Your Excellency the Minister of Solidarity and Social Security,
Your Eminence the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon,
Your Excellency Mr. Jorge Sampaio
Distinguished members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and pleasure to be here in Lisbon today. We all feel particularly graced by the presence of Dom Jose Policarpo who has been such a formidable ally and friend of the Aga Khan Foundation in Portugal. Your Eminence, thank you for presence and your kind words.
My brother His Highness the Aga Khan, whom I represent today, has asked me to convey his deepest appreciation to Your Eminence for your continued support.
The renewal of the partnership agreement between the Patriarchate of Lisbon and the Portugal chapter of the Aga Khan Foundation represents yet another milestone in the long-standing relationship that the AKF, the wider Aga Khan Development Network and indeed the Ismaili Imamat have enjoyed with the Patriarchate of Lisbon, as well as the secular institutions of this country.
The focus of our joint efforts to date has been on helping those who face poverty as well as economic and social exclusion. The initiative, as many of you know, involves 20 entities associated with the Catholic Church that have been traditionally involved in alleviating poverty and assisting those in need. The noble tradition of helping the less fortunate has also been interwoven into the history of the Ismaili Imamat and its institutions worldwide.
In determining the best way to alleviate social exclusion, we found that providing training and increasing the beneficiaries’ ability to help themselves is crucial in allowing those on the margins of society to break the vicious circle of poverty.
This effort is especially important in the current environment of economic crisis which has had a particularly adverse effect on those in need. Unemployment is rising as companies lay off workers to reduce costs and weather the economic storm. New job opportunities are scarce and we need to look closely at the skills and competencies of those socially and economically excluded to help them find employment in sectors such as catering, care for the elderly and other services that are much in demand.
This is why we greatly appreciate the invaluable support of Portugal’s Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity and its Employment and Professional Training Institute which provided vital training to beneficiaries which includes Portuguese language instruction for immigrants, basic literacy and numeracy, training; family budgeting, and vocational skills acquisition.
Even though it is still too early to assess the impact of our joint efforts, we have already learned that, above all, we must be able to listen in order to better respond to the needs of the more than 500 families we already serve and the ones we will assist in the future.
As we look to the future, the area that stands out as particularly important is that of early childhood development and education. Very young children that are provided with the building blocks of knowledge and learning at an early age have been shown to be more successful at navigating the difficult paths of adolescence and early adulthood.
This is why the Aga Khan Foundation’s Childhood Development Program, its Early Childhood Centre in Lisbon and its two affiliates outside the capital are intensifying collaboration with the institutions of the Catholic Church in providing training to early childhood educators. We are also working with other important partners, including the University of Minho.
Finally, while focusing on the youngest members of society we may also look in the future at helping those who are more vulnerable because of their advanced age, by partnering on community based interventions that promote conviviality, lifelong learning, physical activity and civic engagement. These people have, for the most part, gained considerable experience and expertise; we should take advantage of that experience and of that expertise, and involve them in community actions that allow them, in my view, to return to the community, what they have received from the community.
Your Eminence, allow me to thank you again for your support which has been instrumental in allowing our partnership to flourish. My gratitude also goes to late Dom Tomás Nunes the Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon who has done so much to move our work forward.