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20.02.2016

Kick-off for Syrian ecovillage in Sweden

By: By Petter Beckman

One by one the cars arrive at the old, decayed brick barn, in the middle of a vast field outside Avesta in southern Dalarna, Sweden. The place lies deserted, but this windy Sunday in May marks the beginning of something completely new: a Syrian craftmanship- and ecovillage, combining housing, jobs and integration for families fleeing from the war in Syria.

The car doors open and the barnyard is soon filled with fathers, mothers, teenagers and smaller children – some of them already acquainted, some greet each other for the first time. A total of 30 people have made their way to this unusual event, some from refugee camps close by, others driving from towns one or two hours away.

The guests explore the site curiously. The ruin of a cement silo rises between two brick buildings in clear need of repair. No farming has been done here for decades. But shortly there will be planting of apple trees, ecological clay houses will be built and the settlers will be trained in useful craftsmanship and maintenance techniques, leading to proper jobs and cheap housing, according to the plan.

– I am very eager to get started, this is a highly interesting project, says Ammar Hokan, engineer from Aleppo, who back in Syria ran a successful trading business, importing construction materials on a large scale.

Now he is looking forward to a role as technical adviser to the planned ecovillage.

Since the beginning of last year a group of Syrian engineers, architects and economists, strongly supported by Swedish eco-activists, are working resolutely to make the vision come true.

The Syrian Initiative Craftsmanship Ecovillage (SICE) is the name of the organization that was formed last april, and which now is on the verge of signing a lease contract for the land with the municipality of Avesta.

During the past year the group members have studied ecological building techniques, explored a number of alternative sites and visited other ecovillages in Sweden.

– We want to show that Syrians can contribute with new and sustainable models for the integration of refugees and take responsibility for our own livelihood, says Fayez Karimeh, water engineer from Syria and founder of the project.

On a table in the farm yard Olle Ridelius from the Swedish Society of Pomology (the art of growing apples) has displayed bunches of apple twigs, that are to be grafted onto larger stems and thereafter planted.

– The planting will be the symbolic start of our ecovillage, even if we for now have to do it in buckets since we don’t yet have access to the land, Fayez explains.

After a short lesson led by Olle, the children and grownups begin to try their skills, cutting the twigs at the correct angle and fastening them in a slit on the larger apple stems.

– I have always liked to pick fruit, we used to have a nice garden at our summer house outside Aleppo. But others took care of the trees so this is new for us, says Nadia Airoud who is here with her husband Ammar and their children Hamza and Obada.

Nadia, who is a construction- and environmental engineer, most of all wants to resume her master studies at a Swedish university. After a year and ten months in Sweden she speaks Swedish quite well, slowly but almost without errors.

– We passed all the SFI Swedish language levels in three months. Now we are studying high school-courses  in Swedish online through the computer, says Ammar Hokan.

His plan is to start up a business for construction- and decorating materials, like the one he had to abandon i Syria, but he realizes that this can take some time.

– So we will be following three different paths simultaneously: studying, starting a business and working with the Ecovillage. You have to be an optimist, says Ammar.

After the planting of apples, food is brought out onto the long tables in large pans and bowls. Several of the families have helped to cook and bake Syrian specialities. Soon the yard is turned into a very idyllic picnic outing, although a bit chilly in the windy weather. Some of the teenage boys bring out a football, while the younger children play in the grass.

The program concludes with a short lecture by some of the SICE board members, telling about the plans.

– The plan is that Syrian architects and building engineers will work together with Swedish colleagues to draft the houses. In this way they will learn professional Swedish language and Swedish building legislation, skills that will make it easier for then to get other jobs in Sweden, explains Michael Bergman, landscape architect and strongly involved in the project.

Two representatives from Suderbyn – an ecovillage in the island of Gotland – presents a picture of the daily life in an ecological cooperative:

– We own the land together, cook together and own the cars together in a car pool. Every week we have meetings where we take democratic decisions on which repair works and other chores that need to be done, says Ingrid Gustafson from Suderbyn.

Finally, Linda Kurdi, highschool headmaster from Damascus, dressed in a brocade kaftan and pink head scarf, holds a solemn adress:

– It is very important for all of us who have come here to Sweden that we can integrate, learn the language and understand the traditions and customs of the new country. We are a simple, hard working people and we don’t want to be a burden to the country. That is why we are starting this project, she says, applauded by the rest of the group.

Then tables and chairs are packed into an old van and the families return home

– We have reached very far now. Next we have to succeed in raising enough money. I am very optimistic, we even have a chance of attracting investors from abroad, says Fayez Karimeh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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