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Photostory : Flourishing gardens for South Sudan’s refugees

05 February 2020

The typical image of a refugee camp doesn’t usually consist of flourishing green gardens, abundant with crops. Yet here in Palabek refugee camp, an innovative permagarden project is providing hope for refugees who have fled from South Sudan’s harrowing conflict.

Lakot Linda in her thriving permagarden outside of her hut with two of her grandchildren. Photo : Sarah Fretwell.

Each and every day, almost 40,000 people are forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution. Worldwide, over 70 million people have been forcibly displaced. 4 million of these people are from South Sudan alone, which has suffered from civil war and conflict.

Many families arrive at refugee camps, like Palabek in Northern Uganda, having lost everything, carrying just the clothes they wear. No one wishes for a life living in basic tents, with no source of income, and dependent on aid to survive.

Yet in one corner of the vast Palabek refugee camp, some of the families are beginning to start again, with thriving gardens. This area of the camp is lush with green trees, deep red soil, and abundant signs of greenery. Thanks to a permagarden project, vegetable gardens are growing on almost every spare square inch of land available.

Agusti (33 years old) arrived in Palabek camp in 2017 with seven members in his family after fleeing the war in South Sudan. Agusti is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the project. Not only does his garden thrive, he has opened two other businesses, bought a goat, and has managed to increase his income by approximately 150%. Photo : Sarah Fretwell

How has this been achieved? Trócaire has supported the local organisation, African Women Rising, to equip the refugee families with the skills to grow these permagardens. They learn vital skills to grow nourishing crops, in an eco-friendly and efficient way, that will boost their resilience and make themselves self-reliant.

Lakot Linda outside of her hut with two of her grandchildren. Photo : Sarah Fretwell.

Lakot Linda is an example of a refugee who now has a flourishing garden. She is a single grandmother in her 60’s, who cares for her 4 grandchildren. Their mother died and they have not located their father since fleeing South Sudan. Sitting outside of her mud hut she recounts how only living on beans her eyesight began to become cloudy.

Once she learned the skills to build the garden they had greens within a few weeks. Now that they have vegetables consistently they all have increased energy. She noted that their eyes are not cloudy anymore and they can focus.  Proud that she can now provide for the children she says, “If I die tomorrow at least I left them a garden they can eat from.”

Yaka Lucia, her baby Rosa, at their flourishing permagarden. Photo : Sarah Fretwell

After her husband was killed during fighting in South Sudan, Yaka Lucia walked - while two months pregnant, and with nothing but her three children - to the border of Uganda. She was brought to Palabek refugee camp, and seven months later she delivered her baby girl Rosa in her mud hut with the help of two women she had just met.

Before Yaka Lucia planted her garden, they were living only on maize, soya porridge and beans. Living on these basic food rations, her breast milk dried up and she was unable to feed her baby. Thanks to her permagarden she is now able to feed her children for the entire month and her breastmilk has returned. After enduring such loss and hardship, she now has some hope again for the future.

How do the Permagardens work?

The key to the project’s success is teaching people how to evaluate and revalue their local resources, build and nourish the soil and harvest water, ultimately making their garden ecosystem stronger as it matures.

So how do you do this with no money?  Walking through each refugee’s plot, families learn that they have a great variety of useful and free waste resources around them – charcoal dust, dried manure, fallen leaves and nutrition for the soil in the rubbish pits and bush all around them.  Participants ‘walk the water,’ coming to understand the flow of rainwater across their land as they learn key principles in how to manage it to their benefit.

Dishwashing stand next to permagarden to utilise water runoff. Photo : Thomas Cole

African Women Rising teach them skills to evaluate the natural landscape and to create a garden that will work best with the resources they have. They learn how to harvest valuable water in the soil for their trees and gardens just as they use the same skills to divert water from flooding their small homes.

Combined with participant’s local knowledge of the land and plants, their permagardens are now abundant with nourishment. 

  • After 3 days : refugee families are empowered with new skills and are given seeds to help start their garden
  • After 2 weeks : they can begin to harvest their first greens
  • Within 2 months : they can provide their families with nourishing vegetables
  • Within 6 months : they can sell vegetables for money, and use this to go to the doctor, and start other small businesses and save money.

Permagarden participants burst into spontaneous dance and song to show their appreciation for the Permagarden project. Photo : Sarah Fretwell

Thank you for your continued support to Trócaire over the last year. Without you we wouldn’t be able to continue to support inspiring and life-changing projects like this one and many more in over 20 countries around the world.