The Malta Independent 22 December 2014, Monday

Horticulture training for refugees and asylum seekers

Malta Independent Wednesday, 31 July 2013, 10:51 Last update: about 8 months ago

Since June 2012, the University section of the Argotti Botanic Gardens was buzzing with a different activity from its usual day to day running. The HORTES project, short for Horticulture Training as a Means to Enhance Skills of Refugees and Asylum Seekers aimed to do exactly what its title says - this ERF funded project endeavoured to teach refugees and asylum seekers the basics of gardening.

The course was spread over three levels, from beginners’ to advanced, each taking approximately three months to complete. The first months were dedicated to intensive preparation for the course. The refugees and asylum seekers, who came from three open centres, two in Hal Far and one in Marsa, attended bi-weekly theory sessions and practical training.

Refugees and asylum seekers staying at open centres were targeted for this initiative because at this stage they would be preparing to leave their centre to find a home and make a fresh start. The acquisition of new skills enhances their chances of employment and helps them in their process of integration. Dr Joseph Buhagiar, Director at the Gardens and leader of the project, together with his team at the Argotti Gardens, was actively involved in teaching students different aspects of plant biology, plant identification for both ornamental and wild species, plant water needs, plant nutrition and compost, amongst others.

The bottom line was teaching students how to care for plants in a local garden environment, how to deal with different techniques of plant propagation, pruning, spotting disease and methods of eradicating the problem. The group participated in different practical sessions, putting theory to practice in the garden. The practical sessions were often on a one-to-one basis with Argotti gardening and technical staff.

Practical sessions included handling garden equipment and machinery, use of scaffolding to reach the trees for pruning, watering and irrigation, planting of ornamentals for display, seed collection, cleaning and sowing. The students were also given an opportunity to set up a small garden at their respective centres, to care for in between lessons. For this purpose, seeds, seedlings and ornamental plants were given, together with a set of tools.

The course was formally concluded at the end of June 2013 which also marked the completion of the initiative. In a final ceremony held at Argotti Botanic Gardens, the students received certificates of attendance for the levels they had attained. Representatives of the Argotti team and of the different open centres were present. This initiative gave this group of refugees and asylum seekers the tools and skills to be more successful in finding a job in the gardening industry.

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