The region of Trás os Montes in Portugal, which in English means “behind the mountains”, is known for villages with less than 10 inhabitants. There are cases of only 1 person residing in the whole village.
Those little villages have mostly elderly population as young people left a long time ago in search of a better life. So many of the residents continue the same lifestyle their grandparents had for years.
Many of those villages are untouched by technology; television and cell phones are a rarity. People survive mainly from agricultural production and sheep farming. During winter, these elderly people spend days or even weeks without leaving the house because of the cold. But the greatest obstacle they have to deal with on a daily basis is loneliness.
I joined a young team of the PII project (Proximity to the Isolated Elderly) that regularly visits seniors who are living alone. The goal of this project is to ward off the loneliness of these people and improve their quality of life.
The people I’ve met have fantastic stories that I could listen to for hours.
Gracinda lost almost all of her family in an accident. The only daughter she has left is currently in prison. Her brother has cancer. Despite all the tragedy and difficulties, she continues to live in a village with 6 inhabitants in total and smile. The only thing that helps her to cope with everything is faith. “These little saints are what keep me alive, if it wasn’t for them, I would have committed suicide,” – says Mrs. Gracinda while showing a holy statue from her huge collection.
The team that visits Mrs. Gracinda is like a family to her. She calls them doctors but doesn’t explain why. Though, when they told Mrs. Gracinda that they are not doctors, she called them angels.
Mr. Marcellin spent a lot of time traveling and searching for better jobs. He also kissed many women until he found the love of his life. But she ran away with all of his fortune leaving him with nothing.
Now, he lives at his mother’s house and spends days by the window with his cigarettes and a glass of wine. He has a slow life as he has had enough of living at a fast pace. Mr. Marcellin lives in a village with approximately 30 other residents and says that he is happy alone.
Loneliness is his best friend and they get on pretty well.
“Today 5 people visited me. One of them was a beautiful girl. I wish I was 20 years old again,” – he said.
Sezerindo has a difficult name to pronounce. Other than that, he is a shepherd who has never seen the sea.
He lives alone in the company of his sheep and knows each one of them. Mr. Sezerindo says he works every day but he is happy living between the mountains, and his only concern is old boots that need to be repaired.
Mr. Felisberto lives in an isolated house in a village of 30 people. The other nearest village is 17 kilometers away.
Felisberto’s daughter is physically-troubled, and the only thing he asks of God is to take him to heaven to ease the great pain he feels in his heart.
Mr. Serafim Machado, once known as a strong and hardworking man respected for his expertise in farming, now leads a poor life together with his youngest son and six animals in a house that has nothing but broken windows.
In his prime years, Serafim had a young wife – 30 years younger than him. Yet, as he got older and strength abandoned him, she left him and their two children for a younger man, and she took everything she possibly could.
Teresa (28) visits her grandmother almost every day. Her grandmother has an Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nursing home but she sometimes recognizes her granddaughter. Teresa wants to take care of her grandmother because she took care of her for her entire life.
Many elderly people are forgotten by their families. They live for months or even years without a single visit. The elderly people I spoke to said that loneliness kills them faster.
Mrs. Maria (75) is one and only resident in her village. There are hundreds of villages with only few elderly inhabitants living in isolation in the region of Tras Os Montes. Their lifestyle resembles the 50’s.
Maria’s husband died recently. Dogs are the only companions Maria has. They help her in the fight against loneliness. And this little puppy is the newest member of the household.
It’s a happy hour of the day for this woman, as her daughter is visiting her at a nursing home. Others spend days, months or years without seeing their family members.
Despite having Alzheimer’s disease, she often recognizes her daughter.
In this shot, a 92-year-old Alice tries to find a photograph of her young self.
She lives in a village which has about 10 inhabitants. Because of the cold winter, she is trapped inside the house and this makes her feel lonelier than ever.
Alice’s husband died young, so she raised all of the eight children alone. She has so many amazing stories that I could talk to her for hours.