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They’re meeting at Morningside Urban Market Garden (MUMG), which has undergone a transformation from disused sports club to a busy workspace and classroom, featuring beds of vegetables and flowers in upcycled apple crates, a tunnel house, and watering and composting systems.
The task today is plant propagation and the women have brought in seeds from their home countries in Africa and the Middle East, eager to see how they’ll grow in New Zealand conditions.
There’s a real sense of friendship between the women and their host, Jason Dodunski from Growspace, one of six agencies, including New Zealand Red Cross, which are behind this exciting project.
The women grow microgreens and edible flowers for local cafés. One of Jason’s goals is that through gaining a mix of gardening and business skills, they’ll be able to create their own social enterprises.
"Ideally from a MUMG perspective we would love for these women to go on and create their own microenterprises in their neighbourhoods and communities," explains Jason.
“My patch in Uganda was a big patch, much bigger than this, and we would plant everything.”
With her radiant smile and softly spoken voice, there’s a calmness about Kabonye that belies her journey with nine children through conflict zones and refugee camps.
"I am happy now because my children go to school. New Zealand is very nice, says Kabonye.
Another attendee, Therese Uwiteguye, works as a Red Cross support worker in Auckland. Her first experience as a gardener was at boarding school in Rwanda, which triggered a love for fresh food and a desire to provide healthy meals for her family.
“I like to come here to socialise, because I work part-time. I’m a support worker and Monday I’m off so I come here to help. It’s nice sharing our different cultures,” says Therese.
She says gardens in New Zealand are different from Rwanda, where everything was planted directly in the ground.
“Here we put the seeds in a container first, and today we are making worm tea that we feed to the plants. One thing about this place is that it’s taught me how to manage a small garden,” explains Therese.
Hasina Dilawari and her husband were medical doctors in Afghanistan, living in Ghazni Province on a small farm where they grew roses, fruit trees, mandarins, lemons and bitter oranges – all varieties that could withstand the harsh winters.
The couple has lived here with their children for four years now, after spending a year and a half in a refugee camp in Pakistan.
Hasina says Red Cross helped her adapt to New Zealand, particularly at first when she could barely speak English, and she’s remained close friends with her Red Cross refugee support volunteer.
“I now have a small garden with herbs, tomatoes, spring onions and garlic, and now I have flowers. I like my house more now because I have my garden again,” explains Hasina.
Hasina’s now interested in starting her own gardening business.
Community gardens are becoming more common in Auckland, with limitations on space and sustainability being big factors in a current trend growing towards organic gardening.
The health benefits and social connections are also significant, particularly considering the traumatic journey to safety some of the women have faced.
The MUMG project is supported by Growspace, New Zealand Red Cross, Positive Women, Belong Aotearoa, Catalyse and Crave and Kind Cafés.