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Breaking down taboos and barriers

Acílio Maria Gala is 22 years old. He lives in Lisbon and is studying Leisure Management and Tourism Entertainment at the Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies. Helping others has always been in his nature. In the morning, he works as a waiter and, at night, he attends classes at the institute. This year he decided to join his friend André Moreira (22) in taking some holidays based on a new concept.

You covered some 3,500 kilometres between Lisbon and Athens. How did you travel?
We left Lisbon with a rucksack on our backs. We walked and hitch-hiked.

What route did you follow?
We caught a ferry from Lisbon to Almada. From there, we started walking in the direction of Évora, and we also hitched lifts. After this came Madrid, and then we changed route and headed for San Sebastian.

How many days did it take you altogether to reach Greece?
We set off on 9th July and our goal was to reach Athens by 15th August. This was the date we’d fixed with the volunteer camp where we were going to work. By pure chance, with all the lifts and all the bridges we built, we managed to get there by the 10th and began our volunteer work earlier.

Or, in other words, it took you a month, walking and hitch-hiking. You passed through San Sebastian, the Pyrenees… and then you arrived in France – Bordeaux?We did the whole of the south of France in three days. We passed through Toulouse and got to Italy. After Genoa, we stopped for three days. By chance, we were offered a lift to Turin and decided to accept. From Turin, we went to Milan, and then we did the whole of the Balkan coast. We passed through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, then Bosnia, Albania and … Greece. So many countries!

I’d like you to tell us about your crowdfunding project, PPL Portugal, which is already complete. You managed to obtain 800 euros instead of 500, or, in other words, over 150% of your target…
Yes, we would really have liked to get to the 1000 euros mark, but it’s difficult. We have, however, had some good support. Backpacking from Lisbon to Athens was a fairly tough experience, and we left Lisbon with no money.

You left with no money…?
Yes, with no money, sure. We didn’t spend a cent of our own money throughout the whole journey, because we kept meeting people who gave us shelter and food. Some even gave us money. And we managed to ration all the food and money that people kept giving us. We ate just enough food to keep going, and slept in the street… We got to Athens in next to no time.

Why did you decide to set off on foot?
Before making this trip, we already knew all about the refugees, and we were really aware of this problem. So, we found a way to take advantage of our summer holiday and help people at the same time. We thought about travelling. We’re used to making extremely low-cost trips, and so we thought: “why don’t we do Lisbon to Athens on foot, backpacking and without any money?”

You had an idea in the back of your minds, though…
Besides helping the refugees and people displaced by the war in Syria, the aim of this trip was to break down taboos and barriers, appealing to our nomad roots and learning as much as we could from this experience. One of our goals was to show that you don’t need money to live life to the full. And we succeeded in proving this, above all to ourselves.
Our main aim in travelling this way was closely bound up with our refugee project: we wanted to put ourselves in their place as much as we could, travelling on foot and without any money. So, we set off from Lisbon with just a small bag. We were aware that this is what they feel like every day. Because we couldn’t do much more than walk, smile and try to hitch a lift. Anyway, things didn’t depend on us, but on the people who stopped and helped us… or not.
Every morning, we’d wake up with that doubt in our mind: “will someone stop and help us or will we have to walk?” For instance, I remember spending several days “stuck” in Genoa, in Italy. Three days of solid hitch-hiking with no one stopping. And we couldn’t get away from that place, because the only road out was the motorway – the other one would take us well away from our route. And after three days of hitch-hiking, we finally managed to get a lift.

Was it tough?
It was pretty tough, because we often didn’t have any money. And, even in the street, it was fairly tough; we were far removed from the home comforts we’re used to. Eating enough meant eating very little, because we had to ration all our food. And then there was all this uncertainty surrounding the places where we walked, which also made it difficult to work them out. But I think the hardest part was the physical side. Even in the Balkans, we experienced a lot of heat. It was really too much, and it was very hard to find the right time for walking, when we weren’t too tired.

How and when did this plan of yours come about?
Roughly two years ago, I started exploring by myself, trying to see the things around me with my own eyes, and not finding out about them through the TV, or through what I heard people saying. I’ve become increasingly aware of all these unimaginably large problems and have tried my best to support the victims and help them as much as I can. We identify with those who are suffering.
We often travel on public transport. It’s our way of getting around. Last summer, we went from Faro to Morocco, walking most of the time. We were moved by the plight of the refugees and did our best to get out of our comfort zone. Hitching a lift is hard for two boys. It’s easier for two girls or for a girl and a boy. But we did it, and here we are.
We work for the institution* transporting people between the refugee camp and the cities. At the moment, we’re supporting more than 200 refugees. For example, getting them haircuts, accompanying them to the doctor, or to the lawyer, helping them to shop, among other things.

What will you do with the money you’ve raised through crowdfunding?
We’ll give it all to the Refugees Welcome Portugal association.

Thank you.

ICOARM = International Collective Operations Aiding Refugees and Migrants




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