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Nurturing a new friendship

29th August 2018Community

The industrious individuals behind the Pentridge Community Garden are once more proving that the best things in life are achieved together.

Together with Moreland Community Gardening and HAWAAN (Health and Wellbeing of African Australians Network), the team are working to establish an African Australian Friendship Garden at Pentridge via the government sponsored grant initiative Pick My Project.

The vision is to create a space within the garden, where members of the African community can gather to grow and share food, and provide strength and support to one another in an environment of true connection. For Keith Bhebhe of HAWAAN, it is the embodiment of his practice in mental health and his personal journey here and overseas.

“As an African who left Zimbabwe 17 years ago, I have faced many challenges settling – both in the UK in 2001, and then Australia in 2010,” he says. “One of the things I have appreciated is the great network of support in my life. It has made my journey a less challenging one.”

Inspired by the Zimbabwean tradition of the ‘friendship bench’, a therapeutic approach to depression and issues around mental health, the African Australian Friendship Garden seeks to alleviate some of the challenges faced by those who are part of the African diaspora, such as social isolation or the ongoing effects of severe trauma.

Participants will have access to community leaders who are skilled in addressing issues related to mental health and the associated barriers to treatment such as stigma and discrimination. They will receive guidance and support in identifying possible pathways, including seeking professional support.

“Being a mental health nurse, I understand the importance of self-care,” he says. “Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many of my fellow African community members struggle. With support, we can help many fellow African community members break the barriers and stigma associated with mental ill health and encourage them to seek early support from professionals.”


Already, the project has attracted interest from the wider community. And, with assistance from the University of Melbourne, the project will aim to grow traditional African crops such as maize and peanuts – as well as other traditional crops not readily available in Australia.

“A garden is a place of plants and life,” says Andrew Ogbourne, founding member of Pentridge Community Garden. “At Pentridge we produce delicious food together of course, but we’re also building a welcoming green space for people to relax, talk, connect and look after each other. This is a perfect extension of that idea.”

“This is a fantastic initiative,” agrees Robert Cogoi of Shayher Group. “It’s the little things that make the difference, and the African Australian Friendship Garden is a positive step in bringing the issue of mental health to the surface in a friendly, community-orientated way.”

“Sometimes,” says Keith, “it can be as simple as asking someone if he or she is ok. As emerging community leaders, we saw the value in creating a safe space that can bring people together, a place where people can do the things they enjoy, such as gardening, being outdoors and meeting fellow Africans – just as we did in our countries of origin.”

You can help get the African Australian Friendship Garden off the ground. Simply visit the Pick My Project website and add your vote, to support this wonderful vision and build a stronger, healthier and even more vibrant Coburg community.