feel recognised. A physical space where they could simply be, relate with others, feel secure, be counselled and guided, a place for encounter, dialogue and friendly relations where they could initiate cultural exchanges. 
They saw that a common training project was necessary, one with a holistic and inclusive aim, taking into account all the aspects and needs concerning survival, work, social affairs, culture etc. All of this is based on the recognition of others, with their shortcomings but also with their cultural qualities, their ethnic and personal identity – their difference that is a richness for living together in diversity. 
On starting the project they wrote out the aim, which is clear and unique: 
Our attention must be centred on the person, seeking to humanise situations. We wish to be signs: 
  • of unity and of hope in the midst of diversity, respecting their identity, providing them with the tools for their integration and enriching one another mutually with our values and cultures; 
  • of the great family of God in the midst of loneliness and difficulties in relating with those whom they meet; 
  • of a Church that lives communion, with religious and laity sharing the same work, bringing into play their various gifts and charisms; 
  • of the values of the Reign in the face of a system that uses persons for its material benefit. 
That is what our house is meant to be, open to all!
The Provincials of the Congregations committed themselves to give a monthly financial contribution for the running of the project and undertook to ensure the presence of at least one sister in the project. 
From the beginning, one of our concerns was attention to training and being well-informed – knowing and being up to date with regard to documents, rights and duties, labour legislation, the whole question of immigration, the wage scales for domestic work, cleaning, painting/ construction – sectors these people can have access to whether they have documents or not. 
The training of volunteers is one of the characteristics of the project. 
Every volunteer in Puente de Esperanza participates in an ongoing training process with the aim of promoting the person’s integration and autonomy, developing their personal capabilities, knowing and integrating the philosophy and values that inspire us: to welcome, to share, to sensitize, to dignify, to encourage. 
In Puente de Esperanza we are urged on by the desire to listen to the cries of an immigrant people that we can see increasing in number and whose situation is becoming more and more insecure – and this with the desire to improve, where possible, their situation. 
  • We wish to be the bridge that arouses hope in those who arrive depressed, discouraged, without a future. 
  • Our first aim is to take care in how we receive people, being attentive to all the persons who come to the Centre, listening to them, guiding and encouraging them. 
  • We are distressed by the growing problem of the immigrants and the lack of social resources to which they might turn to find a response to their situation. 
  • The desire for a more just and fraternal society spurs us on. 
  • We wish to be signs of unity and hope in the midst of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, journeying together, listening, respecting the identity of each person. 
  • We provide tools for their integration and development, enriching one another through the variety of values and cultures. 
  • Above all, we seek the good of others, without discriminating against anybody because of their colour, religion or behaviour. 
  • We seek to be professional in our work, which is offered free. 
  • We share in the same work, bringing into play in a harmonious way the different gifts and charisms. 
  • In the midst of the prevailing lack of peace throughout the world, we are moved by justice, love, kindness and solidarity. 
Various activities help us to attain these aims. We attach great importance to a personalised welcome. There is an information desk where those who come can be helped with regard to: documentation, processes for regularising their situation (work and residence permits, family re-grouping etc.), help with the official forms needed for the various administrative procedures and guidance to the health, educational, social and religious bodies. 
There is assistance to ensure correct negotiations between managers and immigrant workers; an employment bureau, legal assistance, psychological help, short training courses: Spanish language, care of the sick, holistic health, sewing, information technology. 
I have been participating in this fine enterprise since October 2011. I am still in the learning stage but deeply involved in the ideals of creating a fraternal world that is open to all, the common home in which we are all brothers and sisters. I have learned a lot concerning generosity, dedication and working together. The inter-congregational work was a challenge for me. Here I am involved in the "inter" and the "multi" aspects. In order to be a bridge the first thing I had to do was to strengthen the bonds linking me with those who are working with the same aim of being a bridge. My experience has been that each of us brings what is specific to her charism and, also, we let ourselves be enriched by what each of the others brings from hers; in that way we are all enriched and we try to bring this wealth to those who approach us. 
My contacts with the immigrants – I cannot express all I have learned from them, there has been so much. What moves me most is their strength in difficulties and the will to keep on trying. Also, their great sensitivity and desire to live in harmony with others. 
Three more congregations joined us during the year and others will do so at the beginning of 2013. There are 73 volunteers, almost 75% of whom are religious women (from the congregations that have responsibility for the project and from others). 
We note that we are affected by the present crisis, above all with regard to offers of employment; Very few persons come to offer work and we can find very little through other means. Only 20 jobs were found this year. 
We have some questions to discuss at our committee meeting. Here are some of them: 
  • Finding volunteers, aged 17+ and adult volunteers. 
  • How to orientate the search for work, self-employment etc. 
  • The quest for grants or subsidies from foundations and private bodies. 
  • How we are going to organise ourselves, prudently and efficiently, when we will number 12 congregations. 
  • Examine the possibilities with regard to laypeople managing the association, even though the Congregations will be behind it. 
  • The possibility of new, larger, premises. 
To be a house, open to all, where the "good news" is given and the spiritual dimension of each one may be developed. 
A path towards utopia: it is on the horizon, I advance two steps, it retreats two steps. I take ten steps and the horizon is still there, ten steps further away. However far I walk I will never reach it. What use is utopia? It use is: that we keep walking. Eduardo Galeano 
Sister Mila Doncel, Little Sister of the Assumption
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