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An Educational Community Garden for a Refugee Camp

To create an educational community garden, as a space where youth can learn about the environment and the community can come together.

Photo of Claudia Martinez Mansell
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Walk into Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp and you will be struck by a densely urban environment, but scattered around the walls of the camp are pictures and drawings remembering the traditional agricultural background of its residents. The population of the camp, originally from an agricultural environment, has increasingly grown detached from the land. The little remaining connection they have comes via their occasional work as day labourers in the lush fields around. Unemployment is around 60%. Limited investment has been made to improve conditions in the camp, and hardly any plants, whether for food or pleasure, are grown there. In addition, diets are worsening in the camp and cases of malnutrition have increased alarmingly. To add a further level of complexity, large numbers of refugees from Syria have now moved into Bourj Al Shamali. The arrival of these twice-over refugees has resulted in a deterioration of the already overcrowded living conditions. This idea envisages the creation of the first public green space in the refugee camp, and for this space to be an educational community garden where : (i) youth can learn about the environment, food and nutrition; and (ii) the older camp residents can teach the younger generations about traditional food and plants, as well as keep their rich agricultural background alive. In this way, the garden aims to be a space where residents will be able to foster friendships and build community.


Camp residents of all ages will be the beneficiaries, enjoying the space both physically but also conceptually as a way of keeping their cultural "roots" alive, as these are closely linked to a cherished view of the land. Cultivating the earth and using the land to provide food is deeply rooted in the notion of rootedness, and in ideas of home and belonging, of locality and identity; it also plays a crucial role in mitigating the social and environmental dangers of change and modernization.


Bourj Al Shamali was founded in 1948 as a temporary camp for Palestinian refugees but now it has taken on the air of an overcrowded and unplanned city. The dogma of its temporariness remains unquestioned even among its 3rd- and 4th-generation residents, who dream still of returning to their villages and farms. This insistence on the camp’s temporary nature, central to the status of a refugee, has for more than six decades yielded a long and persistent refusal to create any urban amenities in the camp and though the inhabitants of Bourj Al Shamali regard themselves as an agricultural people - as evidenced by the many painted murals in the camp - there are no public green spaces in the camp, nor do they plant crops that might supply some of the camp’s food needs and thereby sustain their traditional link to the land. Few plants are grown, even for pleasure, and the only green spaces are a few trees scattered in a sea of concrete, and the lush private fields around the camp where many camp residents work as seasonal workers.The feeling in the camp has long been that the planting of crops or trees, which literally involve the act of putting down roots, would seem to imply an acceptance of the camp’s permanence. Yet the tragic consequence of this is that the camp has become an unrelievedly dense, increasingly unlivable urban environment, while each successive generation of camp dwellers has had an ever weaker connection to the agricultural life that remains so centrally enshrined in the community's self-image. This urban environment is particularly vulnerable to climate change.


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


Claudia has been working at Bourj Al Shamali for many years, and together with Mahmoud Al Joumma “Abu Wassim”, Head of Al Houla association in the camp, are the motor behind this idea.


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