Twelve years ago, a girl and her contagious smile left her native Cascais, in Portugal, took a leap and moved to the UK.

Mariana, Co-founder of SPEAK London
Mariana, one of the Co-Founders of SPEAK London

London is now her adoptive home. A place renowned as a melting pot of cultures, backgrounds and colours from all over the world.

Right in this bubbly city, Mariana got introduced to SPEAK thanks to a friend.

Her role as founder dates back to 2019, but before then she supported both as an ambassador first and a buddy right afterwards.

Inspired by the work of the 3 women co-founders, she decided to join them and continue making an impact in the cosmopolitan city.

Mariana and all things inclusion

Mariana is no stranger to the world of inclusion and volunteering. She is a Volunteering and Civic Engagement Manager at the University of West London. 

And the list does not end here. She’s the national Chair for the Student Volunteering Network in the UK and in 2021 she also joined EngageJournal as a co-editor for the “Voices” team.

In the same year, Mariana got more involved with the Erasmus+ programmes which allowed her to create and deliver several activities to support youth workers and youth groups.

According to her, inclusion is about positive actions. Those actions ensure that everyone within their communities is heard and recognized. 

If societies can make that happen, she affirms, then all can fully participate, bring something to the table and lift those who need more visibility.

SPEAK’s impact on Mariana’s life

Mariana and the participants of her portuguese group
Mariana in a local park with the participants of her Portuguese language group

Ever since becoming a founder, Mariana’s life got a little bit richer. The role gave her new knowledge and served her with learning opportunities.

She got to put hand on practice and set up an organisation from the ground up, she witnessed it grow and expand and was able to meet amazing people.

“From professional connections to lifelong friendships, SPEAK has given me more than I will ever be able to give back. And that is something that will stay with me forever.” she shares.

As for the connections she developed, Mariana is amazed by how the community keeps surprising her. 

She describes the team she collaborates with as incredibly supportive and always available and present for one another.

Mariana’s experience as a buddy for SPEAK London

Mariana’s approach seems to be an “all in” one. And her dedication to SPEAK surely reflects as so. 

Given her origins, she decided to share her culture by co-leading an offline Portuguese group in London. 

The sessions took place mainly in a local park but, as you may guess, she took their experience beyond just the language-sharing part.

The whole group had the opportunity to discover Portugal and its flavours in an original way, by sharing a meal in traditional Portuguese restaurants and by shopping for typical products in Portuguese shops.

Mariana and the participants in a portuguese restaurant in London
Mariana with the Portuguese language group at a Portuguese restaurant

Adding this twist to the conduction of the session showed Mariana more clearly the value behind SPEAK’s model and only increased her motivation to get more involved in it.

There are, of course, some hardships along the process, she clarifies. Especially when it comes to making sure the delivery of SPEAK’s message is consistent and far-reaching.

However, in line with her personality, a good challenge is what keeps Mariana motivated and pushes her to pursue this goal even further.

Taking SPEAK to your city

The founders of SPEAK London in a popular place at London
Mariana (3rd from the left) and the other 3 co-founders of SPEAK London

The moment Mariana recalls the most fondly occurred during the last sessions she led with a group during the recent Covid pandemic. 

5 countries were represented in the group and all participants, regardless of distance and physical limitations, agreed to keep in touch after the sessions were over. To support each other in a time when human connections were the most needed.

This experience of deep humanity in dire times shaped how she understood SPEAK’s worth in creating a solid network in good and bad times.

Mariana is the founder of one of SPEAK’s cities, but so many more took the project to the place they call home, whether their native or adoptive one. 

Jose’, Sara and Fernando also opted for co-founding SPEAK Torres Vedras: discover how three friends, united by a common goal, set up our latest branch.

What about you? Are you ready to make a difference and share your world with the world?

 If SPEAK is not part of your community, yet, be a pioneer and take it to your city. If we are already present, join our journey as a buddy.   

Author: Mariana da Rocha

Mariana is a Co-Founder at SPEAK London, and the Volunteering and Civic Engagement Manager at the University of West London. She’s the national Chair for the Student Volunteering Network in the UK, and in 2021 she also joined EngageJournal as a Co-editor for the “Voices” Team. She is a non-formal education facilitator and delivers training in a variety of topics. From 2021 she’s also become more involved with the Erasmus+ programmes and activities and has been able to develop and deliver a variety of activities to support youth workers and youth groups. In her free time she travels, reads, volunteers and watches a lot of videos of baby goats.

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