Fundación Horizontes Abiertos

A peaceful, caring place for those who have been overlooked

María Matos, president and co-founder of Horizontes Abiertos, is an elegant and energetic woman whose smile is contagious. The superhero of this story began collaborating more than 40 years ago with Father Garralda by visiting prison inmates. "Our people, those we cater for, are people that no one cares about because they have taken the most important thing away from them: affection. Without this, no one can live with dignity. That is why we try to do our work with professionalism, always remembering to look people in the eyes. And we offer lots of hugs. Because having a home and someone who loves you makes all the difference between living on the margins of society or not".

Since learning about the lives of those who have ended up in prison, her concept of justice is a simple one. “Justice is about ensuring that those who have not been lucky enough to enjoy affection and well-being can find their voice. The voice of the child whose mother is in prison; the voice of the men and women asking for a second chance. Justice means helping them change their outlook and bolstering the confidence of those who want to escape their situation”.

The Fundación Horizontes abiertos offers a home to people who are in recovery and those with chronic diseases or terminal illnesses who have been released from prison or from hospitals where they can no longer stay due to needing permanent care at home. These are people who can no longer survive on the streets.

This foundation has become a much larger entity supporting groups suffering from severe social exclusion: children under 3 years old with mothers serving prison sentences; drug addicts; prisoners who want to stop taking drugs or get back into the job market; women and children who have been victims of abuse; homeless people; and those in recovery or with chronic or terminal illnesses. Over the years they have catered for more than 50,000 people with the help of hundreds of volunteers and professionals.

One of their centers is this residence in Villanueva de la Cañada which was a pioneering project in Spain. People with AIDS visited this center (when there was not yet any treatment for it) in the terminal stages of the disease when they had nowhere else to go. This was a time of drug-taking, during the "movida", the countercultural decade which left so many people on the fringes of society.

Today this house is a home, a peaceful place, coordinated by Mari Carmen Guargh, together with 14 other workers who work in shifts as monitors, janitors, cleaners and cooks. Mari Carmen is a nurse who specialized in treating drug addiction and terminal illnesses. She knows better than anyone just what it means to be with someone until the end, and to console them in their grief. She knows what can and cannot be said. “Normally you cannot and should not say anything”, she replies. “It is better just to be there and to listen”. This is precisely what volunteers such as José Luís Marcelino do, who go to the house every day to help, to offer support or simply to say hello to everyone.

Lucas, José Antonio, Dyango and Héctor are among the 14 residents of the house. Some of their housemates are seriously, almost terminally, ill. Therefore, a visit to the house does not need words or names. It is about just being there, listening, keeping them company in silence and looking them in the eyes.