Social scientists would say that we cannot live isolated from context. Political scientists would propose a similar argument, but in terms of our political nature. At Waking Life we believe that each of us has a defining role in the path of our societies, this being the reason why we undertake a proactive role in the transition we aspire to see both on an environmental and social level.  

By applying this fundamental vision in our actions and projects, we encountered Family of Refugees, a non-profit organisation working across Portugal, managed by three refugees from Syria. It happens to be the only association in Portugal by refugees for refugees. Its aim is to give support in the integration process, which might not to be so straightforward when the new country is so far away from the hearts, cultural habits and bonds of the ones that flew.

A glimpse into the refugee context in Portugal: in 2015, the Portuguese government complied with receiving 5000 refugees. Despite this commitment, only 1674 people arrived in Portugal until February 2018. From that point it is estimated around 750 fled Portugal, according to the immigration authorities. The two main reasons for their departure are related to the lack of support provided by the Portuguese government for their integration, as well as family and community ties they have in other EU countries such as Germany.

Family of Refugees decided to intervene in response to the first. By experiencing first hand the shortfalls of the system, they were able to understand its flaws and decided to act. Amongst other initiatives, the project Orquídea was born. Their proposal is to create a multicultural eco-village to spark integration in the region of Alentejo.

On the social side, Orquídea aims to be an open community that houses migrants and refugees from all over the world. At the same time, they also work with existing local gypsy and immigrant communities, fostering personal and communal development. This way the project serves a double purpose: on one hand, a community made of a cultural and social blend. On the other, as a way to repopulate Alentejo, revitalising the interior of Portugal. Through the mixture of culture, they aim to highlight the higher values of the project, hoping to bring people from different backgrounds closer.

Regarding the environmental aspect, Orquídea will go against the monocultural cultivation tendency of the region. Their vision is to focus on organic farming as well as self sustainable energy and water. The first phase of their plan is to produce cheese, honey, and seasonal vegetables which they would then consume and sell. In order to finance the project, their main source of revenue will come from the vegetarian restaurant as well as the earth-built houses rented for tourism. The inspiration for the architectural design is based on traditional Syrian homes which are made out of clay. Taking into account the similar climates between Alentejo and their home country, other Syrian elements will also add significant value to the development of the project.

From the moment we discovered Orquídea, we were convinced we want to see it flourish. However, it is still in its initial phase. Several skilled engineers, architects and social scientists are participating in order to make it a reality. Family of Refugees faces a high number of costs, difficulties with legal framing, and access to partnerships. Since they are active in finding a means to tackle these problems, five people will be moving to the land in September. Waking Life will help Orquídea on various levels, especially by sharing contacts for energy supply and bio-construction, helping on the development of the communication as well on the financial aspect, by helping gathering donations and investigating national and European subsidy possibilities.

You can also contribute to see this ambitious and alluring project blossom. The most vital help Orquídea needs is gathering financial means. By making a donation to this project you will be helping them find water and energy supply to build the first homes. If you have any skills that you would like to contribute, particularly in bio-construction, organic farming, architecture or law you can reach out to alan@for.org.pt. We will also be collecting donations from everyone at the entrance of Waking Life who would like to support the project. Thank you!

We see, listen and read. We cannot ignore it.
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

More info on Family of Refugees: www.facebook.com/familyofrefugees.pt