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Garden of hope

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Penny Woodward writes about an amazing Australian garden project for the children of the Gaza Strip.

The inspirational Global Gardens of Peace is marshalling its resources to construct gardens in war-torn regions of the world. The group began with international humanitarian Moira Kelly AO, during a medical rescue mission to Gaza in February 2004. During her visit, Moira visited a WWI cemetery where graves are situated in a well-kept green environment, a refuge from the war-ravaged city surrounding them. This was the only green space Moira encountered during her visit and she wondered “If you can do this for the dead, why can’t you do this for the living?”

Moira held talks with the Union of Health Working Committees (UHWC) and political associates, and then in 2007 received a visit from a UHWC representative with news that land had been set aside within the Municipality of Khan Younis for the Australian people to create and build a children’s garden. Moira approached Andrew Laidlaw – Landscape Architect of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV) and designer of the outstanding Children’s Garden at the RBGV Melbourne, which has been delighting children young and old for many years – to design it.

With the support of the RBGV, Andrew gathered together additional horticultural and technical expertise and formed a team to work on the design. As it progressed, the concept of developing gardens for disadvantaged communities around the world was explored and the not-for-profit entity and organisation ‘Global Gardens of Peace’ was formed. Its mission? To create accessible and inclusive living landscapes, which support vulnerable communities, families and individuals of all abilities and provide people with inspiration, healing and growth. In Australia we take forests and trees for granted. Not so in the Gaza Strip where children live in highly urbanised surroundings. There’s an occasional tree but no large gardens and no forests as such. We can all remember as children the excitement of just climbing a tree! The philosophy of Global Gardens of Peace is apolitical and non-religious. Their aim is only to help marginalised and vulnerable communities, especially children, from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

After numerous delays, the first garden is now ready to be constructed in the Gaza Strip, within the Municipality of Khan Younis, where 32,000sq.m of land has been set aside for the construction. The garden will be called the Garden of Hope; The final garden plan is complete, as are preliminary costings and approval by current stakeholders, including the local municipality of Khan Younis. Just recently, a small team from Global Gardens of Peace visited the West Bank and Jerusalem to meet with prospective partner entities. The project presentations received very positive feedback and resulted in committed interest from local and international NGOs in building the Garden of Hope in Gaza. Two important announcements will be made in the coming weeks, and it’s expected that construction of the Garden of Hope will commence in 2018.

Fundraising work has also started. Two gardens opening as part of the Victorian Open Gardens scheme over coming weekends will raise money for the project. If you want to contribute to this landmark project then come along to the open gardens in Melbourne (see below); if you’re not close enough to do that you can offer help through the Global Gardens of Peace website or head to its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.