How Syrian Refugees Transformed a South L.A. School — from 7,500 Miles Away

Allison Finn, GNG Program Coordinator

“I have an aunt in Syria. They have a lack of food. So my aunt’s family, they started to plant groceries and vegetables. That’s why they are alive until now.” — Fatima, Syrian student living in Amman, Jordan

In April 2015, Global Nomads Group connected Syrian and Jordanian youth in Amman, Jordan with peers in South Los Angeles, California. Through virtual reality and interactive videoconferences, these students learned firsthand about each other’s lives — and explored how they could take action to transform the challenges in their communities.

Using GNG’s curriculum, students at View Park Preparatory Charter High School identified the problem of food access in South LA. In a videoconference with their peers at Mahatta Community Center in Amman, View Park students shared that, as a community living in a “food desert,” they did not have access to affordable healthy food, and their families’ health was suffering. Curious and confused, the Syrian and Jordanian students shot their hands up in the air: Here, families have gardens — why don’t you have them? Why do you eat fast food if you know it is unhealthy? Why can’t you move to a neighborhood where there is better food? My family has survived because of their garden; why don’t you grow one?

Now, six months later, View Park High School has a community garden.

Now, students in the environmental science courses work in the garden as part of their class.Now, the school hopes to integrate produce from the garden into school lunches. Now, a generation of View Park students is actively engaged in food justice and transforming their community. Before Reimagine: Syria, View Park knew they faced this problem — but it took a conversation with peers across the world to put things in perspective, and show these young people that they could take action.

We rarely give our young people the chance to take charge when they see a problem, or — if we do — to move beyond Facebook activism. We rarely take this initiative ourselves. But by connecting young people in different circumstances, in different parts of the world, GNG provides invaluable opportunities to gain perspective, to find similarities, and build the capacity of individuals to become changemakers. Through programs like Reimagine: Syria, we realize that Syrian refugees don’t just need help — they have so much help to give themselves.

Read about one View Park student’s experience with the garden below:

We started the gardens as a way to increase awareness about healthy eating and to improve access to fresh affordable produce for people in our community. We don’t have a lot of grocery stores in the area and fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive. There are also a lot of people in the area who suffer from things like diabetes and heart disease and I find it rewarding to take action and make life for the people in my community a little better.
Gardening at View Park has become one of my favorite past times. Tending to the garden has given me time to be in a peaceful environment where I forget all my worries and stresses.Growing the garden also makes me and my other classmates feel proud of what we made because it makes the campus environment more beautiful for everyone. We grow everything from small peppers to tall stocks of corn. At the end of the school year we will harvest the crops we have grown and distribute the food to our classmates to eat and cook with at home.Knowing that someone is eating the food we created and enjoying it is amazing.
In the future we hope to be able to grow enough for students to snack on while at school and maybe even start a stand at a farmer’s market where we can sell the produce and make money to put back into the garden.
- David, View Park Preparatory Charter High School student
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