Maria Bashide, an 87-year-old immigrant from Cabo Verde, has befriended a group of high school students in Central Falls through the program. The teens say they learn a lot from her stories and wisdom.
CENTRAL FALLS — Maria Bashide, an 87-year-old immigrant from Cabo Verde, was serious as she leaned forward to tell her adopted netas, granddaughters, some advice on life, in a small conference room at Forand Manor, 30 Washington St. Her gray hair set in place with precision hair-pinning and her eyes closing ever so slightly, so as to convey the seriousness of her intentions.
“What can they learn from me?” she asked rhetorically, referring to her teenage friends in Portuguese. “Make sure you maintain the wisdom in your head. Be obedient so that you can be happy.
“In this way, you can be sure you’re not alone,” she continued. “You can make sure that —”
″— You don’t have to live alone,” replied 16-year-old Sara Lopes-Tavares, a Portuguese immigrant of Cabo Verdean descent and a student at Central Falls High School. “But you don’t need to get married neither.”
The scene — straight out of a novella that one might see on RTP 1 or Rede Globo — showed the differences between generations, and how they could be bridged through the Intergenerational Farmers Market Project of the Local Initiative Support Corps, in conjunction with the Central Falls Housing Authority, Rhode Island Black Storytellers and Rhode Island Latino Arts.
Trying to bridge the generational gap is only one part of a greater initiative.
The pilot program received a $75,000 grant from Tufts University for development, testing, evaluation and curriculum development. The grant was renewed in the amount of $120,000 officially on Thursday afternoon, ensuring its continuation for two more years and expansion to five elder sites in Rhode Island.
The program aims to reduce social isolation and its negative health consequences for the elderly and improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income populations.
Cases such as Bashide’s are why such programs are necessary, according to LISC.
“When I saw her come down and actually stay, I was amazed,” said Meaghan LaVasseur, resource service coordinator at Forand Manor, a low-income housing complex for the elderly and disabled. “It was amazing to see her light up like that.”
“I enjoyed meeting them,” said Bashide, in Portuguese. “It made me feel satisfied.”
The program tried holding events at Hope Artiste Village earlier in the year to no avail. They realized that going to these communities would be more effective than holding the event at a place to which participants would need to travel.
For Bashide, she had been traveling so much that it was about time that people came to her. She came to the U.S. when she was already in her 60s in order to help raise some grandchildren in Pawtucket.
But long before that, she witnessed history while living in Benguela, Angola — then a Portuguese colony like Cabo Verde — between 1956 and 1975 in the midst of that country’s armed independence struggle.
“I lived in Benguela, on the coast, and I did not see no war,” she said. “The war was happening in the forests of the countryside… You had to travel eight days in order to get to the war zone.”
From there, she moved to Portugal soon after independence, but returned to Cabo Verde before moving to the U.S. in 1998. The plan was originally to stay for six months, but she stayed at her daughter’s request. In 2008 she moved into Suite 901 at Forand Manor because she wanted her own space.
“My grandchildren were older,” she said. “So I said, ‘I’m getting my own house because I’m used to being on my own now.’”
Fast-forward to 2018: she has found a group of Cabo Verdean children who have become her fan club.
“That day when we met, we began to dance funana,” said Beatriz Martins, 16, a rising junior at Central Falls High School. She immigrated from Cabo Verde when she was 10. “And she heard us talking and laughing.”
“I don’t know any island in Cabo Verde beyond São Vicente,” said Bashide. “But I heard them, understood everything and could tell which islands they all were from just based on the kriolu.” Kriolu is Cabo Verdean Creole.
The attraction was almost immediate, according to witnesses.
“It was so cute,” said Deanna Bruno, a LISC program assistant who was one of several chefs who teamed up on tomato soup cake on Thursday afternoon. “The kids that were around her seemed like moths to a flame.”
While nice to watch, the youths insisted that they are also learning a lot from her.
“It was pure happiness to meet her,” said Lopes-Tavares. “The staff here told us that she was so happy because of us.
“She even called us her grandchildren,” she continued. “Her happiness caused my happiness.”
For Elaine Ramos, a freshman at Central Falls High School, as well as a recent immigrant from Bashide’s island, São Vicente, it has a special significance.
“It’s difficult for me here because I live alone with my father and my mom is back in Cabo Verde,” she said in Portuguese. “All of my family is there.
“She’s cool,” she continued. “She tells stories about home that I didn’t even know about and it makes me feel closer to there.”
“I wish my grandmothers were like her,” said Martins. “Her stories make us young people want to live all her lives.”
Read the story on the Providence Journal.
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