International work camp – strategy for sustainable urban development

By Elena Asprovska

We live in a dynamic world, a world of constant change, digitalization, continual technological progress, rapidly growing societies, modernization… Are we all equally able to cope with the changes?

Due to such “modern” lifestyle, the urbanization of cities becomes inevitable. How can we make this development sustainable? – “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Bruntland Report (1987). Sustainability also appeals to constantly working on finding solutions to the problems that are present within one society. 

Graffiti workshop led by the local artist
Rota Jovem, a Youth Association in collaboration with Cascais Jovem (the Youth Department of the Municipality of Cascais, Lisbon), has had an intriguing approach regarding the topic of sustainable development.
In an attempt to trigger, motivate the young people within their society to become active citizens, they have come up with the idea of the annual International work camps.  The two work camps have been initiated and financially supported by the municipality while logistically supported by Rota Jovem.

Volunteers accompanied by representatives from the Municipality of Cascais

This initiative was put into realization back in 2011. Two work camps, located in different social neighborhoods in Cascais, were realized last year. I took part in the second work camp called “Djumbai community”. Word “DJumbai” comes from a Guinea-Bissau and it refers to a social gathering, meeting, and enjoyable living.


“Djumbai Community” took place at the social neighborhood called Matos-Cheirinhos, a suburb located near the Train Line in Cascais. Matos-Cheirinhos has been a subject of re-housing, based on dispersed housing units while internalizing its location (far away from services, jobs and transportation) with an aim to provide a home to a population of different origins. This process has had an enormous influence on the social involvement, while facing the population with day-to-day concerns like unemployment and poverty. It has taken a few years for the population from the new social housing to get to know each other and to establish new patterns of encounter.


In Matos-Cheirinhos the public activities are mainly held at the street, as the biggest formation of public space. People tend to use public space for gathering, social interaction or playing games, in order to mingle, to socialize and to create special bounds. The goal of “Djumbai Community” was to encourage those activities by improving the already existing and introducing some new structures within the public space.

The topics and tasks of the work camp were defined according to the research about the needs and wishes of the residents of the social neighborhood. Through daily work, face-to-face communication and being present within the targeted neighborhood, while directly facing daily complaints and problems, the social workers were playing the crucial role in targeting the adequate needs of the residents.

By bringing around 20 inspiring international volunteers per work camp, eager to complete the established tasks, with an opportunity to contribute more by detecting, brainstorming and recognized problem-solving, the Municipality of Cascais aimed to enforce the social cohesion and increase the feeling of affiliation. Through the implementation process, the volunteers tried to involve and teach the young residents how to complete certain tasks, while keeping in mind that we mostly tend to appreciate our own effort. Being actively involved in the process of completing certain task, the young people became more aware of its complexity, the effort needed to accomplish it and reach the desired outcome, motivating them to appreciate more and to take care of the final product.

Volunteer and a kid, resident of a neighborhood

The tasks were broad, from cleaning and painting to constructing pergola, creating a new sitting place, planting, and workshops with kids from the local school. With the help of the residents, mainly the young ones faced with the problem of unemployment, we managed to complete more than predicted.


Pleasantly surprised by the hospitality, the people’s reaction to our presence and the methods we developed to overcome the language and cultural barrier, we managed to establish a strong bound based on sharing the same goal, to contribute and revive the public space and make this neighborhood more pleasant. It was inspiring to see how people from all over the world were gathered at one place only by the idea of making the world a better place.


Cascais International work camp is an excellent example of creating a strategy which demonstrates that focusing only on the physical aspects is not going to solve social problems as there is also need to focus on livability, establishing good links and fostering community participation and integration. It is also a positive practice towards participation of the society in the urbanization, because the people are the ones who must live with and/or suffer from the results. It is an applicable approach towards sustainable urban development that should serve like a role model for every municipality.

Elena is an MA in Architecture. She has participated in a few international summer university programs regarding architecture and has been part of a few NGOs affiliated with design and architecture. Next to architecture, Elena is also passionate about social and environmental issues in a cohesion of place, atmosphere, and interaction. She is an idealist who believes that it’s up to the youth to make an impact today and invent tomorrow.







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