Against the background of a messy dirt lot, a busy main road and a supermarket, an Ethiopian immigrant with her baby perched on her back in a traditionally embroidered sling waters her bed of red corn in the middle of a thriving green garden. Draped in curls of sweet pea, the Kalisher Community Garden -- run by Earth's Promise with Ethiopian immigrants from the local absorption center -- is a green sanctuary in the middle of Be’er Sheva. The center stands in front of a large, empty dirt lot strewn with trash, one of many in Be’er Sheva originally earmarked to be green spaces for the city but now serving only as desolate eyesores. In one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, this community garden flourishes serving as the ‘after’ picture to the ‘before’ still surrounding it.
Earth’s Promise, a local non-profit organization, runs a variety of environmental projects, including composting at the Ben Gurion University dorms and educational programs on urban environmentalism. The Kalisher Community Garden is their flagship project, and Earth’s Promise earns income by providing consulting services on community gardening to other groups. As a result, new gardens are starting up, often in partnership with local Ethiopian communities.
Thanks in part to SHATIL’s guidance, Earth’s Promise has thrived. SHATIL training courses and consultants have helped the organization to develop its services and to maximize its potential for resource development, media outreach, and organizational efficiency.
“For a small organization like us with no office, it is really useful to have SHATIL escorting us,” says Hadas Sade, Earth’s Promise Executive Director, who uses the workstation that the SHATIL Be’er Sheva office makes available to small organizations.
The garden model is particularly compatible with Israeli-Ethiopian communities because many of the immigrants come from an agricultural background. On arrival in Israel, they had been placed in urban high rise buildings, disrupting critical community dynamics such as the support of extended families and the influential role of the elders. The children's ability to adapt and learn Hebrew quickly places them in positions of having to translate and culturally navigate for their parents. This dynamic undermines the parents’ authority, sometimes with damaging consequences. The garden provides a chance for Ethiopian-Israeli parents to use their traditional knowledge to demonstrate their expertise and to resume traditional family relationships.
“We are here to facilitate bringing the power back to them,” Hadas emphasizes. “They do not need to be told how to do anything as the knowledge is all in their hands.”
Still, there has been a learning process. Hadas remembers ripped up beets left to rot, unwanted by the residents. Instead, they planted Ethiopian red corn and crops to make injara, the Ethiopian bread staple. Now, there is a delicate balance of bringing the residents what they want and also teaching them about new crops that thrive in Israel.
Earth’s Promise focuses on sustainability, and they aim for this garden to be independent, with the composting coming from the absorption center itself.
“Community gardens aren’t just about putting up a fence and connecting to water,” Hadas explains. “Many gardens fail because the community is not strong enough.”
In this garden, the sense of community is palpable. New children’s sessions are being run and since children, being children, run wild over the carefully planted corn, Hadas' team has set up an adjacent garden for the kids. They play, dig, and learn the science of growing plants. On this particular day, a dozen children from the absorption center shyly enter the lot and enthusiastically start digging. A teenager who often finds solace here strolls in, as well as several adults who want to check their plots. It seems surreal that this ecological, inter-generational community activity could be flourishing in such a bleak urban setting. But it is.