The Sydney suburb of Auburn may seem worlds away from Nigeria, but one new Australian has found a small patch of home in an inclusive community gardening project in western Sydney.
Anita Yetunde Adejumo had been looking for a new volunteering opportunity when she stumbled across the Friendship Garden – a joint initiative between SSI and Cumberland City Council that brings together the people SSI supports and local community members for regular gardening mornings and workshops.
"I liked the idea of that because I did a little bit of gardening back home in Nigeria before coming here and I’ve lost touch with it," she said.
"We had a little garden and my mum made us plant and do weeding. I didn’t really realise how much I liked it until I started helping out at the Friendship Garden.
Many of the gardeners who gather each week at the Auburn Centre for Community have come from countries far away from Australia, and the garden becomes like another home, Ms Adejumo said.
"The first day I came was very inspiring. People were very open and everyone encouraged me to learn. It was very welcoming. I was able to join in the discussion – the very first day I joined they welcomed my suggestions. That, for me, is what keeps bringing me back," she said. "It’s somewhere you belong to. It has a family vibe."
The Friendship Garden is a core part of SSI’s self-funded Community Engagement program, which runs events and activities that help participants to form strong links in the community and feel better connected. These events help new arrivals to build social connections and to reduce isolation, which can improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
Each week brings a different mix of locals and volunteers from a range of backgrounds to the Friendship Garden. But one thing that remains constant is the comradery, Ms Adejumo said.
"The ‘friendship’ in the name Friendship Garden is really true," she said. "Everyone is from different cultures but we still have connections. We chat, we eat. We usually have a Persian dish, or people bring in things to share.
"When I’m stressed, it’s somewhere I look forward to coming to relax a bit. You chat to people and get to know something about other countries."
Not that the Friendship Garden is all eating and socialising; a lot of hard work goes into producing the fruits and vegetables that participants harvest and enjoy at the end of each session.
"We get to learn a lot. It’s not like we’re just in one part of the garden doing the same thing every day. We get to move around different sections, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting," Ms Adejumo said. "You plant tomatoes and then see them come up. It’s a nice feeling. You can track the progress and see the results almost instantly."
The garden caters for all levels of skills and experience, and people engaged in SSI programs as well as members of the community are welcome.
"I would definitely encourage anybody to come here," Ms Adejumo said. "Even if you are not into gardening per se, the garden itself is inspiring and interesting, and very relaxing. It’s like a big family."