Away from the noise and stress of the municipalities, between Tauste, Villanueva de Gállego and Ejea de los Caballeros, is Castejón de Valdejasa, a town of just 200 inhabitants affected by depopulation and where job opportunities are reduced to livestock and agriculture. agriculture and, to a lesser extent, the services sector. However, in these summer months, there are three temporary inhabitants, all of them students of the University of Zaragoza in Nutrition, Veterinary Medicine and Tourism.
Álvaro Carvallal experiences his first internship in Castejón de Valdejasa, putting his skills and knowledge to the test in the Tourism Degree, despite the fact that there is no tourist office there. It began at the beginning of July and will be in charge of studying the resources of the town and preparing it for tourism with Eduardo Luna, his tutor and mayor of the municipality. “I did not know Castejón de Valdejasa but a classmate was last year in Gelsa and he was very happy. Here you have more responsibility and it gives more impact than working as a receptionist or in a travel agency in the city,” says the student.
In the highest town in the province, Cubel, there are two documentary makers who this summer organize the City Hall archive and seek historical information about the town at the Atalaya cultural association. Sofía Martínez and Alicia Ferrer, met during the Information and Documentation career and now live together in the Cuban town. “I have felt very welcomed by all the neighbors, although I am not from the village, I am comfortable here, I feel at home. They are the first practices and professionally I see that what I have trained serves me for what I am doing now and I It seems interesting to gain experience “, declares Martínez.
Together they form about twenty young people who are part of the fourth edition of the Challenge program promoted by the University of Zaragoza and the Provincial Council, with the aim of developing professionally in regions such as Campo de Daroca, Cinco Villas, Belchite or Calatayud. The aim is to encourage them to start their career path in a municipality with less than 3,000 inhabitants by appealing to their curiosity and concern. “We act as ‘Celestina’ among companies and students and we work on the mentality and the look, because they are a breath of fresh air of new ideas and we must teach them that there is quality life in the town”, declares Luis Antonio Sáez, Director of the Chair on Depopulation and Creativity and promoter of this initiative.
Luis Alfonso Castellano, technician of the Fourth Space service of the Diputación de Zaragoza, stresses that the attractiveness of this “Rural Erasmus” is a test of maturity since for many it is the first time they leave their homes, “before they were more encouraged to leave outside, not to a town. The good thing about this is that they have to manage their time, money from the diet, accommodation … It is also a test of responsibility when leaving “. Sáez adds that outside of the universities “knowledge is not just the notes and if you don’t experience this, you don’t get the idea”.
Life in the village
Summer opens the doors and shakes the towns on a social and cultural level, which improves socialization. “We have the swimming pools open and they have been welcomed like a family, I see that they are already going out to the terraces, they talk to people. Let them see that the connections here are much closer than in other places,” says Luna. The intergenerational closeness that occurs weaves very positive social networks in these environments with a view to posterity, “one can integrate very well and makes you consider your future there”, acknowledges Luis Alfonso.
Although living in the village also means facing challenges such as the lack of connection, the small young population or stereotypes. “The most difficult thing is that there are not many cafes to go out and many people our age, but there are also different things that you cannot do in the city,” acknowledges Sofía. Challenges that make one doubt whether to go to them, as Luna comments, “even the people here believe that we don’t have opportunities. Before, people were looking for people to repopulate the towns but they came without work, now we want to generate those opportunities so that the people come and change their minds, “he says.
The “word of mouth” of the numerous advantages over the disadvantages, has led this initiative to success and to expand to other provinces such as Huesca or Teruel. Likewise, last year, the Arraigo program was included, created for internships but for graduate students. Between the two programs, the total number of internships reaches a total of 79 from 29 different degrees. This year, the initiative has received more than 60 requests from entities and around 330 requests from students. Regarding the proportion of women and men participating, in the Desafío program, 60% were women and 40% were men, while in the Arraigo program, 65% were women and 35% were men.
The geographer Javier Lambán is part of the students admitted to this call in the local action group ADEFO Cinco Villas. His adaptation has been very easy living in a nearby town. “I have always been clear that in the future I would like to be able to settle in a rural environment, whether in Sierra de Luna, my town, or in any other, and I consider that a first step to be able to carry it out is to carry out these practices “, says the young man.
A vision of the future
After the 2008 crisis and the one caused by the pandemic, young people up to 30 years of age are one of the sectors most affected at the labor level. As reported CCOO AragonAmong those under 25 years of age, unemployment reaches 30.85%, well above the EU average of 17.56%. In the rural world, the results are not better, since the majority of young people tend to go to the cities. “Young people do not want to stay to work in the town. Jordi Évole made a program on depopulation and when asking the kids, none of them saw their future in the town. But this is a simple measure to change things,” summarizes Castellano.
In previous editions, many of them have been hired by companies. In addition, the pandemic has also led to an increase in teleworking, which makes it easier to combine both ways of life. Among the students there is usually a climate of acceptance in the face of the competitiveness of the cities. “If the possibility existed, I would stay, but currently the local action groups are immersed in a complicated situation as far as job opportunities are concerned,” admits Javier.
Sofía chooses to continue experimenting although in the future life in a smaller nucleus is not ruled out. For Álvaro, it could be a possibility to contemplate, “my final degree project will be on the reconstruction of a village with ways of self-management. I have always liked the idea of living in the village, with my friends we had the joke of save, restore the town and stay there, “admits the student.
The effects of depopulation are difficult to reverse in some areas, although rural areas have continued to struggle to survive and above all to offer facilities, showing that in addition to tranquility, one can also earn a living in the town and where young people can be. protagonists.