Esteveira is located near the south border of Abrantes’ County, having as neighbors other three small villages: Barrada, Vale de Zebrinho and São Facundo, the local administration’s head office.
This administration, where Esteveira belongs, had a population of 3.030 in 1960, decreasing to 1.422 until 1991, and only 927 in the last study held in 2011. São Facundo’s local administration is the one with high losses in a county that had a population of 51.869 in 1960, but only 39.325 in 2011. In the same period, the city’s population raised, confirming the exodus to the urban area.
As a result, in the last twenty years, many basic services have been shut down in these smaller communities. In the administration of São Facundo, all the primary schools closed when these villages still had few children. The same case was applied to the medical posts, with the exception that Esteveira never had one. This was a plan to empower the city, some say.
As the time runs, the situation gets worse with the economic crisis, in a way that these small communities rely on the strength of the nearby urban center. In the interior, the cities have lost their autonomy with the latest reforms and were forced to work in a regional level, dividing services.
Small places like Esteveira will perish and, with them, small drops of a country’s identity will be forgotten.
Esteveira’s main access, or the one that is connected to the asphalted road. We need to follow it a little more before being able to see the first buildings upon the hill. The request done by the population for the bridge reconstruction has been rejected several times.
The bus should be a link between the villages and to the city. In Esteveira it only comes once a week during school time. In the summer, the village becomes even more isolated and the population has to rely on their relatives.
The primary school closed in the early nineties, shortly after the last child was born in 1987. Nowadays the building runs as a meeting point for the small community and, once a month, receives a medical team that does basic prevention exams, such as blood pressure or diabetes.
In the neighbor village, Barrada, the former school was converted into a mortuary.
Throughout the summer all the villages have a specific weekend where they organize the summer festival. This event is organized, mostly, by those who are abroad and happens to celebrate their return to the home land.
In Esteveira it is made in the first weekend of September.
This year was marked by the reformulation and return of the festival after the health authorities prohibited it. Not being able to sell food in a bigger scale, the revenue is no longer enough to hire a band and use the stage.
There are three activities closely linked to Esteveira’s history – agriculture, livestock and cork. The last one has a strong market since Portugal became one of the great exporters in the EU, but the other two have became survival activities.
Having pensions that rarely reaches 300 euros, the population use the land and gather few livestock to fill their needs.
Nowadays, there are only two herds in Esteveira. One belongs to José, who have been taking care of it until he had an accident with his tractor. Being a shepherd demands some physical capability and it’s done mostly by the youngest, but in some places there’s no other option. António is José’s nephew and has the responsibility to take care of his uncle’s herd. Being part of the younger family in the village, António is the older brother (44) of three but never had the same opportunities. The middle brother is a baker in a nearby village and the younger has no permanent job, doing seasonal tasks when needed. They still live in Esteveira.
António’s childhood was rough as he was forced to live in an institution for children with disability. His motor inability prevented him to speak clearly and articulate his movements as they should.
At the age of eighteen, António, returned home and stayed in Esteveira ever since, helping his family in minor tasks until his uncle asked him to take the herd.
Over the years, António has improved his motor ability by not letting him quit when struggling with a task.
Every day, before locking the herd, he builds a new squared fence in a different position, so the ground can dry and absorb the waste.
Being a shepherd leads to isolation, once most of the day is passed outside the village roaming with the herd. In the old days, a shepherd could walk for miles and return only at the end of the day, but that’s not António’s way, he walks the same path everyday in a four hectare land.
In the summer, António gets to rest in the afternoon while the heat is stronger, closing the herd under a big cork tree.
In the cold seasons the routine changes and he stays most of the day out, roaming from nine to sundown.
António and his uncle José, like the other habitants, spend much of their free time in the former school classroom. The building runs as the village association and José represents somehow the authority figure.
This photostory by NUNO ANDRÉ MOURISCO FERREIRA DA SILVA is a follow up activity of the ERASMUS+ training course for youth workers Facing the Street. Nuno joined the training through partner organisation BUINHO from Portugal. The project was coordinated by APIS Institute. Project Facing the Street was co-founded by Erasmus + Programme of the European Union.
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