08 / 1993
Mértola, in Southern Portugal, is the third largest borough in the country, It is a poor area. In 1974 only two of its 130 communities had electric light; few had access to main water supply and most of the region’s roads were inaccessible. Unemployment is a major problem. There are no major industries in the area. The S.Domingo mines closed in 1965 leaving 8.000 people without a job. The soil is poor and doesn’t allow intensive farming. The only jobs available are in small village business, the town council or in cattle rearing which is the main source of income. Other problems include a high illiteracy rate and suicide.
As a result there has been a mass exodus of the working population to Lisbon, to the Algarve and abroad (Switzerland and Germany)mainly in pursuit of seasonal work. The local population has therefore reduced dramatically: the number of people has fallen by two thirds in the last 30 years (currently 11.200 persons). The population of the town of Mértola has dropped by 80% and it presently counts 1.200 people.
Some historical notes
The Associação Cultural de Defesa do Patrimonio de Mértola (ADPM)was founded in the early 1980’s with the support of the Mértola Town Council. It was the follow up of archeological excavations carried out by local young people who had discovered some of the largest and most significant remains in Europe from both Roma and Arab times. The initiative had been promoted by a native of Mértola who had studied in Lisbon and a professor of archeology of the University of Lisbon. In 1983 ADPM carried out an initial survey of crafts in the area. Special attempts were made in order to involve all members of the population in this exercise through the setting up of a local theatre group, organising exhibitions and other cultural activities.
As a result ADPM members became aware of the cultural wealth and potential of their homelan and of how urgent it was to revitalise that culture.
ADPM aims and objectives:
- to provide alternative employment for local retired craftsmen (carders, weavers, spinners...);
- to provide alternative employment for local young people in order to involve them in the recovery of their cultural heritage and encourage them to stay in the area and combat the ageing of the population;
- to promote tourism linked to the wealth of the cultural heritage and to the unique archeological sites;
- to revitalise the region by getting recognition by the Ventral Authority of the Guadiana National Park - a protected geographical area hosting endangered species;
- to recover the potential of the Guadania river both for tansport way and as a rich source of fish.
Financing the ADPM
From its outset ADPM had to raise funds to support its various activities. Grants have come from the following agencies:
- Mértola Town Council: salaries for cultural organisers and some technicians; funds for the buildings where most activities are teking place;
- Unesco: financial aid for projects, training, studies and coordination of the various centres, paying special attention to create job opportunities to young people and supporting cultural recovery;
- European Social Fund: financial aid for the training of weavers, spinners, carders, potters and goldsmiths;
- National Board for Scientific and Technological Research: financial aid for the purchase of technical and scientific equipment for archeological reserach and for the payment of salaries of young people involved in diffrent ways in site activities, drawing office, metals and photography;
- Commission for the Regional Coordination of Alentejo: financial aid for training, projects, studies and coordination of the various weaving centres in the borough, aiming at ensuring the rebuilding of the traditional regional culture;
- State Secretary for Culture: financial aid as teh previous two bodies but this time linked to the national impulse to the cultural rehabilitation of the whole country;
- Regional Social Security Centre: financial aid for vocational training aimed at reducing the level of unemployment in the region.
Adapted by Alessio Surian
EPOLETO, M., SEIES=SOCIEDADE DE ESTUDOS E INTERVENÇAO EM ENGENHARIA SOCIALE, SEIES, 1993 (PORTUGAL)
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