Seeds of Hope in a Place of Desperation

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Vegetable garden in an Immigration Detention Center

For asylum seekers, living in an immigration detention center means spending their days anxiously facing uncertainties and boredom while awaiting a decision on their application for international protection. During these days of uncertainty a variety of activities aim to make this waiting period more meaningful. Some of the activities offered by JRS and IOM such as sports, English language courses, music lessons and swimming in a local pool have reduced detainees’ emotional tensions and reaffirmed their capabilities. Recently the detained asylum seekers started to fill the bleak detention center with plants.

“I do not want to just sleep and eat here. I need things to do to fill my time” said Mahmud (40), an Iranian asylum seekers who arrived in the detention center in January. As one of the most enthusiastic and active detainees, Mahmud has planted and cared for the plants in and around the detention center. “I will make the environment around the detention center a Janah (Paradise),” he said eagerly.

Detainees are increasingly excited joining the gardening activities. In some parts of the center the results are already starting to look encouraging. In one corner of the yard cucumbers, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes are starting to grow. Eggplants and tomatoes planted by a refugee from Myanmar in May is starting to bear fruits. Now the plants are looked after by other detainees as the first gardener was released into community accommodation. They diligently care for these plants, providing water and fertilizer and removing pests.

One time, when no fertilizer was available they eagerly started using organic waste to cultivate eggplant and tomato plants. A Sudanese asylum seeker who had just arrived at the detention center in April joined gardening straight away and was glad to help transform the gray yard into a garden.

The initial garden design was developed by Mahmud. He molded pots out of cement using plastic pipes to shape them. Now eight small circles forming a flower with eight petals are filled with various beautiful plants.

The detained men felt very happy when members of the Catholic Parish of Pasuruan visited them for a third time bringing 120 polybags of colorful ornamental plants. IOM also contributed several types of plants and flowers. In a few months the front yard and surrounding environment of the detention center will look like a garden as aspired by Mahmud.

Detainees, JRS and IOM facilitated this gardening together. While JRS is providing compost, plant seeds, bamboo planks, a hoe and watering cans, fertilizer and pesticides,  IOM is providing sand, cement, flower and plant seeds.

This gardening experience shows that when given the opportunity detainees will use their creativity, skill and craftsmanship that at the end benefits not only themselves but also others around them. Being able to form and shape ones surrounding making it more beautiful and useful is a longing of every human being. Being able to leave ones legacy in even such a desolate place like a detention center is empowering. To see things grow is a worthy alternative to just counting the endless days hoping for a safer and more dignified future.  The results of the detainees’ efforts are also appreciated by the staff of the immigration detention center.

“Gardening and planting is a good activity for the people detained here. The garden they made is pretty good too. Unfortunately there are not enough plants yet,” said the Head of the Immigration Detention Center. Other staff revealed similar views,”The garden and plants look good. I support gardening and planting activities because it reduces boredom and stress of the detainees here.”

“May the people detained here enjoy planting flowers and appreciate their beauty. Planting flowers can be a simple entertainment and recreation that provides irreplaceable satisfaction,” a visiting member of the local parish expressed hopes.***

Daryadi Achmadi

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