Folha Verde is a new community and natural education project for the village of Benfeita and its surrounding population. Eleven months after the catastrophic fires which devastated these valleys and robbed 22 families of their homes, the community of the area is rising from the ashes to prove that disasters are about much more than doom and gloom. They can be a catalyst towards a better future.
Many of us are still living in an assortment of temporary accommodation, from rented houses to tents and caravans, while we negotiate the mountains of paperwork and emotional rollercoasters standing in the way of any government help to rebuild. But in areas of our lives where we thankfully have more influence, we are not standing still. Several initiatives have taken off. This is one of them.
The school in Benfeita closed down a decade ago for lack of pupils and was converted into a hostel, so for parents of the growing number of young children in this isolated area, the choice has been between travel to schools in the nearest towns or home education (legal in Portugal).
For many, it has been a dream for a while now to create a local, independent, community-run education project to support the home education process which reflects the enormous cultural and national diversity of this community. Crucially, it would provide for learning to be participatory and self-directed. While helping older children prepare for the compulsory Portuguese home education exams, such an approach instills confidence, responsibility and motivation as well as emotional, social and environmental literacy, a good balance of practical and artistic skills, and fluency in Portuguese.
A crèche/kindergarten facility for younger children would also be part of the project.
After a long search for suitable premises with hopes being continually raised then dashed, the project has at last found a home in a restored lagar (olive mill) just outside Benfeita and a grounding in the Agile Learning system of education.
Much work needs to be done though to convert the restored but open lagar into suitable premises. Winters here are either cold (down to -10°C) or extremely wet. Summers can be very hot (up to 40°C+). Doors and windows need to be added. The roof needs insulation. A heating system needs to be designed and built. Appropriate sanitation needs to be provided.
The building will be adapted to contain a communal kitchen and eating area, space for arts activities, a quiet study space for the older children, a play room for younger children and a library area.
Many of us in the community have experience with natural and sustainable building methods and they will be used throughout this project. Much of the building work will be done by the community, children included.
Although Quinta do Vale’s children are long grown and flown, this is very much a project involving the whole community so my contribution will be to design and install vermicomposting toilets for the project and to be part of the team designing and reengineering the lagar’s original water-heating system to provide heating for the space.
It’s also intended that the space will be used for other community events, workshops, parties, etc.
Folha Verde are currently fundraising to cover the costs of the building project. PLEASE SUPPORT THIS EXCITING CAMPAIGN IF YOU’RE ABLE!