Our European Solidarity Corps volunteers represented Sculpt at the European 4 Citizens project meeting in Fundão, Portugal this October. This project is organized under the Youth for European Solidarity (Yes!) network.
On the first day of the trip the volunteers visited the capital of Portugal. Funnily enough, the volunteers left sunny London only to arrive in a cloudy and rainy Lisbon. In the evening the team met the other European participants to travel from the capitol to rural Fundão. Several European organizations were represented at this project meeting: there were people from Italy, Kosovo, France, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Greece and of course Portugal.
On the second day the team participated in the first conference meeting in Fundão. The theme of the two-day conference was digitalisation and digital inclusion. The vice mayor of the city welcomed the project team and gave an introduction to the digitalisation initiatives that Fundão has been involved in for the past 10 years already. A detailed presentation was given on a project that had the goal of promoting tech education to all of the students in Fundão, from elementary level to high school level. The students use a digital learning platform to get introduced to basics of coding languages. The project had a long-term aim to build a new generation of workers in technology.
One of the most memorable moments for the volunteers was a discussion on the importance of mobility of youth in Europe, and the difficulties there is in funding that. This topic led to a larger discussion on youth involvement in European matters and how to increase their voting activity. Interestingly enough one of the best practices mentioned was street debate and activism, which is a practice recently used by the volunteers at Sculpt in London as well for their EmpowHER project.
In the afternoon the team visited a co-working space in the city centre. This is a place where companies and individuals have the possibility to rent an affordable office space. The guide explained how the municipality of Fundão offers a lot of incentives to encourage people to live and work there. In addition to the affordable working spaces, they subsidize rental apartments for people who get offered a job in the city. In this way the municipality (which is the first city in EU for number of EU funding utilised) wants to develop the city and simultaneously contribute to the economic development of Fundão.
On the second day of the conference the participants visited Fundão’s archaeological museum as well as the immigration centre. A beautiful old catholic school had been turned into a centre to receive migrants from all over the world. The project team had the opportunity to learn how Fundão receives the migrants and how the municipality helps them integrate into the local community. Right now, the centre hosts mainly Ukrainian people and migrants from Africa, particularly from Timor Est. An interesting example of their inclusive activities is a collaboration with the local newspaper. The paper has a separate section where both the migrants as well as local residents get to write about any developments happening at the centre and thus everyone is informed and has the opportunity to raise any concerns and improvement ideas as well.
The migrants are offered opportunities for vocational training and language training which helps them integrate better in Portugal and in the EU in general.
On the last day, the team came back to Lisbon full of new knowledge and in the evening left Portugal for London. All in all, Fundão serves as a great example of how a rural city has turned their disadvantages to advantages and is now on a path of economic prosperity that has been achieved by also benefitting the less fortunate.