I had a great opportunity to take part in an urban gardening project at a temporary housing unit for asylum seekers during my stay in Bremen, northern Germany, in 2015. In this blog, I reflect on my experiences as a volunteer but also on how these social gatherings improved the daily life of the asylum-seeking youth.
The aim of the urban garden project, ”Kulturgarten Abergen”, was to create a space where different actors from different cultures could meet. The objective was to create a space where every family could have their own small plot of land to cultivate but also where the residents of the refugee shelter and the local people could organise different activities and celebrations. The project was funded by the non-profit organisation Eko Stadt Bremen e.V and it was built with the help of the AWO Bremen Refugee Centre. The nearby refugee centre offered transitional residential accommodation (Übergangswohnheim) for families with a permission to stay in Germany, but who had not yet received permanent housing.
To my surprise, the project was especially favoured by the children, who participated playfully, if somewhat irregularly, in the gardening work. This meant that the function of the project changed during the process and it became a place for the children to play, bustle about and do things. For the children and the young people, it was important that the place was lively and exciting. Whenever there was an activity in the garden, children would join the work or just come to play there. Interestingly, the children did not seem to play in the garden if there was no one gardening at the same time. Most of the volunteers were young adults, which meant that it was a good place for the young residents of the shelter to make contact with local people. This was important because many of them lived in extreme uncertainty, making it challenging for them to create these contacts. Furthermore, adults were comfortable with leaving their children to play in the garden under the supervision of other trusted adults so that they could have their own time to take care of their daily errands.
Doing things together with adults helped asylum-seeking children and youth to overcome the difficulties they encountered in their daily lives filled with waiting and constant uncertainty. The various kinds of construction projects we had (e.g. building a warehouse or a yurt tent) and the different festivals and celebrations we organised certainly helped to improve the atmosphere in the refugee shelter. During my voluntary work, I really understood the meaning of being and hanging out together. I would argue that for refugee children and young people, spending time socially with different people is one of the most important things in making their daily lives more secure.
I noticed during my voluntary work that children and youth have many social skills and wish to actively participate in various activities. Doing things together offered them a short release from the harsh and burdensome period of their lives characterised by waiting, uncertainty and concern for the wellbeing of their family members. Supporting transcultural belonging and doing things together are important steps toward creating a more sustainable and secure environment on a daily basis for asylum-seeking children and youth. In addition to the carers, it is important to bring together another group of trusted adults that will spend time with the refugee children and youth and this way support their inner worlds and multiple agencies.