Blog: How a collective garden could help vulnerable groups during the pandemic

ADRA Slovakia volunteer Arancha Ferrer de la Cruz has found a creative solution to help those at risk in Albania.

Arancha's first workshop for her micro-project ‘Collective gardens at the Gonxhe Bojaxhi centre” ​Arancha's first workshop for her micro-project ‘Collective gardens at the Gonxhe Bojaxhi centre” ​ (Source: Arancha Ferrer de la Cruz)

Arancha Ferrer de la Cruz is an EU Aid Volunteer in Albania. This is her 2nd deployment at the organisation NCCS in Tirana through ADRA Slovakia, a non-governmental organisation with 27 years of experience in implementing humanitarian, developmental and volunteering projects for those in need in Slovakia and abroad. ADRA Slovakia aims to help people lead dignified and free lives while better preparing them for a possible humanitarian crisis.

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It is already my sixth month of volunteering in Tirana for my new project. My task is to provide physiotherapy for people who do not have access to treatment due to a lack of economic resources or social exclusion. It has been quite different from the past year due to Covid-19, but I am happy that, despite this, we are able to work and continue with our lives.

Patients need support regardless of the pandemic

There has been less activity at community centres, but people still need the services offered there and we can’t stop our work now, during these difficult times. The work has become very unstable in terms of continuity and frequency. It is now harder to plan what will happen in two weeks because the cases may increase, new measures are announced all the time and the centre may close for a few days. We also work with people in vulnerable situations (vulnerable groups) so we need to be particularly careful and not put them at risk. From a beneficiaries’ point of view, it means they will have fewer opportunities to use the public services and may be presented with more obstacles preventing them from coming to the community centre (remoteness of the building, buses full of people…). If they fall ill, they have little support from the institutions. Even so, people are still arriving at the establishment and we have to try our best to give them the quality services they deserve.

During this time, at the physiotherapy service, we have worked with regular patients from the last project and some new ones. We have tried new techniques and approaches and I can say I am happy with their progress. I would like to make a bigger impact but, given the current situation, we have to accept that the opportunities are now limited and we have to work with that.

Besides, I have been talking with the beneficiaries who come every day to the centre and I realised that most of the time they don’t have anything to do but to wait: they wait for meals, they wait to meet a friend who comes in daily, or they wait until the centre closes and they have to go back into the cold. During this time I got the idea to start a garden with them. Some of my patients told me they used to have hobbies like carpentry, but they don’t have the space or the tools to make such a thing. Moreover, I wanted to come up with an activity that could help them to share experiences, engage in some healthy physical work, and de-stress.

Garden as a cure during pandemic

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This EU Aid Volunteers project provides me the opportunity to start my own initiative and implement a micro-project with the support of my hosting organisation. The aim is to reinforce the local community in a sustainable way through new or innovative ideas to address the needs of the community. I decided to apply for the grant with the idea of establishing a collective garden for my patients.

"The concept of the urban garden project will serve as an excellent alternative for obtaining and consuming food and aromatic and medicinal plants in order to improve the nutritional and food sovereignty of the beneficiaries of the centre."

The garden will be urban, collective and healing. A high percentage of the beneficiaries of the community centers in Tirana suffer from poor nutrition. It is mostly caused by a variety of endogenous and exogenous factors such as a low level of education, lack of employment, predominant informal employment, and a low level of income. That is why the concept of an urban garden project will serve as an excellent alternative for obtaining and consuming food and aromatic and medicinal plants in order to improve the nutritional and food sovereignty of the beneficiaries of the centre. This is a collective project, so it will only work and be effective if everyone is engaged and shows his/her motivation to take part in it and to start building it together.

At the beginning of January, we received a positive answer. The project was supposed to start in February and last for two months. However, due to active cases of Covid-19 at the centre we had to postpone activities for three weeks. These times have also been a little hard for me since I was in quarantine by myself at home.

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Before implementation, I met with the staff of the community centre and the beneficiaries to discuss the logistics and the schedule and to determine the space we would use. We talked about their expectations and strategies for working altogether. It helped me a lot to better understand their point of view about the project and get an idea of which activities would be more suitable for them.

Accordingly, I planned workshops related to:

- the classification of seeds and care of seedbeds

- the cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants

- growing edible plants

- the propagation of plants with cuttings

- a workshop for the elaboration of natural air fresheners

- aromatic and ornamental plant drying for other workshops

- a healthy meal calendar of the month with harvesting from the garden

- canning workshops

- the creation of a compost area

- the creation of greenhouses

We have completed the first session already! I am very satisfied because everyone was very motivated to make the garden. I believe in making a positive impact and I am encouraged to do my best for the wellbeing of the community, both with the garden and physiotherapy.

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