Syrian refugee overwhelmed by support for trashed garden

From Checkpoint, 6:26 pm on 9 October 2017

A Syrian refugee says his heart is "full of joy" after a working bee set up to help restore his trashed garden turned into a neighbourhood party in Lower Hutt on Saturday.

Khaled Al Jouja came home last week and was "heartbroken" to see his garden destroyed, he said. 

Only 250 of the 2000 plants he had grown over the last eight months were able to be saved. 

But his spirits had now lifted, with an estimated 500 people donating plant cuttings, potting mix and giving up their time to help revamp the garden.

Mr Al Jouja had been put in touch with local sustainable-living charity Common Unity Project when he arrived in New Zealand.

The project helped him set up his nursery as part of their urban kai project - an initiative that aims to have fruit and vegetables within walking distance of every home in Lower Hutt.

Project co-ordinator Julia Milne said the turnout had exceeded her expectations.

"We had only had three days to put it together, but it's amazing what you can do, it was just total community-in-action."

Apart from gardening and money, people also offered support in other ways. 

Wellington musician Nigel Parry said he had been inspired to help. He brought his guitar and sound system and played music while people worked.

"I was determined to show him the real New Zealand community spirit and the country he had really come to and not the one he thought he had come to on Tuesday."

"After I played, I got on my gardening gloves and got stuck in as well."

Ms Milne said they had not done a final count yet but an estimated 1000 plants and $12,500 in donations was received. 

Fruits and vegetables that were donated would go toward the urban kai project and some plants would be sold through the project's store in Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt. 

Ms Milne said it was still early days but some of the money raised may be used to try and find a more secure site for the garden to avoid a repeat of what took place nearly a week ago.