Mariam Issa’s Brighton home is unassuming, hidden in a thriving garden of more than 40 fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and flowering shrubs. A line of olive trees at the fence line signifies peace and welcome, which you feel instantly as you cross the threshold. In entering, you’ve stepped into the RAW Community Garden – a place where women can come together to garden, cook and connect. You can’t help but feel the love and compassion that has gone into making such a special place.
“The name came to me in my sleep.” Mariam said, “I didn’t know what RAW translated to. I woke at 2am in the morning with that name on my lips. Later that day I realised it translated to Resilient, Aspiring, Women. If you read ‘RAW’ backwards, it spells ‘war’. When we let go of that war inside us, we tap into our resilience and aspirations.”
Mariam arrived in Melbourne as a refugee from Somalia, fleeing civil war. She pursued studies in permaculture, which brought back memories of her homeland where community gardens are a natural part of every day life.
In 2012 Mariam realised her generous backyard could accommodate a community garden, and founded RAW with Katharina Kons. Both women had migrated to Australia, and despite their best efforts, both the German and Somali experienced social isolation in Melbourne’s affluent Brighton.
At RAW, women make connections across cultures – bridging gaps through a shared love of gardening, food and mother-nature.
“I think people are attracted to the garden for its simplicity, because it’s in my backyard.” Mariam reflected, “It’s unassuming and welcoming. I believe it’s all about creating trust by opening my family’s home to the community.”
When the garden first began, resources were limited. Family, friends and locals all pitched in – donating and planting fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and flowers.
“People forget our world is getting better. People get caught up in what is not working, and sometimes we attract more of that bad energy. It’s a choice. This is a positive place.”
Women of all cultures now visit the garden. Refugee organisations bring women from around Melbourne to spend time there. The Rotarians generously built a pavilion with an outdoor kitchen and a meals area where monthly cooking classes are held. A different cuisine is shared each month – most recently: Italian, Macedonian, African, Japanese and Indian.
Cooking brings people together. I used to work as a cook to families around Brighton. Cooking was a great opportunity to introduce my culture to these families. I am a storyteller, and food is a powerful way to share stories.”
Much like Mariam’s community garden, A Taste of Harmony is an opportunity to connect people from across cultures by creating a safe space with food. Workplaces can foster inclusion through opening dialogue about cultural diversity with A Taste of Harmony, an opportunity to celebrate cultural diversity with food.
To learn more about how you can generate meaningful conversations in your workplace about cultural diversity, visit our event ideas page.
Find out more about the RAW Community Garden and Mariam here.