Refugee’s gar­den busi­ness van­dalised

Upper Hutt Leader - - OUT & ABOUT - MATTHEWTSO

‘‘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.’’

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