The Garden helps to promote a sense of community amongst students of all nationalities at the Language Centre. It provides a safe space where trust, effort, knowledge, skills and responsibility are shared and empowers students by giving them ownership of a project they can directly benefit from.
The opportunity to connect with nature and have a break from ‘camp life’ is hugely beneficial for individual wellbeing. Just a short distance walk from Vial, the garden is worlds apart from the overcrowded camp. It provides a haven to our students from the stressful and difficult situation they face daily in their quest for asylum. We maintain the garden without harming the land and continue to grow salad, vegetables, fruit and herbs that can be eaten by all students any time they want. Through this we encourage students to learn about the environment and celebrate the cultural richness of plants, food and people.
The project began when a volunteer noticed a student transplanting mint in the garden to make tea in between classes. The idea of a community garden has now evolved into reality. The Centre is surrounded by beautiful countryside, olive trees and views of the mountain tops. The garden space outside the classroom has now become a huge plot of cultivated land, loved by students and volunteers alike.
The Garden Project runs two days a week, but committed students work in the garden independently most days. When we arrive we are met by a team of willing men and women eager to get digging, planting and harvesting! The students at the language centre have a huge wealth of knowledge about growing vegetables, salad, herbs and flowers in hotter climates similar to Greece. We spend time talking about different growing methods, and the health and medicinal values of different plants. The sessions are facilitated by volunteers but aim to empower students to feel ownership of the land and give them a space to share their invaluable knowledge and enthusiasm. For some students, it is the first time they have been connected with soil and nature, and it is a huge learning process. We have fun, share stories, make friends and learn new languages!
Many of the students have been through extremely traumatic experiences. Planting and caring for the garden, along with the harvesting of the fruits of our labour is, we hope, therapeutic. Students often talk of happy memories of their childhood gardens, farming alongside their families, or eating and cooking traditional vegetables native to their countries. Good folks from across nationalities work together in our field, and this fosters friendships that may prove helpful to our students in the present and the future. We hope we are helping to quell tensions that sometimes fire up between groups in the camp.
There is always lots to do. Weeding keeps us busy, as well as constant seed planting and transplanting of seedlings. Many students just love to plough and dig the land, releasing some physical energy. Its incredible how quickly a job gets done with this hardworking team! We have built a triple compost bin, signs in numerous languages, benches, a small greenhouse and are currently working on a project to build bamboo and palette wood edging around all around the vegetable beds. In the winter we harvested and processed olives using old world methods for all the students to enjoy. All students are all welcome to take bags of vegetables and salad home with them to the camp. They can pick fresh salad straight from the garden to add nutrition and taste to their lunch at the Centre. This year already we have harvested cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, radish, rocket, lettuce, sugar snap peas, broad beans, potatoes, garlic, onion, asparagus, beetroot, spinach and chard. Students and volunteers can often be found sitting under the olive trees studying, chatting, and drinking teas flavoured with sage, mint and other herbs picked straight from the garden.