The best stories, those that impress and change the way we look at the world, are not always found in the pages of a best seller book or in a movie theater. Sometimes, the most inspiring stories are hidden, as the one that concerns us, behind the door of a very old building, lost among the dozens of streets that constitute Barcelona’s Gothic district. And all the women who stayed at the Casa de Recés [the Retreat House] have a story to tell: how they arrived with nothing and left with everything, how they helped each other to get ahead. But the most important thing is that they all leave the house knowing that their story still has many chapters to live.
Five years ago the Fundación de la Esperanza was born, together with its flagship, the house for vulnerable people called Casa de Recés. Created by the Obra Social “la Caixa”, since 2013 this foundation has served some 6,000 people and more than 1,600 families, either helping adults find work or children with their duties and talents. But the history of the Casa de Recés dates back to earlier times: as is it recalled in a plaque at its patio, the house was set up in 1744, with the purpose of fighting against sexual slavery, to which were forced, at the time, many of the women who came to the city from the small towns.
Since then, at this house -now instituted as a shelter for women between 18 and 35 years old- have stayed girls with all kinds of stories behind (gender violence, family abuse, prostitution, addictions), but always with a common thread: “the will to give yourself an opportunity in life and to be accompanied in this process“, says Llum Delàs, director of the foundation.
Here the girls count on a team of women, willing to help them in everything. “We design a work plan with each one, that we review every six months or when necessary”, says Gemma, one of the educators. “The purposes of the girls range from quitting smoking to achieving the ESO education”, she adds, “although in the latter case, the ideal is that they can combine studying with a job”.
In addition, for these girls the Casa de Recés is the closest thing to a home. A home composed, of course, by all of its partners, by a room full of photos taken by themselves, by the passion with which Llum speaks of them, by each morning’s breakfast with Gemma while they review newspapers’ headlines and for the laughs that they share with Araceli -who has been in charge of the kitchen for 23 years- the nights they see together the TV show Big Brother or football matches.
Should not be forgotten, however, that it is a temporary resource in which to take time to rebuild, take a breath and prepare to fly alone. That’s why the director does not worry about girls making mistakes along the way: the important thing is not that they do it right, but that they do it on their own. “You have to let them make mistakes, but looking at them in a way that they know you’re expecting a step further, that you expect them to get out of the quagmire and put all their strength into it”.
And it turns out that many, when they leave the house, they decide to do for others what they once did for them. “Many end up working in the social field, as if they wanted to give back the help they received“, says Gemma. It is the case of Paula who, now that she works as a composer, comes back to give guitar lessons to the girls who live in the house. Or Andrea’s case, who lives in a rented flat while pursuing a cycle of social integration. “It is beautiful. It is education by mimicry and ‘contagion’. You, says Llum, referring to the educators, reveal the best of yourselves. Because they look at you very closely. And you look at them with so much love, they end up realizing that this is what they want and deserve”.
These words remind Gemma the case of a girl that stayed there: “She was totally hermetic, she left all the rooms rushing and could not even reach the door of the training courses she was doing”. This, added to a disability of 33% that she never wanted to accept, were facts that almost pushed the team of educators to resign. “The good thing is that, by not accepting our help, in the end she ended up reaching the goal alone: a year has passed since she lives in a rented room and works in a hotel as part cleaning staff”.
“What I like about this place is to realize that, if you have an opportunity, you can get many things“, Araceli explains, recalling another of the girls, who arrived without any education and now is a judge. Because when these girls cross the threshold of the Casa de Recés they do it full of stories, many of them terrible. But when they come back and cross that door years later, they do so knowing that their story has only just begun.
* In order to protect the privacy of the people involved, false names have been used in the article.
You can read more stories like this on ALMA, the social social media, a digital space devoted to the social field, which brings a new look at the present and the future of society, from an optimistic and diverse point of view, and from all the initiatives that “la Caixa” Foundation promote.