By Neva Newcombe
On Thursday, April 8th, a group of students and organizers broke ground on a green 400m plot just a few meters from Palais des Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Maison de la Paix. As the sun shone down on the group throughout the weekend, various groups of volunteers set up 40 wooden beds and filled them with soil, which are now prepped and ready to be seeded. The volunteers were directed by Christian Bavarel, a civil servant and gardener, who also directed them to set up a composting system that would provide the soon-to-be-planted crops with fertilizer. Because of COVID restrictions, the organizers had to limit the number of volunteers to 15 per session for the four weekend sessions. The project had so many applications that 30 student volunteers had to be turned away to respect the sanitary measures.
The garden project was proposed by Marc Le Hénanf, a librarian at the Graduate Institute, in 2018. Though the process of acquiring materials and setting up a few garden beds may not seem complicated, the project faced several hiccups. Originally, the working group proposed a garden on the roof of Maison de la Paix, but this posed safety issues and created an additional challenge with water access. Then the sanitary restrictions were put in place, which stalled progress on the project throughout 2020. However, when Marie-Laure Salles took over as Directrice in September she decided to move forward with the project “immediately.” Now, according to Le Hénanf, the collective garden “is finally becoming concrete with the support of the Canton and the City of Geneva.”
Marc is part of the Vivre Ensemble team at IHEID, along with Carine Leu, Michal Sela, Isabelle Vuillemin-Raval, and Vanessa Valerio. Vivre Ensemble is a sprawling association that works on spreading information about migration issues in French-speaking Switzerland. In 2016, they won the Courrier Human Rights Prize.
The garden was built directly adjacent to the Rigot Collective Living Center, which houses refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants who require speedy accommodation in Geneva. Amidst the bureaucracy and red tape, finding an accommodation quickly can be quite difficult. Villa Rigot cannot solve such a vast problem, but it does provide 370 accommodations for recent arrivals in Geneva from all over the world. Though the circumstances of their arrivals are very different, there is a parallel between the group of migrants living in Villa Rigot and IHEID students, who have also recently left their home countries to come to Geneva. Now, they will grow food together.
The garden is part of a greater solidarity initiative started by the Vivre Ensemble team at IHEID. Le Hénanf hopes that eventually, they will expand the project to include more activities, like “cooking together, meditation, time shared between the staff and the students” and other activities to build connections between students, migrants, and locals.
For those interested in following the Vivre Ensemble project more closely, Le Hénanf assured the Graduate Press that specific social media for the IHEID branch would soon be created. If you would like to get involved in any future projects, you can reach the Executive Management group at firstname.lastname@example.org.