How do we teach our children about different cultures while also learning how to sustain a healthy garden?
Djamila Moore is the Education Director at Grow Portland, a non-profit organization dedicated to school garden education, with a special emphasis on improving the physical and mental health of refugees, immigrants, and people of color. Throughout the month, Djamila rotates between 16 schools in the greater Portland-area, including Harrison Park School in Southeast Portland. During her lessons students learn about plants, gardening, conservation, and how to support thriving ecosystems.
Harrison Park School in Southeast Portland has one of the most diverse student populations in the city, with 5 official school languages including Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and English. It is also home to the largest population of Somali immigrants in Portland.
Djamila incorporates a lot of these cultural influences by working with the students to plant a variety of foods including tomatillo, ground cherries, and Chinese gourds. These foods are then sent to the school cafeteria where students can literally enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Back in February, Djamila participated in the Global Classroom "Understanding Islam" workshop for educators at the Muslim Educational Trust. The workshop gave a broad overview of Islam in addition to addressing cultural stereotypes and how to combat the rising tide of Islamophobia.
Since Grow Portland works with gardening it was important to Djamila that she take the "Understanding Islam" workshop to better meet the needs of her Muslim students when fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
"Because Grow Portland works with thousands of students from many different backgrounds, ethnicities, languages, and faith communities- it is important for us to be as educated as possible so that we can be responsive to our school communities and offer inclusive, meaningful approaches to school garden education" Djamila explains.
"The most interesting aspect of the [Understanding Islam] workshop was hearing from the panel of youth, sharing their perspectives and experiences about how they navigate layered identities as Muslim American teenagers who are committed to social justice, education, and being strong ambassadors for their communities. I was very inspired by them."
The workshop was also extremely educational for me in terms of learning more about the Muslim faith and ways that I can publicly recognize and celebrate the Muslim students I work with."
After attending the Understanding Islam workshop, Djamila was inspired to hold a small training for her educators to raise awareness about students who might be fasting during Ramadan. Since these students would be exposed to edible plants and foods during their lessons, Djamila wanted to be sensitive to her students temptations.
She also wanted to use this opportunity to help raise awareness about Ramadan with her students directly. In this way, she could create a safe space for students to still participate in various garden activites. Before starting her lesson, Djamila started off with a quick announcement to her classes.
"I want to acknowledge that we are now in the month of Ramadan, which is an important Muslim holiday for some of our friends. If you are fasting, we can give you a bag so you can take some food home to eat with your parents tonight."
Djamila looks forward to continuing her work at Grow Portland to help raise strong and healthy communities throughout Portland. Like WorldOregon, she believes in planting seeds for the next generation to create a more peaceful and sustainable world.
"At Grow Portland, we use the lens of growing food as a tool to connect children to their local natural spaces and understand their roles and responsibilities within these ecosystems. Cultural education is imperative to ensure that we are not promoting a generic, white-dominated teaching approach, but rather, modeling curiosity, life-long learning, and humility."