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Asylum Seekers Learn about Sustainable Food Systems in Denmark

by Maja Steensberg

Currently there are 65 refugee centers in Denmark. For many, the centers such as Avnstrup become their home for years as they wait for their asylum application to be processed. During this period there is a vital need to develop meaningful activities that can strengthen their abilities and open opportunities for whatever the future holds.

In October, 23 asylum seekers from 6 different countries embarked in the 6-week programme 'Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems' conducted by Gaia Education in collaboration with Chora Connection, Danish Red Cross and Gaia Trust. During the 6-weeks they co-created a learning community informed by new concepts of integrated sustainable living.

The first week introduced the social dimension of sustainable design, giving the participants tools and methods for building community, embracing diversity, inclusive decision-making, collaborative communication and conflict facilitation. A sense of community cohesion was created and many of the participants repeatedly expressed how they felt energized and empowered by being part of it.

The presence of interpreters gave the participants the opportunity to break barriers of communication and share between themselves. And it was not only during the training that the participants learned from each other, after a couple of weeks some of the women started to cook together and to share recipes.

The second week introduced participants to the economic dimension where they learned about socio-entrepreneurship, circular economy, resource mapping and cooperative business models as ways to strengthen livelihoods and local economies.

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A participant from Afghanistan said “There are so many good people with lots of experiences to learn from. We come from so many different countries and we have many different competences, which we can share with each other. It feels good when someone listen to you.”

The ecological design module was conducted outdoors where participants were introduced to permaculture principles and methods and together developed a diverse permaculture garden. Even though many of the participants had experience with small-scale farming and self-sufficiency, most of the methods introduced were unfamiliar but it soon became obvious how people enjoyed doing practical work together.

During the final week the participants presented their visions for 2030 based on UN 17 SDGs. In groups, the participants developed visions for their future local community and projected pathways on how to get there.

The final day was a special time of celebration as the participants received their completion certificates. For those who had not received any kind of teaching before, this was both a joyful and momentous occasion. And most important of all is now these asylum seekers reflect the potential for an integrated and sustainable future and as stated by a young Iranian woman: “We have learnt that we can be part of the change and therefore create positive changes in the world”.

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For more information, see here