Rowe Morrow – Permaculture for Refugees

Rowe challenges Permaculture Teachers to think globally thanks to her work with refugees in Bangladesh, Greece, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and more.

Interview with Rowe Morrow – Patron of Permafund

Global Thinking Learned From Refugees

Rosemary tells us “I could see how very Western, middle-class permaculture was, where, in those countries people might say air pollution is easy to fix – just don’t drive cars. But my mind is global now and considers whether such statements are true across the world. My mind is less western. I’ll say, “Well, no, air pollution is not easy to solve for a refugees in Sri Lanka, in Dhaka in Bangladesh, or in Afghanistan. Because all you have there to burn may be plastic bags, to keep warm, or to cook your food. The air pollution from plastic is and poor quality coke is dangerous. Unknowable numbers of people die of air pollution every year. Don’t accept the western response to a problem as global. Certainly don’t teach it as if it is. Western solutions are not always valuable globally”

Evolving from individuality

There are a couple of big contrasts for me. One is the language of individuality which runs through all western speech such as, “My garden, My fruit trees, My place, My chickens, My everything!” Yet most of the people I work with speak of “Our community, Our chickens, Our fruit trees. They’re not consciously ‘eco-villagers’ but they think of themselves with others. And, when you’re living in Afghanistan you live in a compound with either your husband, your children, your brothers and sisters and their children. There can be 20 people sharing a bathroom and toilet. And they speak of We. The extreme individuality of westerners doesn’t help permaculture. It is very possessive.

Rowe Morrow – Photo Supplied

Individuality’ affects the Permaculture curriculum

I have changed my teaching methods. Yes, you still design your place and that’s yours, but you also need to work with your street and neighbourhood. It may be street trees, it might be verge gardens. It could be growing food for surplus and sharing so people can pick apples or oranges freely. In my case it’s kiwi fruit. You think of how your abundance can serve your local community. Move from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

‘This is the space this young participant had. She is using the family’s grey water.’ Rowe Morrow

The Third Ethic of permaculture – Fair Share

And another thing is the way people I’ve been working with for the past decade or so, are working naturally and extensively with the third ethic of permaculture and the gift economy than westerners do. There isn’t so much talk about money. People would like to have money and better incomes but much of the conversation is about giving and lending, swapping and working together.

Starting a garden in Lavrio Refugee camp

Refugee Ecosystem Thinking

The third ethic, distribute surplus to need, as it is written into permaculture, is derived from ecosystem structures. Create no pollution with your surplus. Use everything completely and pass on what you’re not using – that’s your surplus to need. Westerners want to grow an individual garden, retrofit a house or farm. They struggle more with the Third Ethic. We need  to create the conditions under which people can flourish and you can do this  living the Third Ethic. 

Food grown and homes cooled in Bangladesh

No More ‘Sages’

Originally I came up with some very chalk talk ‘Sage on the stage style of teaching’ which I felt was directly opposed to care of people. Teaching is often seen as “I’ve got the knowledge!” I think teaching, which behaves as if there’s care of people, would listen to what they know, what they want to offer and what their queries are.

Discovering contours and how to work with them. Refugee camp
Discovering contours

But these learner centred methods give much more noisy, discussing, interactive classroom. And really, if you are teaching because you want people to look at you, listen to you, or you regard yourself as the source of all knowledge, then you’re not taking care of people. It’s not respectful to just deliver content as if people did not arrive with knowledge and experience. Bored students are sending you the message,  ‘I know, I know’.’

Refugee Women studying plants and seeds
Kahrl – Plant study Syrian women refugees Turkey

Be Respectful, Keen and Deliver Quality Content

Another reason is to change my teaching process was about the quality of knowledge….We have a wonderful curriculum which doesn’t need much alteration. We can add up to date research. Be very, very keen, moral and accurate about content which further confirms permaculture and is growing in depth and, breadth. Deliver quality courses. This is true for everyone, not just for refugees but especially for them. However you need the process we’ve been talking about. – processes of teaching which demonstrates care of people and ensures that everyone  has an opportunity to learn, does learn and and can express themselves. It’s harder than chalk-and-talk, but once you get  good at it, it comes quickly and is deeply satisfying. The process I use comes from a  ‘create peace background’ called Alternatives to Violence (AVP).

Lesvos Refugee camp participants discuss hopes and expectations
‘This participant taught many others’ Rower Morrow

How do you get to help Refugees?

I’m invited and hosted  by NGOs (non-government organisations). You can’t turn up at the gates of a refugee camp say “Hey, here I am, I’ve come to teach you permaculture and I’ve got all this good stuff for you and you need me!’. Realistically, there’s a whole process to go through. We have just finished a book called Teaching Permaculture in Refugee camps and it sets out what you need to do to follow this vocation.

‘Using whatever is at hand’ Rowe Morrow

Multipurpose for each visit

I work out multiple tasks for each visit. I never go and return with one objective. So, I look at other projects. I spend time with the host community, offering seminars with local permaculture groups and looking at new projects.

Refugee Camp Conditions

Plastic rubbish on the ground
Gardens made out of rubbish including old shoes

The conditions are often hard. The food can get to the point when you look at yellow dall heavily laced with chili in week five and think ‘I can’t eat this anymore.’ But you serve yourself some because you’ve got a big session coming up. You can’t afford to be hungry and lightheaded. Someone has prepared the food and others would be grateful for it. You may share a room at night with as many as six others and there can be whining mosquitoes, barking dogs, there are mice in your luggage and other mysterious noises. I’ve had rats run over my mosquito net, and a huge cockroach inside it.

making models in Lesvos Refugee Camp

Challenges working with refugees – Put your needs aside

We ran into a two week long missionary program in Cox’s Bazar. This Islamic program was presented on public loudspeakers. They broadcast loudly all day, and all night. from slightly out-of-sync speakers in the five neighbouring mosques beginning at 3.45 am. You wake up – reach for your ear plugs and mutter “Oh no, I need my sleep!” Well it doesn’t matter what you need – you will still do a full day’s work to the best of your ability and without complaint.

lunchtime line-up in Lesvos Refugee camp

A Secret to a Meaningful Teaching Projects – include NGO Staff

One secret to a really good project is that your host wants you because they know permaculture will significantly give better quality lives. Always include NGO staff as course participants because when the course finishes they will write project proposals to continue permaculture. They know what they need and want and can usually get resources.

Rowe in Turkey with Syrian women PDC graduates

Include Local Inhabitants with Refugee Participants

Include local inhabitants because, as it happened in Greece, the Moria refugee camp. The camp was burnt down. And then the day centre was burnt down. People were walking around Lesvos without food, papers and records and then a group of Nazi Greeks started bashing people. The local residents who had been in the refugee classes set up centres for them. They found a couple of acres of land where people could live safely and grow food and learn how to develop incomes.

https://www.permacultureforrefugees.org/resources/publications/
https://www.permacultureforrefugees.org/resources/publications/

Support Local Leaders

When covid came to the camps, local people were those who took over because the NGO staff left. To maintain the project needs local components to continue. When I come home we include those NGO leaders into the Permaculture for the Refugees group and we continue talking and mentoring. We have left  them two thousand dollars each course and ask them write a permaculture project proposals saying ” Here’s the money, write up a project you really need here: the project you want. Send us photographs and a few words as a report over the next two years.”

Working and understanding in Lesvos

Bright Futures for Refugees

Nearly two years later in Bangladesh they’re implementing big permaculture projects. They’ve multiplied and multiplied. Permaculture is everywhere in some camps.  This way of working is important to embed permaculture in the NGO. And in the country.  Yes, you can tell people to set up a garden and so on. But, it wont endure unless you’ve included local people, taught the NGO staff. And, left some funds and left permaculture in/with the people in the country who will take it over and scale it up.

We’d like to see all NGO organisations who work with refugees make permaculture training compulsory for their staff. We believe we’d see a real change in lives, incomes, satisfaction and even joy, by all who were engaged in social and environmental transformation of refugee lives and camps.”

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Gift Economy Surprises

Giving can break expectations and enrich relationships. But best of all, the gift economy has the power to manifest system change.

Our presentation tackles the issues surrounding the art of giving.

Giving is system changing because it provides an opportunity to break expectations. Here is the chance to go above and beyond.

Gift Economy Unwraps a Fair Share

One of the principles of permaculture is to share surplus and distribute a fairer share of resources. The gift economy and volunteering are easy ways to give away surplus good and services. It is also a way to show support of others. Being supportive is an undervalued style of giving. By being kind and supportive you won’t get famous. But, help is delivered quickly when and where it is needed.

spoof on superman
Supporting others is a valuable gift

Traditional Gift Economies

Gift giving is a huge part of many cultures and economies. For instance, in Japan it is customary to give a gift to say you are sorry. Or to say welcome or thank you. In fact, it is traditional in Japan to remember the trading of gifts and services. A formal register often records who owes whom. And this register between families and neighbours is often kept for centuries.

In Australia, it is common to give money for a major event like a wedding or to use their bridal registry. But this monetary gift doesn’t explore our relationship with the receiver. In nearly all traditional giving situations we can’t give too much (for fear of making the receiver feel obligated). And we can’t give too little (for fear of looking mean).

But we can be assured that nearly everyone enjoys colourful memories and hearty food.

scratching a back – the gift economy

Gift Economy versus Monetary Economy

The gift economy uses gift giving and services instead of money. Terry Leahy talks about the gift economy as a pathway out of capitalism. So, let’s tackle the elephant in the room -money. Money separates us from our work. And this is evident when we’re buying something. We rarely ever ask “who made this?” Or “Who mined the materials?” Or, “who invented the software?” Yet marketers know that buyers care a lot about who branded the item.

Advertisers know that the look of the product creates an emotional response. And this response overrides many other factors such as the durability efficiency and price. And in all honesty, a car that ‘travels faster than human reaction time’ is not only unsustainable [because it is more likely to crash], it’s lethal. Although it runs on more environmental energy, the real environmental question is “can it sustain itself and sustain life?”

Forest of Tranquility

Money Disregards Environmental Justice

The monetary economy deals poorly with environmental Injustice issues. Yes, we have compensation and legal systems to repay losses. But the monetary system can’t afford to factor in these costs up front, before they happen. And there are a few companies who willingly incorporate environmental and safety quality systems. Only regulation and legal structures encourage us to buy from environmentally responsible quality manufacturers?

Greed is Not the Evil. The Problem is the System Without Ethics

The monetary market requires that companies buy goods cheaply and sell them at a higher price. Terry says “Greed is not the evil here”. Instead, the system is the problem because the monetary system sustains only companies with highest profits it weeds out those who can’t compete. At an individual level we can be ethical in our choices. This makes a difference if we buy direct from the producer because especially when we give feedback. But, as Terry Leahy points out, big companies that make decisions based on ethics, completely destabilise the monetary market.

Make time to serve who we love, not just who we have to - find your place in the gift economy
Make time to serve who we love, not just who we have to – find your place in the gift economy

Hidden Economic Power of Volunteers in Gift Economy

Carers and rescue teams who provide safety nets are nearly all volunteers. The vast collective of volunteers are integral to our recovery and resilience. One in three people in Australia volunteer their time. This is a huge contribution to our economy. Especially through increasing climate change disasters.

Give a Little or a Lot

In the gift economy you can produce as much as you like. There’s no motive to produce unnecessary stuff. And prestige comes from producing stuff that doesn’t damage the environment. Studies by social ecologists such as Terry Leahy revealed two-track thinking. 50 percent of people want a system change like a regulated green economy but only 15 of those people actually vote for it. Because, in the second track of our thinking we’re worrying about jobs, safety comfort and perhaps, even a luxurious retirement or staying in what we see as our normal life even though the planet is not capable of sustaining the normal.

education and child-care, valuable part of the gift economy
finding the wonder of worms

Dive In

Fortunately, the gift economy is the easiest economy to dip your toes into. If you want to have a go at making a change, this is easy. And it’s not going to cost you the earth. Look around and see what you can make, share or give away. And volunteer your time. In 1916, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote about Paying it Forward in her book called In the Garden of Delight . This means, instead of paying somebody back, you give something forward. So when you’re giving gifts of kindness and distributing your wealth on a regular basis you are enriching the world acts of kindness every day.

Farming For Her Community

Building community helps farmers. Direct marketing enables the farm to increase diversity and build a fairer income. Flavia Assuncao of  GrowingRootsPermaculture talks about her personal experience in farming and direct marketing.

“Some plants are very important for diversity but people don’t know how to cook” the harvests that Flavia and Bunya grow. But now, they have a whole community of supporters. Flavia says the close contact with customers encourages them to keeping farming. Customers take food to share with their whole family. I guess the main issue is like – sometimes I even cry because they say ‘this food is lifting my soul – or like, when I eat this food I have to the energy to concentrate. it is all an important part of their culture.’

Growing Support for Healthy Farming Practices

Flavia says “for me is what’s keeping me going”. Everytime when Flavia feels like – ‘argh! its too hard’ – she gets a message that someone coming! “Really the Islanders spirit (vibe) is, you know for them – life is beautiful and everything is okay and if they have it fully they are ahead and normally the bunch is when we sell you know commercial bunch is gonna be little. But I always make sure that I make it for them, Islander style.

I always say to them so they come they get so happy because normally for them food is to share. so you know i always make sure of that and they bring drink and food for us too. When we always get food from them when they come, they bring trays of pumpkin, taro and sweetcorn. “

Two-way exchange

“We learned so much well. We had some guys coming from Fiji /Sydney (750kms), do you know? So we were harvesting cassava and they were telling us: ‘Look, you can plant it like this…’ and so we get the perspective from so many different cultures as well and we learn. and it is so good and this is something that really brings me life,  because I am not from Australia as well, and once I had cassava and all these bananas to eat, I could see that I was really grounded here. Because it really is part of who I am. “

Mixed farming in Food Forest

Customers also show Flavia how to grow a mix of forest and have the animals together in the shade.

“They come here and tell me: ‘This is like Bali!’ (their home)! Where they grow forest,  they grow food,  and they have the animals together. They cook under the shade, together with the trees,  there’s no separation.  They are part (of the Ecosystem),  they live in spaces like this on their islands,  so  it’s so good to see how much inspired (encouragement) they get when they come in here,  and they feel home, this place feels like home for them.  it is very familiar landscape with bananas,  and they use the leaves from papaya, the leaves from cassava,  because on their island theirs resources are a bit short,  so they use so many different parts of plants,  bananas flowers, parts of the banana, they use everything to cook,

So we are learning so much of having all these cultures around us and  this connection  is actually really inspiring and rewarding, because they allow us to grow with  diversity.  and having different plants we have  different “tastes”  for everyone, and  they cannot find this food on the supermarket,  like pumpkin tips (shoots) , chokos tips (shoots) they cannot go to the supermarket to find that.. When they get here , they say: “Do you have taroooo!!! Betel leaf!!! I had a lady that bought  a whole box with betel leaf and while her daughter  was talking to me,  she started to eat in the car everything that had in their box. Because this food is part of who they are, and they miss they food.

Having all this culture around us that this meeting is actually really inspiring and rewarding.

Bunya and Flavia use clever food forest disruption to boost production.

Growing Diversity

I started selling only chillies, but now we have more them 20 produces in our list to sell every week, . It was a very slowly process, but  what we are building with the community is so strong,  that keep us growing (going for longer) as well.

The Value of Feeling Supported

Farming can be lonely but Flavia says “For us, this work is not about make a lot of money, in short time, It is more about building community, and empower people to grow their food., outside of our garden as well.  We also sell plant propagation  and we teach people and empower them to grow food in their backyard,   for example when we sell the Aibika, we always tell them to plant the sticks in their home garden. Our garden keep growing outside of “The farm “.

Flavia smiles “it’s working so well”

Support GrowingRootsPermaculture. Join their upcoming living agroforestry course.

How to Be Merry, Generous and Giving to the Planet

Giving is an act of generosity and an opportunity to choose something good for the environment and to build a cleaner future. To give a present creates a physical reminder of the social connection. Whereas to give an experience, builds memories together.

Giving doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, the gift can be good for the environment. Giving can be joyous and an act to build a better culture.

Instrument craftsman in Peru playing wooden flute
Locally handcrafted gifts give three-ways
They give joy to 1. your loved one 2. to your Environment and 3. to the artist and their economy.

Make It Personal

Giving a gift has the power to tell someone “I value you and I know what you like”. The purpose of giving is to enrich the bond. In truth, giving is not so much about the value of the gift. It is more likely that the gift expresses how much you value the relationship. How can we give a gift that reflects what we know they like and not put demands on the planet? One of the safest bets is a paper book about their favourite topic. Ultimately, presents such as books are often reused and in their final stage, they will decompose.

Sustainable Gifts

Recycled Birdcage with a wicking garden
Our Recycled Birdcage with Garden
  • preloved fossils connect us with the environment and they reminds us of our place in time. We can give these as a gift or give the experience of a trip to your local museum together.
  • Valuable antiques preserve and honour of the craftmanship. These items will be loved again and again. Antiques are both valuable and durable. They have character and are rare. Even more so, they can an intriguing life-story and the recipient becomes part of the next chapter of the story. There are many amazing pieces of history that need a good home, to be dusted, polished, and treasured again. We don’t need to buy anything new when there is so much stuff from the past crying for understanding and care.
Fossils are treasures
  • Handmade jewellery. For example, Columbia girl makes jewellery is from dried fruits and fruit peel.
  • Handbag or shoe decorations or tags made from nature
  • Bookmarks or spectacle holders made from a recycled necklace

Memorable Experiences

  • Tickets to a museum or for a show (there’s little wrapping or waste, simply pop it in a hand-made card). Incidentally, this is a great last-minute gift.
  • Hire a ride in a vintage car, this is especially good for people who need a special outing but can’t go out for a long period.
  • Photos from their childhood, family members, and travels look great when presented as a small non-plastic poster or collage.
Handmade bespoke earrings at the MONA
  • Hand-made photo frames
  • A real razor blade, not a disposable one.
  • A hamper of luxurious essentials such as under-arm de-odorizing rock salt crystal or natural perfume oils
  • Hiking socks and hikers wool are great for preventing blisters
  • Handkerchiefs or cloth serviettes instead of paper tissues. These are amazingly good finds in the op-shops and markets – You can find some still in their packaging and of very fine quality linen.
  • A silk pillowcase to prevent hair from getting knotty in bed
  • A silk eye pillow with dried herbs and calming oils
  • A basket of homemade ecologically sound cleansers.
  • Cosmetics and toiletries made from natural ingredients and not tested on animals.
  • Their favourite home-cooked meal frozen in a glass resealable serving dish, ready for a weary day. Include the recipe in a card.
  • Food says I love you especially when it is their favourite food
  • A hand made scarf/bow/tie or cloth jewelry bag.
  • A hand-made musical instrument or clothing
Jabuticaba - a decorative shrub with yummy fruits for a gift
Jabuticaba – a decorative shrub with yummy fruits

Homely Gifts

  • A living potted Christmas tree can be planted out after Christmas. This could be a native pine. Alternatively you could pot up a large chilli plant full of chillies (for a Summer Christmas – southern hemisphere).
  • Or give a small shrub that is full of flowers such as a rose (to make rose syrup and other delicacies)
  • Homemade preserves and chilli sauces
  • A Packet/s of seeds. OR make a surprise packet out of mixed seeds (check they are all edible in case they are mistaken)
  • Subscription to a seed saving group, soft technology magazines, organic gardening magazines, rare fruits association etc.
  • A donation to a charity such as Tear or other like the organisation on the recipient’s behalf.
  • Hand-made compost bay.
  • Worm farm made from found materials. The Potted worm farm looks great with a plant on top and you can water it whenever you pop over.
  • A non-disposable lunch kit with a thermos or drink bottle, lunch box with separate compartments so no wrap is required, cloth serviettes. You can add a few fasteners to make a cloth serviette into a durable, washable wrap
  • A fountain pen and coloured inks
  • A cup to carry everywhere
handmade gift - tree decoration
Handmade Christmas Decoration
  • Cloth nappies and a pledge to help hang them out.
  • Energy-saving equipment
  • An eco-tour or eco-holiday voucher (you can offer to take them on a bush-walk or holiday or their choice)
  • A voucher to an eco-hair salon
  • Durable garden tools
  • Books on organic gardening, composting, herbs and flowers, native species
  • Field guides on birds and local reptiles
  • Solar charger for phone – this is great to take on a hike, in case you get lost!
    Also, include a flint or even a little survival kit
  • A garden pond with optional solar powered fountain
  • A fruit dryer
  • A yoghurt maker
  • Rechargeable batteries with re-charger.
  • A tent and small, efficient camping equipment. To encourage clean bushwalking and adventure.
  • Dried herbs and flowers from your garden and instructions on their use as a tea.
painting of woman with a potted plant gift
Plants are pretty gifts

Natural Gifts

  • Natural wool or angora sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, socks.
  • Hand-made baskets, natural fibre washing baskets, paper waste containers, pot plant containers, picnic baskets.
  • Canvas, string or cane shopping bags, ham bag.  Retrofit a supermarket cloth bag with a favourite fabric pocket sewn over the logo as well as a bit of elastic inside. These bags are often too wide and floppy.
  • Potted kitchen herbs in organic potting mix (you could make this yourself).
  • Edible house plants such as sugar cane for hot spots, mint, shallots, monstera vine.
sprouting jar and seeds - a homely gift
Sprouting Jar
  • Gift voucher for nursery plants or environmental products and courses
  • Beeswax or remade candles.
  • Homemade preserves.
  • Hand-painted recycled glassware.
  • Organic Christmas Cake or other special treat.
  • A homemade Christmas wreath of grapevine and other home grown materials.
  • Blankets (cotton or wool) suitable for the lounge and living areas.
  • recycled material turned into Cloth kitchen washers/cloths/ car washers etc. You can simply cut and hem the edges.

GIVING TOYS

Children today are wanting action. Not only do they like action toys, but they also want climate action. Give them less plastic and a cleaner world.

  • Redeemed toys (repainted bicycle, trike, scooter, rocking horse). Use safe paints, preferably organic paint products. These items could be antiques but beware of the toxicity of old paints and any loose parts.
  • Homemade cushions and bean bags with environmentally friendly safe stuffing.
  • A wooden loom and natural fabrics for weaving.
  • A dolls or action figures tent made of recycled fabrics and stakes.
  • Science and Environmental History books such as Young Dark Emu
  • A homemade backyard swing or tree house, a rope climbing apparatus
  • A small gardening kit, tools, and seeds
  • Wooden or cane furniture.
  • seeds for novelty plants such as giant pumpkins.
  • Roller skates or bicycles to encourage energy efficient travel.
  • Recycled or re-used paper fastened as a book.
  • Craft books
  • Weather-proof boots
  • Be wary of giving Pets. Check that the parents want one. Hens, Guinea pigs or Rabbit in hutch will help to mow the lawn. Adopt a wild animal instead through WWF.
Antique music machine

Re-useable Wraps

Have you noticed how much the packaging is enticing? Some children would rather play with the cardboard box rather than the toy inside. Wrapping doesn’t have to be ripped apart and strewn all over the floor. Start a new tradition of beautiful wrapping that is also part of the gift. Here are some beautiful wrapping ideas:

A Sari is a great wrap for large presents. It can be worn as a dress (it doesn't need sizing) and can be used as a curtain, a tablecloth and much more
Multipurpose Saris and scarves make wonderful gift wraps

Wrap gifts in Re-useable materials

  • Children’s Artworks
  • unused photocopied music scores
  • Material Shopping bags
  • Beach towel
  • Tea towels
  • Hand towel or handkerchief
  • Biodegradable (linen or cotton) tablecloths
  • Sari
  • Beach wrap
  • Scarf
  • Beach towel
  • Picnic rug
  • Natural Fibre placemats ie. Bamboo
A famous antique pearl earring - great gift

When the Festivity has Passed

Feasting Without Waste

Eventually, the time comes to start clearing up and the environment is often burdened. On an average day, in the western world, one-third of all the food grown is simply thrown out. Additionally, the wastage compounds at times of feasting and merriness. At these times, the food wastage dramatically increases. There are, however, simple ways to reduce waste and provide plenty of healthy and delicious meals.

  • Plan your menu
  • Write a Shopping list
  • Measure your serving sizes or let people serve themselves
  • Store Food Correctly
  • Upstyle the leftovers turning them into curries, pies, lasagne, and sauces.
  • Feed old leftovers to your chickens, the worm farm or soldier-fly farm.
Giant pumpkins – a popular novel hobby.