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