In a context of limited space and educational opportunities in a country highly prone to floods and climate-related disasters, micro-gardening offers adolescent girls and boys living in Rohingya refugee camps the opportunity to develop their skills, to learn and have fun.
Much has been made of the plight of Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The Rohingya need increased access to quality education, learning opportunities and continued investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Constituting approximately 22.41% (199,431 youths) of the total Rohingya youth population in Cox’s Bazar (899,704), youths between the ages of 15 and 24 are most at risk due to their stage of development. The fact that only 3% of young people aged 15-24 participate in any type of educational program further compounds their vulnerabilities.
Gender disparities also exist in the provision of learning opportunities in the camps, with adolescent girls – especially older ones – enjoying limited access to schooling and recreational activities. Due to entrenched social roles, they are also assigned fewer responsibilities within families (Source: UNHCR).
The lack of educational programming can also be explained by the challenge of space. After the August 2017 influx began, the limited space in the camps was used to establish facilities that would provide vital services. However, due to the protracted nature of the crisis, setting up learning facilities and providing learning activities for young people has become a priority. Meanwhile, humanitarian actors have been forced to find transformative ways to respond in a context of limited space and high needs.
To meet these needs, sessions on micro-gardening have been incorporated into the life skills education programs that are provided to adolescent girls and boys in the camps. This programming is implemented by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Plan International Bangladesh, and aims to improve the life skills and resilience of adolescents aged 10-19 through structured gender sessions. , sexual and reproductive health and rights, and micro-gardening. Programming has recently been enhanced with micro-gardening kits distributed to those who complete the courses with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“The opportunity to do micro-gardening has made me very happy. This means that now I can provide fresh vegetables for my family and we can feed ourselves. Where I live there are a lot of teenagers and we have all worked hard in our gardens. Unfortunately, the floods have destroyed part of the gardens and we are looking forward to more seeds,” shares Jahur, an 18-year-old graduate of the program.
Micro-gardening has been identified as a transformative and life-enhancing educational activity in the Rohingya context, due to its potential to produce a wide range of nutritious products in a context of limited space and water scarcity. Micro-gardening also offers a tangible learning opportunity. During the sessions, participants learn about plants, proper methods of growing different types of plants, and creating their own garden. Then, teenage girls and boys receive micro-gardening kits consisting of vegetable seeds, fertilizers and other equipment that allows them to start their own garden. In 2021, 3,600 young adolescents living in camps benefited from the Champions of Change programme. Many of them now tend their own gardens and produce vegetables for their family’s consumption.
The effectiveness of micro-gardening as a life-enhancing activity should not be underestimated. Micro-gardening fosters a sense of accomplishment and builds self-esteem in young people, as it gives them the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of their families. Additionally, for teenage boys and girls living in the camps, many of whom have suffered severe losses, micro-gardening allows them to see their hard work pay off quickly.
“I was very curious about the micro-gardening kit. I used all the seeds and it was also a hobby of mine during my childhood in Myanmar. Now I finally have my own garden here in the camp and I can cultivate my passion again,” says Kodbau, a 19-year-old girl living in the camp.
Skills development, whether in a structured space or in an informal setting, such as in Rohingya camps, has the potential to transform young people and ensure they realize their full potential. It is the responsibility of all humanitarian actors to be innovative and identify activities that can be transformative for young people and work towards their implementation.
On this World Humanitarian Day 2021, highlighting the immediate cost of the climate crisis in pressuring world leaders to take meaningful climate action for the world’s most vulnerable people, UNFPA calls for the mental and emotional well-being and dignity of people, especially during and after the recent floods which displaced thousands of refugees. Weather disasters are not just occasional in Bangladesh. As the country is incredibly prone to ongoing climate crises, education and knowledge transfer skills are key to building the resilience of adolescents in refugee camps and host communities. Through the power of knowledge and skills, they will be able to contribute to a fairer and more equal society.