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Refugees welcome!

by Editor (comments: 0)

von Sylvia Meise

World Garden - a project to integrate refugees

Photo: World Garden - a project to integrate refugees (Hof Buchwald).

The biggest challenge of all is what we call “everyday life” – including when receiving and integrating refugees. There are many hurdles and forms to fill out – but also committed helpers. Among them are many actors in the organic industry. After all, behaving with social responsibility is one of the basics in the organic sector. Examples from Germany reveal how you can become an active participant and what that can achieve in people's daily lives. 

The fact that people reacted spontaneously to the influx of refugees with a great wave of willingness to help is an abiding image from those early days. However, the people offering their help also had to learn when to pull back and also that perhaps not all kinds of help are welcome. You have only to imagine how much independence you would yourself be willing to give up, or how you would react if what you were given was different from what you considered to be urgently needed.

It's not easy to find the right balance and you are more likely to find that balance if there is learning on both sides. For example, while some people have never heard of separating waste for collection or saving energy (in any case, not something people fleeing think about), others have never eaten many a Syrian meal or don't know that Bambara is an African language. Enabling people to acquire language skills as the key to participation is an essential step towards making the world a better place.

Cultural encounter - BioCompany and i+m Naturkosmetik Berlin

In cooperation with the Berlin natural cosmetics manufacturer i+m, in the first half of 2016 BioCompany sold a limited production run of shower gel called “Let’s support Refugees”. The companies donated all the proceeds to the “Die Gärtnerei”, a remarkable refugee aid project in Berlin.

A horticulture enterprise with training facilities was set up on the disused site of the former Jerusalem cemetery in the Neukölln district of the capital – and in the meantime it has become a hub for intercultural activities. Volunteers and neighbours have become involved and they often cook food together with refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria. A number of the refugees already speak German so well that they give talks about their own countries or lay on music workshops for their neighbours. Operating according to the principle that it's better to be gardening than sitting around waiting, the initiative presents refugees with the opportunity to become involved in everyday life. The donated money has been used to pay for refugees to go to the doctor, to support them regarding legal issues and also to finance travel on public transport.

 Refugees and their hosts having fun at their autumn party

Photo: The helpers and refugees having fun at the autumn party. (Photos: Copyright holder Die Gärtnerei//schlesische27)

bio verlag – involving themselves as a matter of principle

As in the case of other companies in the organic industry, bio verlag regards regular support for social projects as a matter of course. The company's employees are particularly keen on regional projects  or involvement in their own locality in Aschaffenburg. When the refugees came bio verlag wanted to support them and their helpers. At the company's Christmas celebration they sold lottery tickets and the proceeds went to the project “Human dignity for refugees Aschaffenburg”. In addition, each department at bio verlag has a specific sum of money every year that it can donate – the editorial team and the graphics department of Schrot&Korn have, for example, pooled their funds and presented the money to the bicycle workshop GESTA e.V. in Aschaffenburg. In the workshop socially disadvantaged young people and young refugees repair donated bicycles that can then be used free of charge by any socially disadvantaged people and refugees.

Bicycles are being repaired

Photo: Bicycles being repaired in the bicycle workshop by socially disadvantaged young people and refugees.  Photos: © GSTA e.V.

Some bio verlag employees go further and  are involved in helping in a private capacity, an example being Michaela Kinz who works on encouraging landlords to rent accommodation to refugees. She also gets together with refugees over a cup of coffee – giving them an opportunity to make everyday use of the language they have just learned. A spin-off from this kind of activity: bio verlag gained a new colleague in its online section. Michaela's involvement led to a young female refugee from Afghanistan being given a traineeship. The young woman has  now been given a permanent contract and is also studying informatics part-time.

Bicycles for the refugees - importance of being mobile

Photo: The bicycles can be used free of charge by socially disadvantaged people and refugees.

World Gardens: the Naturland-certified farm “Hof Buchwald”

Proud of the result

After the rigours of fleeing from their country one of the biggest challenges the refugees and their helpers have to face is waiting for notification of decisions, authorisations or confirmations. This is why one or two farms had the idea of making parcels of land available to refugees to give them something to do and at the same time to enable them to keep and consume the fruits of their labour.

On Buchwaldfarm in Nidderau (Hesse) this great idea was called “World Gardens”. The model was the little green garden paradise that a former refugee created in the village. In practice, however, the farmers, the Vogel family, and the refugee helpers in the locality had to struggle to overcome many obstacles - including a typical problem for all aid projects: how do the refugees get from A to B (asylum seekers hostel to the farm)?  They haven't got money for tickets and the local authority can't, in most cases, cover the costs either – so some of them had to walk and others were given a lift by helpers.

The Vogels also created training places for refugees but it took time for all the formalities to be dealt with. Even when they had finally achieved what they intended and the refugees were standing there on the farm, they still had to contend with problems that nobody  expected, explained Otto Löber, who belongs to the “Friends of Buchwald Farm” and the Protestant churches' refugee aid organisation: “The hard physical work in the fields coincided precisely with  Ramadan.”

The refugees who eventually got on with the work in the gardens and on the Naturland-certified farm contributed a good deal of expertise, and some of them had worked at home on their own fruit plantations before the war. However, the soil conditions there were quite different and consequently the crops they grew were also quite different. But on a farm with a community of people often having to cope with issues they could not possibly have foreseen they always manage to find a way and a solution. In the meantime, the trainees have settled down and have even built a little structure: a stand for the roadside sale of eggs laid by the recently acquired hens. How did they achieve all this? “By everybody being willing to learn, plus a lot of patience and being open-minded.”

Photos: © Hof Buchwald


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