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Syrian families in Peterborough give thanks through community garden

'It is helping us forget the tragedies of the war in Syria'

Rima Hamadi

October 06, 2017

Abdulhamid Abdullah and Dilshah Ahmad have grown carrots, cucumbers, eggplant and other vegetables in a community garden behind their apartment building. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

A group of Syrian families is hoping to give back to the community that welcomed them through food grown in their community garden.

The Nourish Project — an organization that assists neighbourhoods in Peterborough and Haliburton with community gardens and focuses on access to local and healthy food — championed the garden in Peteborough, Ont., along with members of the community, 

After city consultation, shovels hit the ground in June.  

"There is a large population of Syrian families in the apartment building right beside this area, and they had all expressed they wanted to garden," said Jill Bishop, community food cultivator with the Nourish Project. 

The Talwood Community Garden has 24 plots for people to plant food and flowers, and half of them are being used by newcomers.

Most of them were farmers before they came to Peterborough, so they are coming in with knowledge that everyone could learn from, Bishop said. 

Jill Bishop with the Nourish Project, helps advocate for community gardens like the Talwood Community Garden. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

Using gardening as a lifeline

When Abdulhamid Abdullah came to Canada a year ago, he finally felt safe. Abdullah and his family fled Syria because of the war, and constantly feared for their lives. 

"We knew the enemy was one kilometre away ... and if they came to us, they'd kill us," Abdullah said. "We used to not want to leave our house; we had no choice"

So, the family turned to their garden for survival. Abdallah's wife, Dilshah Ahmad, said it was the only way they got by.

"Gardening became a lifeline. It was our only shot at life," Ahmad said.

When they arrived in Peterborough, the family wanted to continue to garden, but didn't have the space for it. So when they heard about the Talwood Community Garden project, they were excited to get started.

"Now gardening is a passion. It brings us happiness," Ahmad said. 

The Talwood Community garden will soon be expanding to 36 plots of land, so more people can use the space. (Rima Hamadi/CBC News)

Giving thanks through food

Many of the Syrian families who are taking part in the community garden are hoping to pay it forward, just in time for Thanksgiving.

One of those gardeners is Ousama Kheito, 29, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada in March of 2016. 

"I want to have everyone over, everyone that helped me since I got here," Kheito said. "I want to use everything that I gardened here, and cook a meal to give thanks to celebrate Thanksgiving."

Ousama Kheito is one of many Syrian refugees who grows his own vegetables in the community garden. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

Abdullah and his family also have plans for Thanksgiving. They're planning on celebrating the Canadian tradition and give thanks to the people who helped him, by giving them vegetables that he's grown. 

"I want to thank the people who helped us with this garden, that gave us the land and the supplies," Abdullah said. 

"We want to thank everyone here for their humanity. It is helping us forget the tragedies of the war in Syria."

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