A heart-felt, hands-on, and holistic response to the refugee situation: The Ecological Justice Hub of Jesuit Social Services Australia

A heart-felt, hands-on, and holistic response to the refugee situation: The Ecological Justice Hub of Jesuit Social Services Australia

(Photo: The Ecological Justice Hub of Jesuit Social Services Australia)

Sally Morgan

The Ecological Justice Hub of Jesuit Social Services Australia, a permaculture garden in an inner suburb of Melbourne dedicated to social and environmental justice, responds to the needs of refugees from Afghanistan who recently arrived in Australia.

In the months since the mass forced displacement of Afghan people as Kabul fell to Taliban forces in August 2021, refugees arrived in Melbourne and into a political environment that fails to provide the care needed by those most vulnerable and is often antagonistic towards refugees and those seeking asylum. In this landscape, the Ecological Justice Hub (or the Hub) responded quickly, compassionately, and holistically.

The Hub is recognised locally by businesses, charities, and churches as a thought and change leader in addressing disadvantage in the community through ecological means. The Hub brings care for people and care for the earth together in a wide range of hands-on projects, such as Just Compost (turning local and commercial waste resources into garden compost and soil conditioner), Just Habitat (manufacturing and designing small eco-friendly homes while creating employment and skill development opportunities), Just Energy (solar power and biogas systems for redistribution to people on low incomes), and JustNourishment (building permaculture gardens and distributing healthy meals using zero-waste cooking).

People living in Melbourne, like people across so much of the world, have experienced two years of unprecedented challenge. Melbourne endured over 260 days of strict lockdown since March 2020, and Australia experienced a peak in the Omicron variant COVID cases early this year. The impacts of lockdowns, fear, loss of income, and illness are greatest on people already forced by various circumstances to the margins of society, where welfare systems do not effectively protect their health and wellbeing.

When Melbourne was first under COVID-19 lockdown in mid-2020, staff at the Hub realised that many vulnerable members of the community would not risk venturing out due to health concerns, and this would have an impact on their access to healthy food.

Led by chef Sharif “Jonny” Hasan, the team began harvesting the Hub’s organic garden produce and using its commercial kitchen to cook and package nutritious meals, delivering them with love to people in the local area. This holistic response promoted ecological justice, responding to material and social needs in environmentally sustainable ways.

Chef Jonny Hasan leads the harvesting of the Hub’s organic garden produce, using its commercial kitchen to cook and package nutritious meals for the refugees.

The lockdown food relief program equipped the Hub team to respond to the needs of refugees who recently fled Kabul. When hundreds of Afghani families began to arrive in late 2021, Nasser Yawari – a trusted and well-connected member of the Afghan diaspora community in Melbourne and who works within the Jesuit Social Services’ Jobs Advocates Program – contacted the Hub team. Nasser understood the needs of many of the exhausted people arriving from Kabul.

Within 24 hours, the Hub expanded its service in collaboration with refugee support service organizations, AMES and The Big Umbrella Foundation, to deliver culturally appropriate hot meals and fresh groceries to 30 families under quarantine in three city hotels, and demonstrating what true welcome can look like.

Hub coordinator Stuart Muir Wilson says that Jesuit Social Services’ thoughtful, quick, and collaborative response is an example of how the organisation honours its Ignatian heritage – living with one foot raised, ready to go wherever the need is greatest.

Ecological Justice Hub coordinator Stuart Muir Wilson (left) said the quick food relief effort is an example of Jesuit Social Services’ Ignatian spirit of having one foot raised and ready to go where help is most needed.

“The team and I were able to do this because the Hub is responsive, pragmatic and solutions-oriented, with demonstrated on-the-ground experience,” he said. “Thanks to the insights of Nasser and AMES, we knew what people needed, could react quickly, and were trusted to deliver the nourishing and comforting food people were after during an incredibly vulnerable time.”

This project is one example of how Jesuit Social Services in Australia is taking an ecological approach to transforming how we live our lives in hope and in a commitment to caring for our common home and fellow human beings. There is a knowledge that caring is not just an idea; it is an action that changes things and makes a direct difference to people’s lives and to the health of our precious environment.

The Hub’s work responds to the call of the Holy Father Francis in Laudato Si’ to participate spiritually and culturally in an integral ecology of love, interdependence, and respect. “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” (LS 91)

In harmony with the Society of Jesus’ Universal Apostolic Preferences, Jesuit Social Services Australia “collaborate(s) with others in the construction of alternative models of life … (to) ensure a decent life for all human beings on our planet” and works to “help create conditions of hospitality” for all those seeking refuge and protection.

The Hub is a vibrant place of life and community connected through care to people and place. Jesuit Social Services in Australia is committed to the ongoing development of ecological justice through its holistic, multi-faceted and joyful work.

For more information, contact Jack Piper, Ecological Justice Support Officer at Jesuit Social Services Australia through his email: jack.piper@jss.org.au.

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