Twenty-two (and pup, Princess) came to welcome Nejmah Guermoudi to this last ASK Salt Spring gathering in 2022. As a participant said near the end of our time together - It was magical. And this magic was largely due to the passion, enthusiasm, and determination of Nejmah and the community she is building.
After her emotional Territorial Acknowledgement, Nejmah spoke of the momentum to create a place for all. A Green Ground Community society: (https://www.greenground.org/), Nejmah told us about this local community of artists and creative thinkers she is shepherding, a community that carries complex stories with it, ones often filled with trauma. Nejmah, their joyous cheerleader, is watching as this vibrant community emerges and survives.
Nejmah spoke of her years of living rough in Victoria and how Salt Spring saved her with the now-gone opportunity to rent a farmhouse for a $1,000 a month and share it with 10 others, creating a working, resilient community that bothered no one. Those days of easily finding space with severely-limited resources are gone. It is her hope to bring back that opportunity for warmth and safety. When things get tough, she reminds herself to proceed, thinking, What would I need if I were my young self?
Treasuring the free thinkers who have gathered, Nejmah is also very aware of navigating complex issues. We learned that this community, while welcoming elders, is largely comprised of approximately 30 folks between the ages of 20-40. Many are working, some are living rough in cars or boats, a few are housed. Most bring complicated histories of trauma. All, though, are drawn to this creative, noisy, artistic community, fleeing isolation and seeking their place in an accepting community.
Nejmah is saddened by the apparent lack of understanding and tolerance from some Islanders observing this ragtag community. Moving slowly, Nejmah carefully shepherds the often-damaged personalities of those gravitating to this community while also trying to get needed support from complex bureaucracies that hold those essential purse strings.
This community funds itself with the $25, 000 grant awarded to them by SPARC BC (https://www.sparc.bc.ca/). With this money, this community, a registered society, Green Ground Community, has rented two spaces, one on McPhillips and the other at the Middle School. While dividing the community into two spaces is not optimal, the McPhillips space has become one of warmth, food, and even safe rest when needed. The Middle school space is a room bright with art projects, encouraging all to create while enjoying the company of others.
While a Utopian vision. . . and quite wonderful much of the time. . . Nejmah was clear that the complex folks that gravitate to these spaces bring their own challenges. Avoiding a hierarchical organization, she is committed to cooperative leadership with lots of freedom as well as the structure of a Green Ground Community Board and Community Council advising the Board. Challenging this balance between needed organization and a flat, cooperative structure, Nejmah recently began to realize that some resented that she was talking a salary of $1,200 a month from the grant for all her work. In response, she is now only taking $600 a month - with the remaining $600 assigned to tasks: Whoever does the work gets the money.
While many in this community are energetic, recognizing that their ability to create a space will determine their survival, we learned that some hardly know how to wash a dish. So - there is much learning and attitude shifting that takes place everyday. Intent upon surviving, Nejmah was unapologetic about dumpster-diving for food and creating usable items out of those most of us see as garbage. Proud of this environmentally-conscious determination to make use of everything, members of this community are gradually learning to fix things, build, and use their creative talents to survive and stay warm and dry.
Some participants of this community joined us at this ASK Salt Spring gathering, telling stories of their vulnerability in a world where simply renting an affordable space to be warm and safe is practically impossible. The emotion was high and tears accompanied their stories.
When asked what was needed, Nejmah was clear: Land! With a safe place out of way of others, this community could build a space to gather, live, relax in safety. . .and yes, even party together. While Nejmah recognizes that, unfortunately, a few come only to party, she is committed to creating a community of collaborative healing, a community that works hard together to create what is needed to survive before getting out the drums and music.
A noisy group, Nejmah warned us that not all would welcome them as neighbours. But, if they were to acquire land, creating good relations with neighbours was recognized as a high priority. Participants spoke of cooperative communities in other areas that have developed a solid working relationship with their neighbours, even sharing the work needed to make all more comfortable.
Remarkably, a participant said I have land. While it is too early to know if this is the answer for Nejmah and her Green Ground community, she and the landowner went together to see this land as soon as ASK Salt Spring was over. Could it possibly be that new home for them? Stay tuned. . . .
Getting this needed land and the money to survive is difficult. Navigating complex bureaucracies is even more challenging for Nejmah. At one time she said: I am just a hippy with a diploma. . . and often have no clue what I am doing!
From the reaction of participants at this ASK Salt Spring gathering, it was clear that all thought that Nejmah certainly did know what she was doing. There was appreciation and applause for her as our time drew to a close, well wishes for success, and enthusiasm for her to return to be our special guest again in the new year. Thanks, Nejmah, for bringing your magic to this last ASK Spring gathering of 2022!
ASK Salt Spring is taking a holiday. . . . No gatherings Friday December 23 and 30.
Instead. . . . Enjoy family, friends, fun, festivities and food
See you Friday, January 6, 11-1, in the Middle School Lobby to welcome Adam!
What would you like to ask Adam?
What do you hope to accomplish in 2023?
Are there particular bills that we should be watching?
Are you pleased with Premier Eby’s recent announcements?
Do you think the requested Islands Trust Act review will be approved?
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the province?
How can you see addressing them?
And. . . ?
Please join us Friday, January 6 for a rich conversation with Adam. Remember: the Middle School Lobby!
***New fundraising option***
You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.
Any question, anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
We love your receipts! Remember: #15
Our Partners. . . .
Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards, Island Savings’ Simple Generosity grant, and Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA).
A heartfelt Thank-You!