“There are no poor people in Luxembourg.” Have you heard this blinkers statement before? After starting Givingatlux, Rute Vendeirinho received an e-mail from a Luxembourgish woman stating exactly this.
Rute doesn’t have blinkers on, and she knows already, after only a few months of living in Luxembourg, that this statement is not true. Shortly after coming here, Rute realised she had brought too many things with her from her very spacious apartment in Lisbon to her smaller one in Luxembourg, and announced on her blog that she wanted to give things away.
The response was overwhelming. One husband called – which is surprising, it is usually the wife who makes the call – and asked Rute not to throw anything away, he’d take it all. This resulted in the initiative Givingatlux. Givingatlux is a different kind of matchmaker, matching people who have things to give away with people who need them. The main platform for this is Facebook, as well as local web forums (people in need still often have Internet access) and word of mouth. CLEW wanted to know how the initiative has evolved.
Generosity and gratitude
So far, their help has reached mainly Portuguese people. With the current economic situation in Portugal, a lot of Portuguese leave their home country with only the clothes on their backs, hoping Luxembourg will be the answer to their problems. They can’t afford to move their things from Portugal, so they leave it all behind. But coming to Luxembourg with no job contract means no place to live. Rute already has many examples of their living conditions:
“A young couple came here with an eight months old baby. They had nothing, and lived in one small room with no kitchen. The baby was suffering badly from bronchitis. In the end they had to go back, it was better for them.”
“One family was sleeping directly on the floor. We provided them not only with mattresses, but with toys, a washing machine…”
Not everybody gets help though. One family came in an expensive Mercedes:
“If you can afford such a car, you can afford other things. We didn’t give them anything.”
So far, Givingatlux has been able to help 13-14 families with furniture, toys, food and more, and they haven’t had to turn anybody down. In Luxembourg, so many people come and go and there’s always somebody on the move needing to get rid of things. Besides, people want to help, and Givingatlux is making it easy for them, there’s no money involved.
Recently, they asked for two food baskets to help a family. They received about 20 and could help other families in need as well. Anything can be of use. A Rumanian PhD student on a scholarship couldn’t afford a suit to get a job. Givingatlux provided her with one.
“Those who receive react with surprise. One woman cried and cried and was really deeply and sincerely grateful. The next day she called to say she wanted to help too. They couldn’t afford to have another baby, so she wanted to give baby stuff away.”
Another woman stopped Rute on the street to thank her, recognizing her from a picture in a newspaper. Generosity and gratitude makes the job rewarding.
Support and partnership
Members of the British Ladies Club are supporting and helping Rute in her effort. This might be the reason why mainly British people give, or is it so that the British are actually more generous? There are other helpers as well, such as the Portuguese consulate and Portuguese associations, who will for example look at people’s home situation to see if they really need help – or if they’re driving a Mercedes.
Givingatlux is also forming partnerships with other associations. Serve the City is part of a global movement of volunteers serving in the cities, for example by asking associations what they need help with, whether it be painting a wall, distributing coffee or giving things away. Free your stuff is a website offering ads to get rid of things for free, and Free your food is a similar Facebook page for food stuff, but they’ll also work with Givingatlux.
A main task for Rute is to make the Facebook page grow and to build a solid network. Also, Givingatlux really needs storage space. They’ve already lost items because they couldn’t find a match in time before the givers moved away.
Do you have things to give away? Do you wish to prove that not only the Brits are generous? Do you know of a storage space? Contact Givingatlux on Facebook.
After the chat with Rute, the first thing that happens is that a young girl speaking Luxembourgish stops me and asks for money to stay at the youth hostel. She and her boyfriend had been homeless for two weeks. She seemed both devastated and incredulous as to how she could have gotten in that situation. I gave her 10 euros, and she couldn’t believe it. A night at the hostel costs 27 euros and she already had seven, so she was getting there.
I didn’t follow her to try and find out if she told the truth. She could have been a good actress. Maybe I was gullible, seeing how “there are no poor people in Luxembourg”. But maybe, just maybe, I helped her stay warm for one night. That “maybe” is worth 10 euros.
By Unni Holtedahl, April 2013. Rute Vendeirinho is also a CLEW contributor, writing about family life.
You can read more about poverty in Luxembourg on wort.lu/eng