Tucked away on a sloping plot is a ‘secret garden’ bearing a colourful array of veg and wildflowers.
The attentive and patient gardeners responsible for establishing and nurturing the hidden oasis are the Burmese (Myanmar) Gardening Group – a group of families from refugee backgrounds who’ve found a way to pass on gardening skills and connect to traditions from home.
The very first Burmese family arrived here in the Illawarra in 2007. Now, there are 50 families who’ve resettled in the region. Many people in the Burmese Community are from refugee backgrounds, and have lived in refugee camps on the Thailand/Burma border for up to 22 years awaiting resettlement in a host country.
The land for the Burmese Community Garden is kindly arranged by St Therese Catholic Parish. Support for the project has been provided by Multicultural Communities Council of the Illawarra (MCCI) and SCARF.
The Burmese Community Garden project has been active for 4 to 5 months. Members from the Burmese community have been visiting the garden and ensuring that it continues to grow. Each family is allocated their own individual plot where they can grow and harvest any kind of vegetable they like. Francis, the garden’s passionate coordinator, is thankful for support of the project.
“It is free land for us and we are lucky to have that.” he said.
Families grow a colourful range of vegetables such as mustard, beans and pumpkins. The produce gets turned in to delicious meals and is mostly for family consumption. The Burmese community stay linked to their culture through harvesting produce from in the garden.
“It’s a Community Garden where vegetables such as Burmese pumpkins, all kinds of beans; long, short, green, mustard, different kinds of chilli’s, and cucumbers are grown.”
“I like to cook curry… Something like pumpkin and pork or beef and chilli. A lot of chilli.” Francis said.
“I must say every Burmese family has had support from SCARF, for many years. Without the support of SCARF, it is impossible for them because of the language barrier.”
“The tutoring helps the students a lot. It helps them catch up in their lessons because they come from a different education system. They have to struggle a lot, so tutoring helps…” Francis said.
Although, Francis feels strongly about potential literacy programs that could help young people learn Burmese languages. Living in Australia, many Burmese people of the younger generation speak only English so unfortunately, they forget their mother tongue.
“I want them to feel rooted in their own culture, to value their culture, so they can value the cultures of other people.” he said.
For the Burmese Community, growing and harvesting vegetables is a valued practice from home that’s important to maintain. The community garden is a special bridge of connection for the Burmese community to feel close to their traditions.
If you have garden space that needs some love, Francis has a solution. “I’m sure there are many people who have waste land or uncultivated land, so if people have these lands, we are willing to work on those farms, because most of our people are good at farming, especially in Wollongong or Illawarra region. So our people would love that. Not being able to farm is a waste of skill.” he said.
This community garden is a wonderful way for the Burmese community to share their skills and culture, which contributes to our rich and diverse community here in the Illawarra. We look forward to seeing the garden continue to flourish and provide plentiful bountiful veg for the community.
Photos: Sarah Pulling of Bear Hunt Photography
Refugee entrants have left family, friends and communities behind, and must re-build their social networks from scratch. This is a difficult and lonely task for anyone, but particularly so for refugee entrants in a new country where laguage, culture and customs are unfamiliar, and where discrimination is rife. This holiday season, you can help us to give a warm SCARF welcome and ongoing support to refugee entants facing loneliness and isolation.