Community garden helping to grow a new life for refugees in Manitoba

One community garden in Manitoba is not only growing fruits and vegetables – but’s helping to grow the lives of refugees as they start their new lives in Manitoba.

Alahm Rafo traveled to Canada just two years ago with her family, seeking refuge from war in Iraq.

Her life it much different now than it was overseas, as Rafo was captured by ISIS for almost two years.

“Our lives were in danger, we just couldn’t survive in the refugee camp, nobody was helping us,” Rafo said speaking with a translator.

She spent five years in the refugee camp.

Alham Rafo pictured putting seeds into their garden.

“There’s no work, there’s no school, so people just sit in a tent all day and … that’s what they’ve done for the last five years,” Rafo said.

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In 2017 she was given the opportunity to come to Canada.

She was able to bring two of her four children with her, including her mother, who also brought her five of ten children.

Their other sons and daughters, they left behind in Iraq. She explains many women get sold into the sex trade, while the men are forced into ISIS.

“I’m here for my kids and I have to show my kids that I’m here for them, and we have to be strong,” Rafo’s mother, Adol Ilyas said.

“We have hope, and we’re still hopeful that they’re still alive somewhere and that one day we will be reunited again.”

Taking the more than 9,500 km journey from Iraq to Canada wasn’t easy for their family.

“I would cry all day. I would wish I never came here, I would constantly tell myself that. My kids were crying and we all had a very hard time,” her mother explains.

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Five years ago, retired Manitoban Michel Aziza, decided to help make the transition a bit easier for refugees in Manitoba by getting involved with ‘Project Ezra’.

For many refugees, their day-to-day life requires new skills to be learned, but Aziza says Project Ezra is helping to give refugees more than just work.

“It’s brought together all these newcomers, some who came years ago and some who came a month ago. They come to the field, they work together and it brings them together as a community,” Aziza said.

In just a year, the garden has grown from a small pilot project with one acre of land to this year, where eight acres are being farmed by the refugee community.

“I love farming, I’ve done it all my life, so it brings back a lot of great memories,” Rafo said while looking out at the garden.

The land, seeds and even the equipment were all donated by local greenhouse Shelmerdine. What the families aren’t able to eat, they sell at the greenhouse’s farmers market – using the money to help future refugees come to Canada.

“We planted all these fruits and vegetables, and we ate here and it just felt like I was back home in my village before ISIS attacked us,” Rafo said, pointing at the garden.

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As refugees grow their way into a new life in Manitoba, Rafo said she never stops thinking of the family they left behind.

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