Monday morning. Almost 30 degrees. When you are used to living in Belgium, it’s really hard to (re)familiarise yourself with these high temperatures. Sweaty and overloaded of bags and material, we got off from the metro and headed to the University of Lisbon.
A couple of students kindly helped us to find IGOT (the Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território). We came across a brand new building, all white and tidy, where we finally met the Professor Maria Helena Esteves. She welcomed us with a great smile and two cups of espresso coffee. After introducing one another, she told us a bit more about the students and the situation we were going to meet.
“I’m doing my best to engage my students in projects and activities allowing them to get better perspectives for their future” Maria Helena told us.
“Unfortunately, after graduating in Geography there are not many chances to find a relevant job here in Portugal. A lot of graduating students are forced to move to other countries, or worst, to turn off their passion and take up a completely different kind of job”.
Maria Helena expressed deep worry for this hard situation, but at the same time she seemed like a tireless seeker of new solutions to help improve the conditions of her students and her faculty. She is a truly “non-stop” Professor, in and out of the classroom, who believes that the European Union could be a unique opportunity to get young Portuguese out from the vicious circle of unemployment and mistrust.
The students started to reach our assigned room, one by one. We realised we were in the middle of their summer exams session and that all of them were likely sacrificing precious hours of study to attend our Study Group (and moreover for free).
But then, after starting the session, we understood why they decided to come.
They were eager to know more about Europe, Erasmus+ and YouthMetre, looking for any opportunity to get involved in different projects and to finally show their talent.
We were (pleasently) overwhelmed by questions, opinions and proposals, so that the lunch break arrived in a few heartbeats.
We stayed in the IGOT courtyard for 10 minutes, enjoying the silence and the shadows made by a tall tree. Pedro, one of the participants, joined us and we started to talk each other.
21 years old, Pedro comes from Madeira, the Portuguese island “lost” in the middle of the Ocean, known more for Cristiano Ronaldo than for the beauty of its landscape and, most of all, for being one of the poorest regions of Portugal.
Pedro said, “Before the crisis Madeira had experienced an impressive growth. A lot of builders were willing to invest in my island, and in 5-6 years its surface was covered up with hundreds of new big buildings. The problem is that, after the crisis blew up, a lot of those buildings remained deserted or unfinished, and nowadays nobody wants to buy them anymore. So, they destroyed the beautiful nature of Madeira and we have been left empty-handed”.
We caught a bit of melancholy in his eyes, but Pedro revealed to us that he feels he is very lucky, since he got the opportunity to “reach the dry-land” thanks to University.
He had many ideas and objectives for his future, and he strongly believed that the European Union, through interesting projects such as YouthMetre, could enable him to fulfill some of them. Then, he wanted to know what living in Brussels was like.
After three fabulous days in Lisbon, including incredible food, shiny colours and great hospitality, we didn’t know how to return. Brussels seemed so grey and sad in our minds. We just looked each other without saying a word, thinking that everyone has “their personal dry-land” and that sometimes this one is nothing more than a simple hope.
Date of event: 20 June, 2016
Location: Lisbon (Portugal)
Hosting Organisation: Universidade de Lisboa (IGOT)
Coordinator: Ms. Maria Helena Esteves
Author: Vittorio Giorgetti