Migrants suffer greatly from being uprooted and the ensuing physical and mental effects. Refugees are particularly badly affected by this. Many of them have no work permit and it is very hard for them to find a job. They live alone or with their families, isolated in their homes. They have no social network, which makes it harder for them to integrate into life in Switzerland. To counteract this, HEKS/EPER leases plots of land in family gardening communities, which it cultivates together with migrants.
Family gardens have a long tradition in Switzerland. They are not only an area for the production of vegetables, herbs and flowers, but also a place for social contact and structured leisure time. By working in the garden the immigrants are given a useful occupation, access to healthy exercise and support with social issues.
Before they fled their countries, working in gardens and fields was an everyday activity for many of the women. The project builds on their resources and their knowledge. The garden helps those involved, who were forced to leave much behind in their home countries, to feel the earth beneath their feet again. Whenever possible, German is spoken in the garden and, if required, the participants are assisted with organic gardening and composting at the same time. They complete any resulting work independently. There is a lively exchange about life in Switzerland and project workers ensure that information is passed on about opportunities for integration and legal and healthcare provision. The children of participants are welcome in the gardens, are included in the project and spend some of their leisure time playing outside.
All those taking part sign an agreement with HEKS for one season (March to October), undertaking to maintain their share of the garden at least once a week and to attend the garden workshops organised by HEKS. These are held weekly on all sites. The children are involved with the support of volunteers.
Every week, opportunities for exchange are also organised so that participants can bring up issues relating to everyday life in Switzerland. HEKS provides information on the provision of integration services and language resources in order to facilitate access to information and everyday communication.