Gardening to serve Afghan Refugees: Austin, TX
Volunteers from the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Austin, TX have been helping Afghan refugees integrate and resettle in many different ways - providing groceries and household items, and help with job search and fluency in English. In addition, Sai Center members embarked on a unique project to help their refugee friends work towards food self-sufficiency - by creating a community garden to help them grow their own food.
The “seeds” were sown in 2021 – both literally and figuratively. Inspired by the movie “The Need to Grow”, which promoted food independence and soil preservation, a core team of Sai Center members had come together to build 11 vegetable gardens in their own homes, including a community garden in a school.
In 2022, they were presented with a golden opportunity to expand the gardening project to benefit Afghan refugees. The Executive Director of the Global Impact Initiative (an organization aimed at helping refugees resettle) heard about the gardening project and enthusiastically offered her own backyard to set up a garden for the Afghan refugees. Weeks in advance, center members began to grow vegetable saplings including beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and okra. Sai Spiritual Education class (SSE) children planted seeds in starter pods and watered them until small seedlings were sprouting, ready to be transplanted. The gardening project was carried out over three weekends in April 2022 by about 15 adults and 13 children. Tasks involved preparing the beds for transplanting the saplings, putting in the plants and building trellises to support them as they grew. The Afghan refugees joined in to regularly water and tend to the plants.
Reflecting on the impact of the gardening project on the Afghan refugees, Anjum Malik, Executive Director of the Global Impact Initiative said,
“The refugee women were very excited to get a garden where they could work to tend plants together and reap the harvest for their families and community. While gardening, they could talk, bond, and form new friendships. This was a way for them to feel like they could make a meaningful contribution to their homes and communities. In this way, this garden will play a role in helping them adjust as they plant the seeds of their new lives here in this country and grow roots for a strong community.”
One of the volunteers expressed her gratitude and said:
“We were one of the first few families to build a garden the year before. We had such a wonderful harvest all year! When I heard the group was setting up a garden for the Afghan refugees, I knew this was a wonderful opportunity to pay it forward. It was a fun, family-friendly activity to come together to plan and physically set up the garden.”