‘Pepe was an amazing man and we all miss him dearly,’ Antonio tells me, as we walk through the gardens of the house. ‘He passed away three years ago and left us this amazing legacy. We all have so much to thank him for.’ Antonio is one of only a few paid workers at the charity, most of the people we come across during my tour are either ‘residents’ or volunteers.
‘We help a lot of people here, most are recovering alcoholics or kids that had issues with drugs. They come from all over Spain. Some of the girls have been in abusive relationships or fled from difficult family situations. We don’t turn anyone away, if they are happy to fit in, help out and learn, then this is their home for as long as they need.’
A young tanned man is up a ladder picking loquats (a cross between an apricot and a plum) and Antonio beckons him over. His name is Juan Diego and much like his new home, what you see on the rough exterior hides the warmth within.
‘This place saved me,’ he tells me, a glint in his eye that quite clearly set him on the wrong path to trouble from an early age. ‘I was a street kid in Malaga, got heavily into drugs and crime and spent my childhood in reform schools. Eventually my sister and cousin found this place and it was a turning point for me. It’s all very well being told to change, but it’s impossible until you want to and are shown a different way of life.’
All those that stay at the house meet with a clinical psychologist once a week, as well as receive training in the many workshops available. Not only is this a form of therapy but they also learn skills that will help them integrate into the community once they are back on their feet – metalwork, carpentry, weaving, pottery, sewing, cooking, agriculture and food production.
Antonio signals to a shy girl scurrying past. ‘See her, she’s like a daughter to me and my wife who is also a volunteer here, her childhood was horrific. She’s getting better every day. These kids, they didn’t even know how to make their beds or cook a meal when they came here, now they work in our restaurant and contribute to our community and feel great about themselves.’
I turn to Juan Diego and ask him what life is like living in Casa Pepe Bravo.
‘What should you give a man who has nothing?,’ he asks. ‘You give him love and hope…the rest he will discover for himself.’ He smiles and looks around him, ‘It’s the little things, the tranquillity and countryside, the fact that we are trusted to leave the centre and mix with others, I have my own room here, my own space. We even have a gym, which has really helped me feel better about myself. Everyone has their ups and downs, but this place is great, we learn stuff and we are accepted. We want to go on to live as better people.’
Antonio continues the tour of the house, explaining how the majority of their money comes in via their on-site restaurant, the halls they rent out for events (not just any space, but a vast agricultural museum full of forgotten old Spain), along with the home-made and hand-made items that are produced in their workshops and sold through the ‘Arte De Mis Manos’ (Art From My Hands) co-operative through local markets and their shop. Plus every other Saturday their garden hosts a market where locals can sell their artisan products.They also rent out their workshops, one of which is home to a local independent potter Pascual who sells his beautiful creations at his on-line shop.
‘This is how it should be done! It creates the best flavour, but big industries want everything bigger and faster and lose the quality. See this bottle here,’ he says beaming, holding up a large plastic water bottle filled with thick green oil. ‘This is worth fifty Euros, more if you buy it in a fancy shop. Restaurants use it for dipping and drizzling, it’s far too good to waste on anything else.’
Nearly all the machines in the centre were made by Pepe himself or volunteers, including the large solar-powered one on the roof for drying fruit. Like with the oil, farmers contribute their produce, they are dried and sold by the centre and they get to keep half the profits, which are ploughed back into the charity.
‘Would you like to see the house?’ Antonio asks an hour and a half into the tour. I can’t believe there is more. He laughs, ‘oh these are just the public areas, come and see where everyone lives.’
The residents’ area is like a small cosy house within a larger one, there are also dorms for school visits where underprivileged kids come from the big cities for summer camp where they get to run around farms, play games, make things and escape from their harsh lives.
We finish up in the shop, an accumulation of everything the house has to offer. There are brass pans, clay jugs, jewellery, children’s wooden toys, local honey and oils, even furniture. It’s like going back in time….a better time. The centre is a self-sufficient mini-village with everything you need for a great life under one roof, I know where I will be heading when the world ends. And for those whose world has already ended, they no longer have to run. They are safe now. They are home.
SEE MORE IMAGES IN GALLERY ABOVE.