The «Hilfswerk der evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz» (HEKS) relief organization of Switzerland’s evangelical church leases garden areas or is even provided with them by church parishes and asylum centers, and makes them available for use by female migrants and their families. This creates a variety of possibilities for promoting the social integration of persons with a refugee background.

TEXAID was founded in 1978 as a private charity partnership of HEKS, together with five other Swiss relief organizations and a private partner. Their aim was to combine the traditional and until that time independent clothes collections into one professional value-added chain that was both ecologically and economically sound. Most of the proceeds generated by TEXAID from the sale of the collected textiles go to the six participating relief organizations. This money enables HEKS to finance some of its projects. It provides emergency humanitarian aid following natural disasters and both during and after armed conflicts. Within the context of development cooperation, other priority areas are combating the causes of poverty, hunger and social deprivation in Asia, Africa and Latin America, cooperating with churches in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and reconstruction assistance in Europe, refugee aid and also helping socially disadvantaged people in Switzerland.

Project background
Refugees often live in isolation after arriving in Switzerland – women in particular lack social meeting points or work outside the home. In their countries of origin, working in gardens or fields was part of everyday life for many female migrants. In Switzerland however, most of these women have no access to a garden. That’s why HEKS has launched the project and leased garden areas in order to make them available to women refugees to maintain themselves. Participants receive their own plots that they can lay out and plant with cultures that they have selected themselves.

Promoting integration & the production of healthy food
The project makes a very real contribution towards integrating female migrants and their families into Swiss society. The gardens are a place of work and a social meeting point at the same time, and enable those involved to participate and use their own initiative. Swapping experiences with other participants and people in adjoining gardens boosts the women’s self-confidence. Cultivating their own vegetables, herbs and fruit takes some of the strain off the household budget and enriches mealtimes. Children have space to play in, and the regular outdoor activity promotes health. The women can practice their German or French at the weekly garden meetings, and staff provide assistance with the organic gardening and information about integration and other everyday options. With all this, HEKS provides the possibility for a sensible daily routine and also builds bridges towards integration. At some of the 30 garden locations, activities are organized for children and participants are given help towards taking out an independent lease.

You can find more information about HEKS and the «New Gardens» project here.

March 2017