So today I got to meet with one of my heroes - Rowe Morrow - at her home in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. After my short experience working in the Calais refugee camp last year I have been looking for guidance on how to take that work further - how to take permaculture design and teaching to the places where it is needed most, which is something that Rowe has been specialising in for decades. She recently ran a course focused on working in precarious places, but as I was in New Zealand and couldn't make it to her in time I thought that the next best thing would be to contact her to see if we could meet after I arrived back into Australia. And so we did.
Rowe is a complete and total inspiration.. alongside being an incredibly down to earth and lovely person. She welcomed me into her house with slippers, a cosy fire and home made lunch, and we spent several hours talking about her work around the world and all of the different issues that are currently going on around us, and how permaculture can be a solution in so many ways. Over the past 40 years she has worked in East Timor, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Europe, Solomon Islands, Africa and Vietnam amongst so many other places, and has more experience than you can shake a stick at. Her knowledge on the current environmental crises across the world is astounding.
Rowe's main focus at the moment is teaching permaculture to refugees living in camps, as these are the places of most urgent and desperate need. People arrive into refugee camps traumatised after incredible journeys from the most horrific of environments, and can struggle to find hope and see a way forward. To go into these camps and teach people the fundamentals of permaculture - how to provide for themselves and their families by growing food, appropriate and sustainable cooking, heating and natural home building, and by working together, building connections and a sense of community and mutual support, people can leave well equipped for their new lives, wherever that may turn out to be.
A really interesting idea we discussed was to use the eco-village model to turn refugee camps from places that degrade steadily over time into areas that are improved whilst being used as teaching spaces for the refugees whilst they are there. This way after the land is no longer needed as a camp it could be a functioning permaculture education centre, and a great incentive for local communities to more readily welcome refugees into their local area.
I left with my head swimming with ideas and motivation to follow through with working with permaculture in the places of the greatest need. But I also left with a real sense of how new I am to all of this, and how building up my teaching experience in more accessible ways might be my best next steps. Whilst I am still home schooling and raising my seven year old, and with a new baby on the way now might not be the best time for me to be looking for ways I can work in precarious places! For now, it might possibly be more manageable to work more with asylum seekers and refugees that have made it over to the UK. Sheffield is a 'City of Sanctuary' for refugees, and has several organisations (such as ASSIST) that support and connect refugees across the city. I'm excited to get back home and see just where I can fit into this.
When not travelling, Rosemary works from the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute just outside of Sydney, where she and Lis Bastian run a variety of different courses. Their website can be found at: www.bluemountainspermacultureinstitute.com.au/
You can read more about Rowe online from many places, but I found this to be a particularly nice article: