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A better way to regenerate a community

Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

September 5, 2017
5 min read

A permaculture workshop at the site. Photo: Eroles Project

I’m writing this as we prepare to start our first permaculture weekend with refugees and migrants just outside Granada, Spain. If it’s a success we’ll facilitate a permaculture design course over six months where participants will gain tools and a certificate that will enable them to get a job, or join our project. It’s one of many small steps towards our bigger vision.

Regeneration Project: Granada is made up of people from many countries and backgrounds who are working together to regenerate depopulated rural villages in the south of Spain, creating homes with and for a mix of migrant and local communities. Our hope is that we can develop diverse ecosystems and diverse communities, and more humane approaches to the resettlement of refugees. It’s a long-term project that aims to be positive, inspiring and replicable.

Zero waste

We have been drawing on permaculture principles as we develop the project – for example, applying ‘zero waste’ (valuing and making use of all resources) to people, as well as rubbish. In the future we want to grow organic crops by mixing traditional techniques with modern/renewable technologies. Before that, we hope to see local people, refugees and anyone who’s keen to move to the area setting up a network of small startups: a bakery, a vegetable box scheme, arts and cultural activities, creating viable, dignified and sustainable livelihoods.

To lay the foundations of the project, we have begun a careful process of participation and dialogue between local communities, refugees, businesses, NGOs and local government. This involves creating opportunities for people to listen to one another’s needs and move forward with an understanding of the collective and ideas from us all. Through an ongoing process of action reflection, responding to feedback and adapting as new situations arise, we hope we can develop an approach that can be replicated in other parts of the world, where the current system is overwhelmed.

I’ve been a part of Regeneration Project: Granada from the beginning. It began life during the Eroles Project’s ‘A Camp as if People Matter’ residency in August 2016. Over three weeks, working together in the hills of Spain, people with experience of migration and people who work with refugees and migrants shared perspectives on borders and belonging, and developed solutions. As has been well documented, refugees and migrants arriving in Europe are often penned into camps in inhumane conditions with few facilities. Even when people are granted leave to stay they are often isolated, placed in poor-quality housing without support networks or community. There has to be a better way.

Shared fight

I shared my knowledge of the migratory routes taken from my village in Gambia through northern Africa into Europe – a practice I have been actively working to reduce by promoting sustainable local employment in my area. I also shared our fight against degraded landscapes, anti-mining protests in November 2015 and writing letters to the former dictator president, demanding that he stop mining precious minerals in the coastal villages where I lived. In turn, I was very moved by a presentation from Safi and Habiba, now part of Regeneration Project: Granada, who shared their understanding of what’s happening in Syria. The bonds of radical friendship that grew between us during our time together are the foundations of the team’s spirit today.

When I left the Eroles project, I was excited about working to support the team from Gambia, and about sharing new tools and practices with my colleagues. However, just after I left I received an arrest warrant from the Gambian government for my environmental activism. After being warned not to return I needed to seek asylum. In an instant, I had become one of the people I thought I’d be working to support.

Now we’re looking at a number of villages near Granada where we hope to work with local people to bring them back to life. In one village, the former population of 3,000 has reduced to 50. By working together, not only can we create real homes for refugees and asylum seekers, we can bring life back to rural areas with local people.

The process has been tough, but my involvement in Regeneration Project: Granada means that I can actively build a future I want. I don’t feel dependent on the official system because I am part of an amazing support network, but I know that’s not true for most people in my situation. That’s why our project wants to co-create a new model of shared community. We can achieve so much if we work together to improve the quality of life of local people and newcomers, while also regenerating the landscape. We know it’s not going to be easy, but for me, it’s the only way forward.

Regeneration Project: Granada is looking for people from all walks of life to support, participate, partner and fund the project to enable it to create a new living model of community

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