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NFP launches community garden to help refugees grow own produce, encourage healing

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Friends of Refugees, an independent not-for-profit organisation creating a positive future for people seeking asylum and refugees in Australia, has announced the launch of its community garden project, “Growing Friends”.  

The Springvale garden is a space for refugees to grow their own produce, as well as providing an opportunity to socialise and learn more about fresh food. Friends of Refugees received just over $4,000 in seed funding from the Dandenong local council to help kick start the project.  

Friends of Refugees is developing the garden in response to the need for emergency food rising rapidly, with more families feeling the pinch of poverty. Foodbank reported 43% of all food insecure Australians are going a whole day without eating at least once a week, compared to 30% in 2019. Before the pandemic, Friends of Refugees were supporting 80 families a week.  

However, COVID-19 hit the refugee community hard, and during its peak, this number climbed to over 225 families. Many refugees don’t have access to CentreLink and some cannot work due to disability and mental health issues, meaning they completely rely on the goodwill of Australia to survive.  

A 2016 study, ‘Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis’ explored the results from 22 studies into the health effects of gardening. The findings suggest daily contact with nature has a deep and lasting impact on health, including on depression and anxiety. Many refugees and asylum seekers suffer from PTSD and/or are victims of domestic abuse. 

‘Growing Friends’ will provide an outdoor space for physical learning as a way to heal trauma and teach new skills. The food from ‘Growing Friends’ will be shared amongst the growers during fortnightly food swap meets, with friends from the wider community also welcomed. The meets will also serve as conversational english classes.  

Sri Samy, Founder and CEO of Friends of Refugees commented: “We are working with people who are ‘long term disadvantaged’ due to their age, lack of English and job skills, mental and physical health issues and are unable to find work in the mainstream community. It is important that we are able to help these people to achieve a level of self-sufficiency so they do not have to rely on charities to live their day to day life. That’s where the idea of providing a space to grow their own produce came from. 

“From my experience, people who are seeking asylum just want to be safe and live a normal life just like us. But our government’s arbitrary stance is making it very hard for them to settle in and go on with their lives due to the uncertainty of their visas. Most of the people seeking asylum settle in and contribute back to the community and are very valuable members of our society.” 

The launch of the garden on June 20th coincides with World Refugee Day. The community garden and swap meets are open to any refugee or asylum seeker. Anyone interested in joining the program can sign up at the Friends of Refugees drop-in centre in Springvale. 

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