Outside with MFR: A hike and a swim in Pantano de San Juan

My name is Josie, I’m 22 years old and moved to Madrid three months ago to teach English. I have always loved the Spanish language and culture so I am in my element in Madrid! I love experiencing different cultures, meeting new people, and getting involved in volunteering projects.

I came across MFR whilst researching volunteering opportunities in Madrid. It immediately struck me as a distinctively heartfelt non-profit organization that projected a real sense of energy and innovation. I saw the ‘Hike and swim in Pantano de San Juan’ event and quickly secured a place. Later I heard from one of the guys on the hike that this was the first one he had managed to get on after numerous attempts, which was a comforting reflection of both people’s eagerness to get involved and the charity’s clear popularity.

Pantano de San Juan looked completely idyllic—a huge, glistening, blue reservoir surrounded by beaches and mountainous terrain, just an hour long bus ride out of Madrid’s city center. We met our guides Jerome, Sonia, Jaime, and Carlos at Principe Pio at 8 o’clock Sunday morning and were greeted by huge friendly smiles despite the early start and 38-degree forecast for the day.

The bus dropped us off at a roadside restaurant where we stopped briefly for refreshments. Going around the group, we all said where we were from and something we like doing in Madrid. It quickly became clear that a few attendees knew each other from previous MFR events. Needless to say, they were the most welcoming and kind-hearted group of people you could think of. One member had attended all but one of the hikes (shout out to Susan)! Another girl was clearly very involved in the charity as she enthusiastically explained the upcoming “Chefugee” fundraising event, where refugees have the opportunity to cook and serve authentic food from their country in a local restaurant.

The walk, led by avid hiker Jaime, started off pretty tough as we were guided up steep hills, already feeling the heat of the morning sun. Once we reached the top we were all taken back by the breathtaking view. After a quick group photo, we were ushered on by Jaime who had organized our packed lunch and sangria to meet us at the beach 5km away.

From discussing politics to recalling funny anecdotes about our teaching experiences in Madrid, I don’t think there was one silence over the next two and a half hours as we walked up and down the rocky, beachy terrain. We frequently stopped for water breaks and to make sure the group was together. There was an incredible energy and teamwork-feel to the whole event, especially with one of our guides, Carlos, holding a huge stick like a character from Lord of the Flies and enthusiastically cheering everyone on.

We arrived to find that one of Jaime’s friends had generously driven all the lunchtime supplies to the beach for us. The sangria was passed round and we all had a red-faced salud! For the next two hours, we swam and lay on the beach, chatting amongst ourselves about our different experiences in Madrid. I couldn’t fault it!

When it was time to set off for the hike back, the temperature had crept up to 36 degrees! Getting up some of the hills towards the end definitely tested our resilience but by the time we arrived back to the roadside café there was an immense feeling of achievement (and desire for a cold drink).

Whilst we sat around drinking our congratulatory beers, Jerome took some time to explain what will be done with the money we raised (€360, by the way!). Madrid for Refugees is currently raising support for the Espacio MFR Campaign. This innovative idea will secure a space for MFR and provide long-term solutions for refugees in Madrid. This space will include a kitchen for refugee chefs to give cooking classes to the public as well as for Chefugee events. It will have a classroom, a place to store donations, as well as a co-working space for refugees to complete job applications and prepare for interviews.

Espacio MFR is a profound commitment to the well-being and social progression of refugees living in Madrid. As we are currently facing the highest level of displacement on record, with 20 people being forcibly displaced every minute, charities like MFR are hugely important and have an immeasurable impact on people’s lives. Responding to this growing humanitarian crisis by creating events such as these motivate people to get involved and feel passionate about helping. This is integral to the progress that should be made towards a world where those who are forcibly removed from their homes as a result of conflict or persecution are welcomed into a place of kindness, safety, and opportunity.