Lemon Tree Trust’s Ali Hadley introduces one of the bread makers the organisation is helping to empower.
Saerrana Hussein Jannabi is a regular baker and gardener at Lemon Tree Trust’s Azadi Community Garden at Domiz 1. Since fleeing the war in Syria, Saerrana has spent 12 years in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where she currently calls the refugee camp her home. She lives there with her son and his wife, where she is also a proud grandmother to their four girls and two boys.
Like many other displaced Syrian people, Saerrana yearned for the taste of khubz, a round flatbread enjoyed daily back in their homeland. The constraints of a refugee camp mean it’s impossible to build traditional ovens in the small houses and shelters, denying people the chance to make their own bread and enjoy that connection to home.
A lifeline for the community
Lemon Tree Trust is a charity that helps to transform refugee camps, one garden at a time. Through the provision of seeds and plants, we empower social and economic change. We pilot agricultural businesses and gardening initiatives in refugee communities, creating employment and restoring cultural identity, dignity and purpose. Gardening is also a powerful therapeutic tool, addressing issues of isolation and mental health, as well as producing beauty, belonging and food security. Our long-term vision is for every refugee camp in the world to have a garden, with self-sustaining ventures run by and for refugees.
With around 32,000 residents, Domiz 1 is the largest refugee camp in the region. When we realised that a key connection to home was missing for people like Saerrana, our organisation built a community tandoor oven in the Azadi Community Garden. Aveen Ibrahem, Operations Manager at Lemon Tree Trust and Domiz 1 resident, shares: “Established in 2016, our flagship garden was already a thriving hub of activity. Each day it welcomes more than 50 women and children to tend to their raised beds of nutritious produce, connect with other like-minded women and learn new skills. We realised that it would be relatively straightforward for us to build a clay oven that our gardeners could use when they visited Azadi.”
Lemon Tree Trust donates flour to Saerrana and her fellow bakers so they can make bread every day, helping to ease their financial burden. A rotating schedule ensures fair use of the communal oven, so that as many residents as possible have access to it.
An important connection to home
The significance of the communal oven extends beyond its practical use. It has become a focal point of joy and camaraderie. Bread is an important reminder of home and central to Syria's food culture and heritage. Making it is an activity that children traditionally help their mothers with from a young age, with skills passed down from generation to generation.
Whenever Saerrana makes bread in Azadi Community Garden, it's a celebration and respite from the challenges of camp life. She said: “each time I bake bread here, it feels like a wedding to me. It's a tremendous joy, shared with newfound friends in Azadi. And more than this, the Lemon Tree Trust bread oven has granted us an opportunity to reclaim our lost memories of home.”
Making khubz in the Azadi Community Garden is a real community-spirited effort. Usually one person will make a big batch of dough and someone else will expertly shape pieces of it into flattened balls. A third person will bake the bread, deftly and safely placing dough on the wall of the fiercely hot, cylindrical oven with the help of a special cushion. The fire at the bottom of the oven heats the walls and air of the oven, baking the dough quickly and evenly. When baked, each khubz is swiftly whipped off the oven wall.
Extra bread is always made and safely distributed to vulnerable families in the camp. The oven is often used to roast a haul of home-grown aubergines too – the perfect ingredient for using in the much-revered Syrian dip of baba ghanoush.
A powerful symbol of hope
With its greenery and tranquillity, the Azadi Community Garden is the perfect setting for this communal bread-making endeavour. It not only offers a space for baking but also a sense of normality and hope for the future.
Aveen acknowledges the many challenges that displaced people like Saerrana face. There is a need for more bread ovens and access to community gardens in camps for refugees and internally-displaced people. Lemon Tree Trust has recently extended the Azadi garden, doubling the number of raised beds so that more women can grow nutritious produce and make bread to feed their families. Our organisation is dedicated to bringing more community green spaces with bread ovens to other camps across the region.
This project is not just about baking bread. It's about restoring dignity, fostering community and preserving cultural heritage. A simple communal oven can be a powerful symbol of hope and resilience, bringing warmth and sustenance to people who need it most.
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 57, January 2024.
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Published Friday 5 January 2024
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