Refugee’s garden business vandalised
‘‘I'm completely in awe of his work ethic - to rebuild his life from nothing.’’
Lower Hutt has rallied around Khaled Al Jouja after a mindless act of vandalism left the Syrian refugee’s fledgling business in tatters.
Al Jouja returned home from a morning out with his family on Tuesday to find more than a thousand of his plants strewn across the floor of his greenhouse.
The plants were to be sold through his nursery business based at the Common Unity Project’s ReMakery building in Lower Hutt. He had been hoping to get his business off the ground this spring.
Al Jouja propagated most of the plants from cuttings himself and spent between seven and 12 months getting them to a point where they were ready for sale.
It was unclear whether there was motivation behind the vandalism.
Despite being shocked by the incident, Al Jouja began picking up the pieces almost immediately. He saved about 250 of the 1200 plants in his greenhouse and was out the next morning watering the plants he had stored at a different site.
Though the vandalism destroyed nearly a year of work, Al Jouja was determined to carry on and was thankful for the support he had received from the community.
Members of the Common Unity Project and Lower Hutt communities had offered seeds, fertiliser, compost, cuttings and money to go towards a more secure greenhouse to help him get back on his feet.
The Common Unity Project’s Facebook page had also attracted hundreds of messages of support and offers of help.
Al Jouja is originally from Homs in Syria where he ran a successful business selling more than 200,000 olive trees a year, as well as fruit, produce and other plants.
He left Syria with his family about five years ago to escape the conflict and spent several years in Lebanon as a refugee. He has been in Lower Hutt for nearly two years and said he enjoyed his new lifestyle.
Since arriving in New Zealand Al Jouja has put his horticultural expertise to good use, working for the Common Unity Project’s Urban Kai programme where he grows vegetables that feed hundreds of people within his community.
Common Unity Project coordinator Julia Milne said he was ‘‘a fighter’’. ‘‘I’m completely in awe of his work ethic to rebuild his life from nothing.’’
It was sad that someone who had already been through so much had to face such a frustrat- ing situation after making a fresh start in life, she said.
‘‘It shows how much work we need to do in our communities to ensure everyone is included and respected.’’