Aromatic and Medicinal Plants training for Young Migrant Women, Sicily – By May East

In May 2017, Gaia Education and Sicilia Integra, in partnership with Arcolaio and Passwork and supported by Eileen Fisher, conducted a week-long training in growing and processing aromatic and medicinal plants for 12 migrant young women in Sicily. The women ranged in age from 16 to 30 and had come from various parts of Africa including Gambia, Mali and Nigeria.The women ranged in age from 16 to 30, had come from various parts of Africa including Gambia, Mali and Nigeria, and had been through difficult experiences during the migration process.

Whilst the training was hugely successful in a practical sense, the most important learning for the group rested in the empowerment that each woman experienced when coming together in such a collective way and providing mutual support.

Time was taken to structure the content of the course in such a way to adopt a holistic approach, allowing the educators to deliver learning outcomes whilst leaving room for the emergence of feelings, attitudes, characters, and disputes.

To ensure understanding, linear teaching switched to circular enquiry and storytelling was a common occurrence throughout the training, with an emphasis on the ‘Why?’ ‘How?’ and ‘What?’. One Gambian student commented that this new way of learning empowers everyone “to discover their intelligence and gifts” and that “no one is left behind”.

The content of the practical training for growing of aromatic and medicinal herbs, such as sage and rosemary, included modules for preparing soil, planting and harvesting plants. The students were taught various processing methods for the plants, harvested from the Arcolaio gardens, which they then packaged. This was a very empowering experience, as they witnessed how simple the process to transform plants for resale is.

Theoretical modules included plant anatomy, use of the drug, and active principles that make the plant aromatic or medicinal. Particular interest was shown for cosmetic use of herbs on the face and hair.

For the business dimension of the training, it was stressed to the students that the large amount of land available locally, the resurgence in the organic produce market, and the Mediterranean climatic condition of the Iblei Region (highest level of biodiversity in Europe), provided rich opportunity for developing job and market opportunities. This provoked much enthusiasm and passion. Corporations such as Lush, were given as examples of potential buyers.

The students wished to mark the end of this ‘life-changing’ course with a day of celebration. Herbs were planted in a public flowerbed, and singing and dancing followed. Gaia Education’s aim is to provide these students with more practical, post-training support as they seek access to local land to set up projects and initiatives for income generating opportunities.

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Milestone 5 -Paternò inspires more designers for sustainability

10 migrant youth and 7 unemployed Sicilians embarked on the now well tested 5-week learning journey in Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems, led by Gaia Education, the University of Catania and associazione I Girasoli.

The programme took place at Masseria San Marco, in the municipality of Paternò, in the Simeto river valley, on the south side and foot of Mount Etna. This is a bioregional laboratory and cross breading ground for numerous associations and initiatives. 10 municipalities are involved in redesigning the future of what was once one of the richest citrus and vegetable growing areas of Sicily.

Theoretical lessons and field activities, focused on organic regenerative design and market possibilities around a demanded food and cosmetic industry, took place inside an existing 2000 square meter warehouse and food lab located on site.

Awakening to the opportunities of production for fresh fruits, juices, essential oils, jams, sauces, dry fruits and vegetables, and pasta making has fueled the imagination of this new generation of designers for sustainability.

The team of Sicilia Integra and some course graduates are now establishing a social cooperative and plan to be part of the regenerative development momentum that is enlivening this territory.

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Milestone 6 -Exploring aromatic and medicinal plants in the Iblei Mountains

In the late spring of 2017, Gaia Education, the cooperative Passwork and the cooperative l’Arcolaio conducted, in the Iblei Mountains, one of the most biodiverse regions of Europe, a course on aromatic and medicinal plants.

12 women, aged 16 to 29, from Nigeria, Gambia and Mali, joined the course. (Most of these women have been in treatment for a more or less severe PTSD condition). Through a dynamic journey grounded in theoretical and practical experiences, they learned about indigeneous plants such as rosemary, sage, lavender and oregano.

The practice to cultivate, transform and maintain the aromatic and medicinal value of the plants, coupled with an analysis of different market opportunities connected to the cosmetics, culinary, medicinal and aromatics properties of the plants awakened an enthusiasm and a thirst for more education and experience in all the students, as well as the possibility of a carrier destination for these gifted young women.

Fellow supporters of Grani di Gaia – Frantoio Scalia

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Carmelo Scalia, the owner of ‘Frantoio Scalia’, can admit to being a happy fan of Grani di Gaia Social Enterprise – especially when he’s enjoying a large bowl of the organic ancient grain pasta!

Receiving such support and encouragement is very important for the Sicilia Integra migrants and youth at Forno santa Rita, where the magic is made…

Milestone 4 – Rehabilitation of Abandoned Urban Gardens in Catania

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By Salavatore Timpanaro

Migrant youth and unemployed Sicilians embarked on a two-month learning journey led by Gaia Education, the University of Catania and Il Nodo, with a 5-week Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems course and a 3-week field implementation.

The programme took place at the Il Nodo Migrant Welcome Center where both theoretical lessons and field activities were carried out, leading to the design and rehabilitation of an urban garden that had been abandoned for over 20 years. The migrants and Sicilian youth learned how to develop a productive garden oasis system using minimum water and maximum fertility retention, and diverse microclimate opportunities. They recovered an old orchard with lemons, oranges, prickly pears and medlar trees and, by utilising various composting techniques, established a vegetable garden with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli, eggplants in an integrated design.

The course graduates, now empowered with design for sustainability skills, are planning to establish their own cooperative for organic garden management services, with some becoming trainers on urban garden design.

Grani di Gaia’s first flight abroad – Lush Summit London 2017

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By Ginny Gegg

On the 8th and 9th February 2017, London’s authentic Tobacco Dock hosted the second edition of the Lush Summit.

The ancient venue was successfully transformed into an interactive platform, bringing together charities, speakers and grassroots organisations from all around the world whose projects have been funded by Lush.

Open to the general public, the event welcomed activists, campaigners and like-minded people to explore the medley of products, activities, talks and videos organised by advocates for positive change. These groups defend a variety of topical global causes, such as: food sovereignty, animals in servitude, climate & energy and many more. Both Gaia Education and Sicilia Integra found their place in the War & Poverty room, amongst other charities raising their voices for those that the world chooses not to hear.

While cooking up the ancient grain pasta for passers-by to taste, Gaia Education’s May East and Ginny Gegg, alongside Sicilia Integra trainer, Vincenzo Santiglia, recounted the tale of how a group of migrants became empowered by the training in Design for Sustainability & Organic Food Systems offered by the Sicilia Integra programme. Empowered and inspired, the migrants went on to etablish their own social enterprise called ‘Grani di Gaia’, in the heart of Sicily, the home of organic agriculture.

At Grani di Gaia, the migrants, together with master baker Maurizio Spinello and Sicilian youth, carefully mould the ancient wheat into opportunities for joy, hope, courage, trust and peace…