Jerash Camp, locally known as Gaza Camp, is one of ten officially recognised Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. It is situated in the north of the country, a one-hour drive from Amman and close to the Syrian border. Since its establishment in 1968 it has steadily grown to a size that provides shelter for more than 29. 000 Palestinian refugees today. The campsite is part of the Jerash Governorate, the smallest of the 12 Jordanian Governorates. It includes 22 villages and two Palestinian refugee camps: Gaza Camp and Souf Camp. According to statistics gathered by the FaFo Institute for Applied International Studies in 2013, Jerash Camp counts as one of the poorest camps in Jordan having more than 50 % of Palestinians living below the national poverty line of JD 814 per year. Only 12 % of refugees are covered by health insurance. When analysing the natural environment one notices that the dense concrete fabric of the refugee camp lacks the necessary fertile lands. This scarcity of green space in combination with a threatening shortage of water in the region has caused a severe disconnection of the current generation with agriculture. Rooftop gardens address this directly by inserting a green oasis where a family or community can grow its own food provision, find rest and foster their connection with nature.
For more than thousand years agriculture and farming has been a crucial part of Palestinian culture. It is seen as an integral component of peoples’ communal, cultural, economic and social life. Hence, it is all the more staggering to observe the on-going systematic alienation of the Palestinian farmer from the land and the increasing disappearance of agriculture while the service industry is rapidly growing. Beside the fact that familiar phenomena like urbanisation and globalisation contributed to a growing rural exodus, the disconnection of land as a sustainable resource has further been accelerated by the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Since the 1950’s, water restrictions in Palestinian territories have been a major challenge for the agricultural sector. The scarcity of water forced farmers to reduce the plant diversity and focus on crops that could prosper with less irrigation such as olive and palm trees. Since the dispute has been characterized by the struggle over land/territorial sovereignty, it had also a major impact on the distribution of fertile land. Over time many Palestinian farmers faced restricted access to or significant loss of their land due to Israeli nature reserves, military zones and settlements that were established on the farming fields.
Uncertain living conditions and unpromising perspectives in the agricultural sector forced many Palestinians to reorientate themselves within the service field that promised higher salaries as part of the Israeli economic integration and containment policies.
Greening the Camps wants to reconnect local communities with their cultural heritage of farming. One of our aims is to create awareness of the distance between the locations of food production and consumption in order to stop the on-going alienation of organic produce. With this in mind, the rooftop garden is the beginning of a self-sufficient economy that is created and maintained by manual work. To work with recycled material, to make use of biological compost to fertilize and the permanent reuse of wastewater is part of our vision to contribute to an environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the rooftop gardens should be a space for ideas and creativity – a tiny green oasis where the family can grow its own food provision, find rest and a refuge to escape the daily routine.
One of our main visions is the permanent engagement of the local community in the campsite. Through reconnecting displaced communities with food production from urban agricultural practices, we try to create opportunities for local empowerment, economic development and healthier diet. Our aim is to design, build and maintain urban farms closely together with families that desire to turn their rooftops into green surfaces. Within the building and running process of rooftop gardens, we strive for a closed circular system where resources and produce don’t leave the cycle. In order to establish a circular economy, we focus on recycling and reusing material considered as waste and outbalance the resource scarcity with adjusted installations, such as rain water harvesters or solar boilers. Inside the community we decided to focus especially on working with women, youth and children. The project should empower them to explore and develop their talents, to improve their food-security and general livelihood. Furthermore, the rooftop gardens should serve as a safe-haven and refuge from the daily routine while providing a working space for socially and economically disadvantaged groups excluded by society.
An important part of our work will be the organisation of workshops that vary in type (e.g. lecture and practical courses such as planting and cooking), size (family, friends or community) and social groups (special events to focus on women, youth and children). To be more precise, the seminars encompass lectures about alternative forms of farming and the importance of biodiverse planting as well as practical courses about recycling processes and other cost-saving strategies to reuse material. In order to close the cycle of food production, we will organize cooking courses with recipes that are adapted to the cultivated crops from the roof. Here, it must be underlined that once families have gained experience and gathered knowledge about urban farming, we want to empower women and youth to take leading roles as teachers in the workshops. By organizing these events we do not only want to link people with similar mindsets within the community and offer space to be creative together, but also foster the exchange between volunteers and refugees.
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