Deb volunteered with I AM YOU from December 2018 to January 2019 as an adult English teacher. She serves on the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers Advisory Board and observes people enjoying public garden spaces on a regular basis. Before Deb left Greece and returned to teaching her classes in San Francisco, USA, she wanted to share a short blog piece on the need for refugees to enhance their ‘homes’.
In a refugee camp residents here, as elsewhere, crave their own space. Like me, some people give up an amount of living space for a small garden. Watching plants thrive, flowers bloom, herbs and grasses reach for the sky, creating small moments of joy for us. They fill our life in tiny increments of sweet memories for which we can be grateful. How much more poignant to see gardens in a refugee camp in Greece. As a short term volunteer English teacher here on my winter break, I walk through the bleak white container shelters searching for indicators of emotional stability and health; a homemade bench from crates, an iron bed with a cat on top and puppies underneath, a laundry line weighed down by colorful children’s garments. Around one corner I spot a homemade garden. Cannas anticipate spring. Geraniums huddle against the frost in their pots. An agave stands guard. Bean runners left over from summer defy the chill. “I like your garden”, I say to the woman in the doorway. I point to her garden and she nods. She smiles to meet my own.
Ritsona, this holding area, as in so many in Greece is a no man’s land, a time warp, where plans for the future are uncertain. Hoping itself is painful and despair sets in. Just waiting for an interview from asylum services can shave a year from the residents’ lives, then a transition and hopefully life beyond this camp begins. Where, when, and how, all vocabulary words I teach my students in their level 1 English class, are unanswerable right now.
Living with uncertainty, a garden provides more than color, fragrance and edibles. It represents hope that the natural order of the world will resume, that children will stretch in their own beds and put on new shoes instead of cast offs. Unaccompanied minors will build a career and a family of their own. The rudimentary understanding of English for the digital world will be an asset even if resettlement in an English speaking country is unlikely. A garden, fifteen feet by eight feet, is both a consolation and a promise.
Written by I AM YOU volunteer Deborah and edited by I AM YOU staff member Nivine