Our first experience in The Place of the Children came on our second day in Portugal and first day at Tamera, an ecovillage of around 180 permanent residents deep in the Portuguese countryside. Jet lagged and trying to catch up with ourselves we arrived at the community in a van that we’d hired for a 3 week journey throughout Spain and Portugal. We were welcomed to the school, usually off limits to visitors, at an open morning. My initial feelings towards the school have since shifted and transformed as I now write this knowing much more about the greater Tamera project and with over 2 weeks here in the community as a guest.
The Place of the Children is exactly that. An area towards the front of the community framed by the lake, a pagoda, a sandpit and a trampoline. The Place of the Children houses the community school, kindergarten and baby garden. It is however a temporary set up, a situation that has come about through necessity rather than vision. That said, the vision for a future model is very much alive with the Escola de Esperanza (School of Hope) receiving any spare energy and manifestation.
The dream is to build an international school that will serve both the community and the local children of the area. After concerns from Portugese locals regarding the development of Tamera’s zoned rural land, the community has been placed under a building restriction until a greater development application has been designed, submitted and approved. To overcome this hurdle in regards to building its international school, Tamera is looking at land off site for this project.
During the open morning I asked many questions of our guide however, he felt resistant to answer them for the purpose of documentation, deeming the current model to be very different from the vision. My experience of the current model reflected that and I felt the tour lacked energy and pride. We were late which didn’t help but were able to visit the classrooms and spend some time in the space. The school, as with every area of Tamera from the bar to the political centre, is staffed volunterially by members of the community either in service to the community’s needs or with skills in a specific area. The school therefore has one trained teacher with a background in Montessori education and several other supports. A portugese teacher has also recently been recruited to help the children with their language skills.
The school is not a recognised entity in its current state and thus the children are all registered as being homeschooled to satisfy the government requirements. This situation determines the curriculum and children must also complete regular tests in Portugese at a local school. With these restrictions and the lack of spare energy the school simply is what it is right now.
There are currently 20 children dispersed through the place of the children. This starts for the very young in the ‘Goddess Garden’, a small garden space of edible plants, shaded grass and a sand pit. Beyond this, children move to the primary area and then into further designated space for the older children. For some children, returning to Germany to complete their studies is a more favourable option. Unlike English for the rest of the community, German is the common language in The Place of the Children reflecting the majority of native Germans.
Every Wednesday starting from primary age, children do however have the chance to experience their community in a different way. Apprenticeship type experiences are available for the children anywhere they feel called from the political centre to the herbal dispensary, making clothes, the solar test village, the horses, the dog rescue centre or the abundant gardens. And then at age thirteen, The Love School gently prepares them with knowledge around ‘Issue Number One’, supporting the teenagers through the entangled emotions and feelings of love and sexuality.
With the sole teachers background in Montessori, this has been adopted and inspires the approach. Without seeing any children in the space or engaging with any community children at all, it is very difficult to comment on what goes on past our observations and adult discussions. As is probably evident is that my write up of the school in its current form was a little disappointing in comparison to the visionary and radial work of the greater community. It felt somewhat left behind, with the driving energy of the community very much in other directions.
A question and answer session with 2 incredible 19 year old women who had grown up at Tamera however, shone a different light on education in the community. Their wisdom surpassed their years as they laughed and recalled their experiences, sharing their dreams for the future. Of particular value to them and the discussion, was their openness they’d learnt from time spent engaging with issues of love and sexuality.
In response to whether they had experienced pressure growing up at Tamera they agreed yes. Pressure to embody the vision of the community, to grow in its warm embrace and be living representations of the greater work. The women talked about their pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine at the age of 10 and how they grew aware of their place in a revolution. Stories were shared about their first sexual experiences one of which began with a giant community celebration honouring the girl and her chosen partner. The women laughed at how they had responded to the pressure of such a journey with a sense of empathy for the children that they were. Best friends for most of their life, the women shared their future plans with one busy completing her application for further study in midwifery in Germany and the other committed to working on behalf of the youth at Tamera.
There was passion in the desire to bring change to what is available for the youth of Tamera and active work in that direction. The women spoke of the need for a new way in education and experience beyond the current format and their process in achieving it. At 19, the sense of ability to bring positive change was quite outstanding. There was also something very normal about the women, normal maybe in a sense of what teenagers could be, when embraced in a loving and connected organism.
The place of the children remains somewhat a mystery to me despite our exposure to it. Experiencing the empty school on the tour and measuring it against our previous research in the field of alternative schooling was, as I mentioned earlier, somewhat disappointing. What is unmeasurable however is the greater social experience of this ‘school’, the Tameran community way of life that is more of an education than any school could ever be. During our entire time at Tamera I met 4 young adults all whom had made their way through the school. Each possessed something deeply rich, a wisdom, a connection, a power and to me that says it all.