Former teacher cultivates rooftop garden to support her family and community
A former teacher, Sabah takes care of her garden with a unique precision, picking tomatoes, cucumbers and other greens as if she has been a gardener her entire life.
“Vegetables are like gold,” Sabah says. “They are a privilege,” she observes while giving a tour of her rooftop, “as many people cannot afford to have them.”
In the heart of the cramped Jalazone Refugee Camp a few miles north of the city of Ramallah in the Palestinian West Bank, everyone knows Sabah’s residence from the exotic greenhouse garden on her rooftop.
Since she was a little girl, Sabah had always had a fascination with farming. “It seems I inherited this gene from my family, as I come from a long line of farmers,” she says.
“Someone once wrote that ‘gardens are a form of autobiography’ and I believe it. I know what my parents and grandparents lost when they were forced to leave their village.”
Sabah shows us some keepsakes her family took with them when they were forced to flee their village of Al-Abbasiyya, a Palestinian village near the city of Yafa, during the 1948 war.
After immigrating here to the Palestinian refugee camp north of Ramallah, her grandparents, mother, and father never took up gardening again. Though coming from a family of farmers and previously making a living with the skills, the conditions of their lives in the refugee camp prevented them from pursuing it.
“Anyone who has ever been around gardens knows the value and joy they can bring to life. But my parents and grandparents never got that chance living in a refugee camp — not only because there was no space, but because they felt they never really got their life back in order.”
After nearly four decades of teaching, gardens remained in her mind. Although she loved every minute of the education sector, she longed for a garden of her own, just as much as being around the students. And despite a successful teaching job, the retired teacher felt far from complete.
“It’s true when they say that ‘gardening is an instrument of grace.’ At that moment, I only had a gap in my heart and no grace.”
In 2022, Anera installed five rooftop gardens in Jalazone refugee camp and 35 others throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Anera’s non-traditional garden projects aim at decreasing food insecurity and improving the livelihoods of people in poverty-stricken areas.
“When I heard that I was eligible for a garden by Anera, I was confused and wondered where I could possibly place it,” she says. “When they told me it’s a rooftop garden I was so happy.”
Sabah said, “I quickly cleared out my roof to make space.” She adds, “It not only provides us with food but it also makes the refugee camp look much better,” she adds. “It is also a form of social development. My neighbors come over at times to pick their own produce.”
With over ten varieties of organic fruits and vegetables watered via a hydroponic system, plenty of plants are grown annually in Sabah’s 48-square-meter plastic house rooftop garden. It is enough to provide for her entire 33-member household and extended family. She also provides for relatives, friends, and neighbors as often as she can.
“Anera continues to guide us throughout the process through trainings and technical support. I have attended multiple workshop sessions and have learned how to maintain our crops, especially between seasons. My brother was so inspired by my garden that he even made his own plastic house after I provided him with all the information I received during the sessions.”
Sabah says, “this garden is in honor of my parents and their struggle. It is a chance for them to relive what they know, and up here in this garden we’re always together.”