Gayesha the Gardener: How holistic support can change lives

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All illustrations by Laurel Molly. Find her on Instagram @laurel_molly.

“When I first arrived at Bristol Refugee Rights welcome centre, I realised that the name is perfect for this place. The staff really mean what they do. I felt so welcomed and looked after. The team did the best in every way and they saved me.”

Gayesha is from Sri-Lanka seeking sanctuary in the U.K. She came to our Welcome Centre in autumn 2019. She was destitute and reliant on support from friends. We provided her food packages and hardship payments. She started volunteering for us every week and joined our Pride Without Borders project to feel safe in a LGBTQ+ support group. Her situation was complicated and she had been in an exploitative situation. We referred her to The Haven. This way she had access to therapy sessions and a GP. She had not yet claimed asylum, so we explained her options to her and increased her knowledge on the asylum system. For medium term solutions, we applied to the Home Office to find her housing and an allowance for her sustenance. This was granted but outside of Bristol. We then documented how critical it is for her to stay in Bristol to access appropriate services and eventually she was given housing in Bristol city.

Since the first lock-down, Gayesha is receiving ongoing support including weekly calls and gardening supplies to grow vegetables in her back garden. We have provided her phone credit so she can stay in touch and food bank referrals so she has enough food. She said “When I first came, I was mentally down, suffering from very low mood. BRR team really encouraged me a lot with their kind words, they helped me become a volunteer. I did this once a week and it felt so good to help other people. When lockdown began I became very down again, feeling stressed stuck in the house all the time. But BRR gave me seeds and tools to garden. I grew chillies, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes etc. Each time I went to the garden, seeing the plants grow made me feel very happy. I join online yoga sessions and exercise classes. People from BRR still call me regularly, provide food packages and vegetables. I am so grateful for all their help.”

By Maite Ibanez Bollerhoff

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Read “Keep Body and Soul Together: Surviving the Asylum System”.

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