While We Wait for Asylum

For many fugitives, education is a key factor for the integration into the recipient country’s society as well as re-integration in their home countries. Chora Connection has collaborated with Red Cross and Gaia Education to educate 39 asylum seekers in sustainability and organic food production. The initiative is called S.E.E.S., and is both a prototype for a fugitive education effort, as well as an answer to two of today’s biggest challenges: the fugitive crisis and the environmental crisis.

By Maja Steensberg
Sustainable Education for Fugitives
We live in a time of several concurrent crises, environmental, social and economic amongst others. On of the biggest consequences of this is the current fugitive crisis. The UN has assessed that more than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes and that climate change and its connected conflicts will displace even more people in the future. A fact that emphazises the connected nature of the current crises and the need for integrated solutions. While the current fugitive dilemma can be seen as an isolated social challenge, it can also be viewed as part of the larger movement towards sustainable development.

In 2016, Chora Connection initiated a collaboration with Red Cross and Gaia Education to produce a six-week educational program on sustainability and organic food systems, for adult asylum seekers. The goal of the project was to provide the participants with the knowledge and skills to take an active part in the transition to a sustainable society. The intention behind this was to provide the participants with better options for meaningful activities and to improve their chance of integration in Danish society or re-integration in their home countries. Through two separate courses, 39 asylum seekers have now received the S.E.E.S education.

New Knowledge and New Skills
The education introduced methods for community building, circular economy, food production based on permaculture principles, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and more. For many of the participants, it was the first time they ever received any education, and for even more of them, it was the first time they heard about climate change and sustainability as a concept. The six weeks of education was therefore eye opening and inspiring in several ways, for both of the asylum seeker classes.

Besides teaching new skills and knowledge related to sustainability, it was also an important part of the education to make every participant aware of their own resources. Both elements helped to frame the participants’ experience in farming and self sufficiency with renewed relevance, which in turn provided several of them with self-confidence and new understanding of their own skills.

Practical Gardening
The S.E.E.S. education combined theory with hands-on, outdoor work in the asylum center’s garden. Both teams participated in the creation of a permaculture garden. In this garden there is a small forest garden, compost, herb spiral, raised beds and greenhouse, all of which can be used by the center’s residents. The hands-on activities helped to demonstrate cultivation methods, but also had a tangible positive impact on the participants’ well-being and motivation.

For many of the participants, it was obviously the outdoor activities that was the more appealing. It was clear how working in nature and it being familiar from home, helped divert their thoughts from their struggles and provide a new outlook and optimism.

New Relations and New Networks
The education not only provided new knowledge, but also the opportunity to form new friendships across cultures. The feeling of being part of a community had a very positive effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of the participants. Many participants expressed renewed energy and self-confidence as a result of the community. The social context was of particular importance when it came to the participants’ ability to absorb new knowledge and skills.
As part of the education, the participants has also had opportunities to meet people, groups and networks in Denmark and has been introduced to inspiring sustainability concepts from other countries.

Visions of a Sustainable Future
The education process also featured various exercises that would encourage the participants to create visions of the future and consider how they as individuals or as part of a group, could help contribute to a sustainable transition. Several participants expressed their desire to work with organic farming, sale of organic products or with teaching in the field – in Denmark if at all possible.

Among the participants there was a clear recognition of the potential hurdles they would have to overcome. Several of them expressed the need for further education, Danish language skills, financial support and most importantly: people to cooperate with.

Education of fugitives have recently been made one of the largest focus areas in the European training and education fields. SEES is an example of a holistic education effort that is based on a person’s situation and resources, while also aiming at long-term, sustainable development. Hopefully, initiatives like this can serve as inspiration for others that work on education efforts for fugitives.

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