An alternative for pilgrims
Our activity centres on staffing the ANFAS Pilgrims’ Hostel in Estella (Navarra) with adults with mental disabilities. These people carry out voluntary duties as hospitallers which, aided by a support team (of voluntary hostel staff), implies their participation and social inclusion in offering accommodation and activities for pilgrims on the Way of St. James.
The hostel opens its doors from May to September and during these months the ANFAS volunteer programme works across the whole project and is a key player in the organisation and development of the same. The programme involves recruiting, receiving, monitoring, training, evaluating and formally recognizing and thanking all volunteers, both those with and without disabilities participating in the running of the hostel. Some of the noteworthy tools and actions in this process include: the agreement with the volunteer body, basic and specific training (the ANFAS hostel staff training course), guest-satisfaction evaluation system (using the hostel committee and personal questionnaires) and recognition of the work of the volunteers (informally throughout the time they are collaborating and also formally at the end-of-season closing ceremony and the ANFAS volunteer encounter).
The team of hostel staff which runs the hostel on a daily basis is made up of two hospitallers (people with mental disabilities) and two support hospitallers (people without mental disabilities) who carry out the day-to-day tasks of running and maintaining the hostel, attending to and welcoming the pilgrims and coordinating with the following shift of hospitallers.
The ANFAS Hostel in Estella opened its doors in 2004 with the aim of offering people with mental disabilities a means to social inclusion and participation. It also offers an alternative to walkers looking for a small, welcoming hostel. The 34 pilgrims who spend the night in our bunks can enjoy the installations and, at the same time, share a quiet moment with the people with mental disabilities who daily make their own voluntary pilgrimage as hospitallers of the ANFAS hostel.
At ANFAS, sensitisation and social-conscience raising programmes have always been a priority of our work. We have worked towards this objective in a variety of ways and are aware that the best way to reach society is to create spaces where we can live together.
The self-advocacy groups transmit their opinions and needs to us and thereby actively contribute to improving the association and thus their quality of life. These groups called for the creation of a meeting space to share with people without disabilities – a space for voluntary social participation (“We would like the association to give us more opportunities to relate with people without disabilities, so that they can discover our abilities and not just our limitations.”).
Estella is well-known as a crossing point and a stop-over on the Way of St. James. The continuous flow of pilgrims means that accommodation is always scarce and there is a clear need for beds for pilgrims. In our determination to sensitise and raise awareness in society, showcasing our association and the project we are developing, we ran a pilot scheme in 2004. The project took shape with the express backing of the people with mental disabilities and the evident need for accommodation for the pilgrims passing through Estella which we had the facilities to cater for.
Our aims were the following:
o to respond to the demands of people with mental disabilities wanting to collaborate actively in the association through voluntary work.
o to encourage their participation and inclusion in society
o to sensitise and raise awareness in society to mental disabilities.
O to defend and recognise the rights of people with mental disabilities.
The experience was positive and we gathered a lot of suggestions as to how to improve the Project, which we have gradually incorporated year by year. We are dedicated to continually improving both our facilities and infrastructures, and also the way the hostel work. We have worked to make the programme a permanent part of our association which arouses great interest from the general public, and especially from the pilgrims themselves. In 2006 we received official recognition for our work for the Way of St. James from the Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Tierra Estella (Association of Friends of the Way, Estella Chapter), and in 2010 the Government of Navarra awarded us the second prize in their 2nd Quality Award for Social Services in Navarra.
People with mental disabilities have a lot to offer and, most of all, a great wish to take part in a Project voluntarily. Without doubt, for this to happen good organisation is necessary, in order to allot the required resources and support. Over the years we have seen how the hospitallers (the people with mental disabilities) carry out the important work of serving the pilgrims. This has given them the opportunity to pay back the voluntary help which they themselves have received, and in this way they have become service-givers rather than just service-receivers. This change of role has implied an important feeling of satisfaction as well as an important social acknowledgement, not to mention the fact that, as volunteers, they have assumed a commitment and a responsibility.
Voluntary work is a unique opportunity for participation as it implies commitment and a clear objective of social reform. Every citizen has the right to participate in society, to both enjoy it and to take decisions, searching for and putting into practice solutions to its problems.
In order for this project to work, the role of the support hospitaller, also a volunteer, is very important indeed. Apart from taking on the duties at the hostel of hospitaller, they are also responsible for facilitating the success of the project as experienced by the voluntary people with mental disabilities. They are aware that the protagonists are the people with mental disabilities and that they are there to help them where necessary, whilst encouraging respect and team-work.
Our commitment to continual improvement and the control and monitoring of all the processes have a direct result on the outcome of our actions and the successes we attain. The keys to developing and maintaining the constant dynamism of this project are a good system of management, and good coordination, evaluation and monitoring indicators and targets. The agents themselves have to participate in each and every one of these processes; that is to say, the volunteers, both the people with and without mental disabilities, who are able to give feedback on their own volunteer activities.
What is more, in this hostel there are several key aspects which contribute great value and without which this project would not have been possible:
• The enthusiasm and motivation of the people with mental disabilities who, year after year, celebrate the opening of the hostel as one of the most important annual events. Naturally, they know and understand that the hostel belongs to them and they therefore open its doors with the satisfaction and pride of the perfect host.
• The perseverance, commitment, solidarity and proximity of all the support volunteers who collaborate on the project.
• The pilgrims who come to stay at our hostel, sometimes by chance and others knowingly, looking for the warm, pleasant atmosphere of a clean, uncrowded hostel. These pilgrims who give us their time and spend a leisurely moment with us take away such good memories that perhaps they do not realise how many good memories they also leave with us.
Head of ANFAS NAVARRA-Estella Chapter