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Realizing Eden: The Garden Project

Closing the border due to the pandemic worsened the hunger and fear of starvation in our already struggling refugee camp. One sustainable solution has been under our nose the entire time.

“The L-rd God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the L-rd God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden“. Genesis 2: 8-10.

During these years as one privileged to “do life“ in this region of Northern Iraq, I live in continual awareness of my close physical proximity to regions such as Eden, Babel,Nineveh, and the River Tigris where Ezekiel sat amongst the Hebrew refugees. On more than one occasion I have found myself wondering, exactly where Eden was, and where the very garden east in Eden itself was? I have found a longing, almost an unexplained nostalgia as if something oh so very known and familiar, some place invisible, is actually so very close.

Green Inspiration - An example community garden in the US

As we built our gardens inside The Hope Centre the thought of the garden eastward in Eden was continually in my mind, how the man was placed in there “to tend it and keep it“. How the “voice of God “ was in the garden, and of the tragic day when the man and woman were driven out of the garden of Eden and cherubim was placed at the “east of the garden of Eden“. The point of no return.

Inside our blue gates we planted figs, grapes, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, dates, mulberries, strawberries ,raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions. As if in Eden, they grow, they flourish and are rich in quality and quantity. We have been able to feed our students, and our rabbits with great success. We have never suffered lack or blight or any form of pestilence apart from the rabbits eating our chosen strawberries and grapes. Many of our students love the job of watering the plants, some quietly slip in to pick and nibble. Watching our gardens grow and mature has left me with a desire for more land, one of those unspoken “what ifs“ that has been brooding slowly for a couple of years now. What If we could grow enough food for our students to take home. What if we could provide for the widows in the camp. What if we could feed the camp in times of crisis? What if?

Soil delivery for the garden at Shariya Camp

COVID 19 has brought the issue of food supply sharply into our focus. Travel within provinces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been off limits since early March 2020. One simply can not travel between provinces. We are hemmed in and restricted. Borders have been closed, the border between Turkey and Kurdistan, Syria and Iran, all closed which shuts down the vast majority of the import of food supplies, including “somewhat fresh” vegetables and fruit, vital for good diet and the health and strengthening of the immune system. Some of our provinces are currently in a place of severe conflict with neighbouring countries, making travel, even if it were to become permissible, totally undesirable.

This pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of our regional systems to this global shock. Supply chains, workers, transport, all have been badly affected by this ongoing crisis that appears to be with us, or us with it, for the foreseeable future. Lack of food security has opened not so old wounds within both the Yezidi and Syrian refugee communities, running for one’s life, with no food supply. Nearly every refugee has witnessed family and friends die of starvation and dehydration as they fled both Iraq and Syria. Lack of food is a very present fear.

Taking measurements for the new garden

We have found ourselves in many new and unexpected situations these past months, namely becoming a source of food and provisions to our local community, whether our students, police or municipal workers. Whilst we were able to bulk buy the basic canned and dried goods, access to vegetables and fruit was exceptionally hard to come by, quality being less than satisfactory when attained. The faces of our families, the widows and disabled when they heard our vehicle approaching is something we will never forget. “We were out of food and were praying that you would come. We knew you would”.

During the onset of this period of COVID 19, my thoughts returned to the one remaining chunk of land adjacent to our playground. A 60 metres by 40 metres unused plot, bordered on one side by ourselves, by the camp market on the other, and with open space leading to the adjacent Shariya Village. We need that land. It has our name written on it. That land holds the potential to be a weapon against hunger and fear of lack. It holds an opportunity to strengthen mental and physical health and resilience in times of prolonged stress and anxiety. That land could change the course of the crisis for our community.