Safe Havens in Unfamiliar Territory
Words by Alexandra Gath
In recent years, as refugee awareness has spread in the Australian community, the need for a community focal point for refugees has become apparent. Increasingly, this focal point is a community garden. Community gardens have been a unique contribution to sustainable urban environments, supplementing the food people buy but also providing social and environmental development since as early as 1819 in the United Kingdom.
“Community gardens have now become increasingly common”
Since the realisation of the importance of environmentalism in the 1970s, community gardens have now become increasingly common. They are now prevalent throughout Australia, particularly in the urban environment of capital cities. For refugees and migrants arriving in Australia, a community garden provides several things essential to an easier transition into Australian life.
Community gardens offer a neutral, physical space, where refugees from all backgrounds can commune and work together. It can be a much-needed sensory break from the normal tasks of trying to learn and interact in an unfamiliar country. Many refugees bring skills from farming or gardening in their home country, and these skills cross all language barriers. Community gardens in Logan and Beaudesert, run by Griffith University, offer the opportunity to increase self-reliance and social interaction for local refugee and migrant communities in the region, thereby improving mental health and boosting self-esteem.
In Fairfield, Western Sydney a community garden run by the Fairfield Primary School is playing a big role in helping refugee children learn English and literacy skills along with practical skills such as gardening and cooking. Communication barriers in a new country can be particularly frustrating for newly arrived migrants, and programs such as this help improve conversational English and help the settlement process into Australia.
The importance of community gardens is noted particularly by community groups and environmentalists; with the main hurdle community group’s face being a lack of funding or lack of suitable, accessible land.
Despite these difficulties, many community gardens endure, continuing to provide a safe haven in often unfamiliar territories.
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