Who Are We?
We are a group of local residents and landowners in the region of Benfeita in the Serra do Açor. We’re a diverse community of families and individuals, young and old, Portuguese and immigrants, but we’re all firmly focused on community and environmental regeneration.
We want to restore this beloved land to health in ways that benefit all life here for many generations to come.
The variety of our backgrounds gives us an extensive repertoire of skills, professions and experience. When we put these together with the traditional knowledge of the local population, we are a force to be reckoned with!
ArBOR (Benfeita Region Association for Regenerative Objectives) is a non-profit umbrella association whose objectives are the facilitation and support of sustainable and regenerative initiatives which originate with, and are developed by, the diverse community of the region of Benfeita, Arganil.
These initiatives can be individual or collective. They can be focused on any aspect of life: environmental, educational, social, cultural, technological or economic.
ArBOR was legally founded on the 9th July 2020 in the middle of the CoViD-19 crisis, after a gestation period of four years during which this area was devastated by the catastrophic wildfires of 15th-16th October 2017. Several of us lost our homes.
We are from Portugal (3), the Netherlands (2), Belgium (1), England (1), Scotland (1) and Brazil (1). Our linguistic and cultural differences could be seen as a barrier, but for us they are resilience and strength. Our friendships have been our strength and support in overcoming the brutal aftermath of this event and in rebuilding our lives here.
Together, we built a collective determination. Not just to address the vulnerability of our environment to events of this type, but to regenerate lives and livelihoods here. Not just for us, but in ways that could be replicated in other rural communities of the Interior and further afield. We formed this association to take this work forward.
The founding members and governing bodies for 2020-2022 are
Bárbara Sá (President), Anouk Weyne (Secretary), Wendy Howard
Haico Laeven (Treasurer), Nienke Aguilar de Sousa, Camila Carezzato Ganc
João Carvalho, Pedro Aguilar de Sousa, Tom Adey
Although each one of us has our legal responsibilities, we work together like a self-organising community rather than adhering to specific functions and hierarchies.
The major part of this region at the northern extremities of the Serra do Açor comprises the freguesia of Benfeita which has an area of 21.77 km².
There are 12 villages in the area. Benfeita, Dreia, Deflores, Luadas, Pai das Donas, Pardieros, Sardal, Enxudro and Monte Frio in the freguesia of Benfeita, Relva Velha and Cerdeira in the freguesia of Cerdeira and Moura da Serra, and Esculca in the freguesia of Coja. The valleys also contain the Serra do Açor Protected Landscape with its native forest ecosystem reserve, the Mata da Margaraça, and the waterfalls of Fraga da Pena.
The area forms a natural ‘bowl’, bounded by mountain ridges of 600-1000m in all directions except the north. These natural boundaries delineate an area in which both natural systems and human inhabitants tend towards a sense of containment.
This not only gives it an identity of its own, but also makes it a perfect study area for regenerative interventions. Impacts can be clearly measured and monitored, especially in terms of hydrology – all the streams and rivers that flow in these valleys originate here.
Right in the very centre of these valleys – the red dot in the map above – is the site of the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora das Necessidades. In the centre of the sanctuary, between the church and the chapel, stands a magnificent oak tree. It’s from this tree that we take the inspiration for our name and a lot of what we do.
Benfeita’s existence as a settlement dates back to at least the 12th century. There is documentary evidence of it even before the foundation of Portugal as a nation in 1143.
The village is one of 27 included in the Aldeias de Xisto (schist villages) network. The terraces and hydrological engineering of these valleys bear the signature of the Moorish civilisation. The exquisite perfection of the landscape design is still visible today, especially where the skill and knowledge of the local population have kept it intact.
Benfeita is famous for its Peace Tower, built during the Second World War with the aim that the bell would ring out for the first time on the day hostilities ceased. Since then, it rings every year on the anniversary of that date (May 7th), 1620 chimes for the 1620 days of war.
We would like to hear it ring again, this time celebrating the end of humanity’s war against Nature which, ultimately, is a war against ourselves.
“We need to dare to envision a sustainable world, by re-designing our food systems, transport systems, energy systems, economic systems, and education systems, but most of all, we need to re-envision how we collaborate and how we relate to each other and the natural world.”
Daniel Christian Wahl, Designing Regenerative Cultures