PORTUGUESE CARITAS VISIT END TODAY – We would like to mobilize the Portuguese community living in Macau

– Marco Carvalho

The head of Portuguese Caritas and its local counterpart want to invite Macau’s undergraduates studying in Portugal to teach Mandarin to Portuguese students.  The project is one of the aspects of the memorandum of understanding recently signed by the two branches of Caritas Internationalis. The institution led by Paul Pun will also help to fight unemployment and collaborate with Portuguese Caritas in promoting capacity-building programs in places such as Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Principe and East-Timor, Eugénio Fonseca told O Clarim.

The memorandum of understanding that was signed between Portuguese Caritas and Caritas Macau states that the two organizations will cooperate in promoting the teaching of Mandarin in Portugal. How will this language-teaching program operate? What is the role of Portuguese Caritas – and of Caritas of Macau – in this project?

We will have, first and foremost, a subsidiary role. We will not assume the expansion of the Chinese language in Portugal. Well aware of this need, the Portuguese Ministry of Education, itself, has already promoted Mandarian as an optional subject in quite a few schools.  Once it is not an option in every Portuguese school and there are quite a few young people who are already qualified to teach Mandarin, we will take advantage of these circumstances, particularly in those areas where Macau students are concentrated. We will try to connect those that can teach and those that want to learn. During this visit we already analyzed the different phases of this learning process. Our aim is not to establish any certified program. We are not going to award certificates that might empower people in the language, but we will try to establish different learning phases that may lead to a progressive understanding of the language. This, of course, depends on the kind of teachers we can provide. If we eventually reach higher levels of language consolidation, the use of Macau students will no longer be sufficient. We will have to invite other kind of teachers and, perhaps, create in Portugal a way of certifying these courses. Most of the students who choose to learn Chinese are certified in official education.

This language-teaching program is one of the aspects of this cooperation protocol. Caritas Macau will also help to fight unemployment and poverty in Portugal.  How can it contribute to this purpose?

We would like to mobilize the Portuguese community living in Macau, so that, by providing some resources, we can move towards the requalification of long time unemployed workers. I am talking about people who are still of working age but who are currently unemployed. Our aim is to help mainly those that will no longer be able to find work in the area in which they have always worked. At the same time, if there is a chance – and it depend on Caritas Macau’s very own means – of creating self-employment, of helping people to create their own jobs, we are utterly convinced that, by doing that, we will be helping these people to generate their own income. These efforts to promote the creation of self-employment have to be very well coordinated because of globalization. No one survives today making “Arraiolos rugs.” The time that is needed to make an “Arraiolos rug,” compared to the income it provides, does not justify the effort. We have to invest in areas where we can join forces with other partners of the same sector, so we can aim at global expansion and even think about exporting to foreign markets. The Portuguese Government, through the Ministry of Economy, should privilege this. Profitability is not just a problem for those who are unemployed and want to create their own job. It is also a problem for Small and Medium Enterprises. They are unable to compete with the largest ones; given their size, they place low-priced products on the international market. Small and Medium Enterprises cannot do the same in terms of scale.

The program does not presume, I suppose, exchange mechanisms that can bring Portuguese nationals to Macau?

Caritas Macau might do something in that sense, but that’s not really the problem. In case the local government needs to reinforce its working force, Portuguese workers are leaving every day. Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly, we are still experiencing considerable levels of unemployment compared to the rest of the European Union and this phenomenon affects people whose age and qualifications do not favor their return to the labor market. Macau has almost no unemployment; we can almost speak of a full employment scenario. But Caritas cannot meddle into the issue of legalizing these people. These are already questions that concern the governments of Portugal and Macau.

This protocol also implies the development of capacity-building programs countries such as Guinea-Bissau, São Tome and Príncipe and East-Timor. Capacity building in which sense?

As you know, these are countries that are very dependent on the international community. They are very dependent on the goodwill of other countries. They are very poor. And they are poor because sometimes there’s a certain inertia in terms of creativity. This inertia, of course, is the fruit of long years of colonization. It is not that these countries have no potential. They have enormous endogenous potential, especially in regard to natural wealth. But they also need to promote dynamics in which they assume responsibility for their own collective development. By empowering these Caritas we intend to break off with an attitude of constant subsidization of activities aimed at the well being of these populations. On the contrary, we aim to help people to promote autochthonous creativity mechanisms that can make the most of what nature provides. These mechanisms can be the result of cooperation between different countries. Our purpose is to help these Caritas to reclaim a greater autonomy, while helping the country to make greater progress, so that they are not so dependent on the outside world and can develop a stronger co-relation with the countries with which they cooperate.

This capacity-building program mainly presumes the formation of qualified workers, then…

Yes, yes, yes. It is essentially what we have in mind. With the assistance of Caritas Macau, we will develop a social entrepreneurship-training program. This program is destined to Caritas agents or others that wish to take part in this initiative proposed by Caritas Portuguesa. If this program works we can, then, develop intensive programs in those countries.

You were addressing a little while ago the Portuguese reality, mainly the issue of emigration. Caritas knows the Portuguese reality better than anyone else: it knows how many people live in precarious conditions, how widespread is poverty in Portugal. The specter afflicts Portugal with the intensity it used to afflict, but the country is once again faced with the prospect of a high tax burden. How can this scenario contribute to social precariousness?

I would like my answer to be one of hope, but I cannot ignore that the crisis is not yet past. The economic crisis that affected the country, for a considerable range of the Portuguese population, is still something that they have to endure. Not only for those that were not able to find a new job, work being the safest source of income for the Portuguese population, but also for those that work. There’s a veiled reality that was partially uncovered in November by the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics, that of an increasingly poor work force. This logic, which is often stigmatizing, that the poor are those that don’t want to work, is contradicted by this reality that has now been analyzed by the National Institute of Statistics: there are people who work, but remain poor. In most cases this has to do with low wages. The wage bar has dropped significantly. Today there is a very large discrepancy between very high wages, usually earned by executives, and the low wages that most have to contend with. We have in Portugal graduated people – people with PHDs and Master’s degrees – earning as little as 700 euros. Two years ago we conducted a study about the relationship between work and the younger generations: many earned the minimum wage and most would earn a higher wage, but not more than twenty per cent more than the national minimum wage. This is not dignifying for anyone and it doesn’t dignify work either.  I think the Portuguese Government should promote a policy of closer wage approximation. It is true that executives have different responsibilities, but Portugal should do what is already being done in other countries. An executive’s salary should surpass an established amount. This discrepancy generates something that in Portugal is also reaching very serious levels: social inequality.

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