Different nationalities come together in the surveillance of beaches in Portugal

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Matias is one of the many Argentine citizens who this year watch the Portuguese beaches embarking on an adventure “to let flow”, like the waters of the sea he observes in a country he knew little about but dreamed of one day getting to know.

“I’m from Buenos Aires, I’m 30 years old and I’ve been in Portugal for a month for a beach season shared with Portuguese, Brazilians and Argentines,” Matias explained, in statements to Lusa news agency.

The lack of Portuguese lifeguards to watch the beaches has been a difficulty in recent years, which has been made up for by hiring foreigners – first Brazilians, but recently Argentines as well.

Matias, who in his country is called life guard, is one of these recent hires, exercising surveillance at Morena beach, in Costa da Caparica, in the municipality of Almada (Setúbal district), after a training that allowed the equivalence of his Argentine title.

It is the first time he comes to Europe and, although he considers that the salary is better than the one he earns in his country (about 1,250 euros), he has faced a high cost of living, but that ends up being cushioned by the mutual help between “companions”, also Argentineans, with whom he shares a rented house near Costa da Caparica.

Matias’ debut contrasts with the repeat experience of Fábio André da Silva, a 50-year-old Brazilian citizen who did the 2022 bathing season in Portugal and returned this year for another commission.

“I have been a lifeguard since 2005. I worked last season in Portugal, returned to Brazil, where I did the summer season, and now I’m back,” he explained.

Fábio is from the state of Santa Catarina, working there on the beach of Palmas, in Governador Celso Ramos, a neighboring municipality of Florianópolis where the sea is usually quite rough.

Between this sea (Costa da Caparica) and the other (in Brazil) what he notices as being the most different is the temperature of the water, because, as for the difficulties of rescue, Fábio, a surfer used to “catching waves”, considers them to be similar.

The salary is also similar, but doing temping in Portugal is a way to be able to work all year round in the area you love most.

“I have had other jobs like any other citizen, but since 2005 I have been working in this profession because it is very rewarding. When you work with what you like, with what you love, with what gives you pleasure, there is no price”, she affirmed.

Still on the differences between his country and Portugal, and on his experience, Mesquita pointed out that the beach supports should be improved to avoid that the guards are so exposed to the sun, wind and rain.

Also experienced, despite her 21 years, is Filipa Santos, a Portuguese lifeguard who shares the lookout post with Argentinean Matias. Four years ago she opted to fill her student summer vacation with a stint working to help swimmers.

Filipa is currently a Master’s student in Management, which allowed her to start the bathing season earlier. In previous years, when she was a graduate student, the start of this summer job was only possible in the middle of June.

For four years now you have noticed a decrease in the number of Portuguese embracing this summer occupation.

“In my first year we were mostly Portuguese, it was rare to do post with someone who didn’t have the same nationality as me, and right now there are only three of us who started in the first year. Now in radio communications you hear other languages more”, he said.

The shortage of professionals is not exclusive to this year. According to the Portuguese Federation of Lifeguards (FEPONS), demotivation, lack of availability, lack of new material, and seasonality are some of the reasons, besides the fact that many are university students, only available for the duties after exams.

A view shared by the president of the Portuguese Federation of Beach Concessionaires, João Carreira, concessionaire of the Morena and Sereia beaches, also in Costa da Caparica.

“Who are our swimmers? Most of them are students. They are taking their courses and at this time the bathing season starts. These people who come help a lot in the solution,” he said, adding that after the exams more swimmers always start to show up.

The foreigners who have passed through Costa da Caparica, he mentioned, are great professionals and an asset to the whole process of people’s safety on the beaches.

However, João Carreira argues that, even if the concessionaires do their part, the state should start looking at the problem in a different way: the costs are high, with each concession spending between 3,500 and 4,000 euros a month on salaries and food.

In this year’s bathing season, Portugal has 589 beaches under surveillance, four more than in 2022.

Lifeguards, in the different languages that can increasingly be heard on the sands of Portuguese beaches, are just different names for a single mission: to help those in need.

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