Above: More than 60 refugees, migrants and local people celebrate their diversity through song, food and games during a giant picnic in the heart of Granada, one of 12 activities organised by La Bolina with a focus on fighting inequalities (SDG 10) funded by the European Unions project 'Make Europe Sustainable for All'.
In the language of my tribe the word for “migrant” or “refugee” does not exist. It was simply never needed.
During the war for independence in Guinea-Bissau hundreds of people escaped to my village in The Gambia. We would give them land and work, they would build their houses, and the kids that were born there didn’t need any special permits, they just naturally became a part of the local community.
- Gilbert Jassey, asylum seeker, and co-founder of La Bolina
Could such a smooth integration also happen in Europe?
Different passports, same vision
They have different passports, but a similar vision.
Firstly, the founders of La Bolina wanted to work in participatory ways in refugee camps. But the seeds of the project, based in the Valle de Lecrín, Granada, Spain, grew into something much more complex. The group launched trainings and internships in permaculture and agroecology taught by refugees to refugees, with over 30 participants since October 2017. Now six course participants are joining the team and collaborating to set up various ecological and social enterprises in the area. The association is also exploring solutions to better ways of co-living and creating sustainable change.
It is a revolution not only for migrants and locals in the rural areas which the project hopes to revitalise, but also in proposing a more holistic approach to responding to one of the most urgent questions of the current global crisis.
"La Bolina is attracting people to move to the rural areas by showing that living sustainably from the land is not only possible but also great fun."
- Romo, director of Ecosuper, where La Bolina sells their produce
The activists met in 2016 on a residency in Spain. Eroles Project gathers people from all over the world to rethink borders, climate change, new economy and human rights. The diversity is being transformed into synergies. The gathering created a momentum which gave birth to La Bolina - now a shared house, a hub and a project integrating win-win responses to migration.
Lettuce and a football match
Can you change the world with lettuce or a football match?
In Spring 2018 La Bolina launched its first micro-enterprise: an ecological veg box selling organic vegetables grown on fields gifted to them by the local municipality and local people.
If ‘you are what you eat’, wouldn’t you want to feed yourself and the ones you love with fresh, responsibly grown veg that have a positive impact not only on your health, but also on life of the whole community?
Next year they will be harvesting olives to press into olive oil and are planning to open a seed nursery. Another vision is to take on their own restaurant, run world food cookery classes and publish a collective food recipe book.
“We predict that over the coming years these micro-enterprises will help to generate sustainable livelihoods, make use of untapped resources and bring more energy and life to the local villages”
- Maria Llanos del Corral, 39, President of La Bolina
There are two things that have powerful bonding properties: food and football. So La Bolina also run weekly matches for migrants, refugees and locals - one of the highlights of the week for many of those who are trying to start their life over.
Express and address
As well as their ecological and economic strands they also coordinate social and cultural events. In June 2018 the group organised 12 events in Granada to celebrate refugee week, such as a giant picnic, a film-making workshop, a symposium, and a participatory visioning day inviting politicians, locals, businesses, NGOs, universities and refugees and migrants to collaboratively seek solutions to the question of belonging and integration.
These events were supported by the European Union’s Make Europe Sustainable for All programme and focused on fighting inequalities, one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In September they will run a week of workshops in Theatre for Social Transformation using art to express and address the complexity of the themes of diversity and belonging.
Cultivate and Celebrate
In 2017 La Bolina won the LUSH Spring Prize Award and earlier this year was selected as semi-finalists out of 750 applicants to the European Social Innovation Competition.
La Bolina were also grateful to receive funding from GEN Europe, who donated the remaining funds from the RefuGEN initiative to the project. The funds were used towards their agroecology training programme for refugees and migrants.
That created lots of “Timba-timba” toasts. That is “cheers” in Gambian as the group proudly cultivates the rituals from the cultures of its participants.
The dream is huge, and will need paramount energy and resourcefulness; but “la bolina” takes its name from a very persistent plant. For its beauty, hardiness and resistance to drought it is a highly prized plant for landscape restoration, revegetation of degraded areas and natural gardens.
Wondering how you can co-create the change with La Bolina?
They are also looking for people who have skills in:
- Translation (Spanish, English, French, Arabic)
- Legal advice for refugees and migrants
- Setting up cooperatives/enterprises
- Fundraising (grants and crowdfunding)
- Communications: graphic designers and journalists