The Espero association near Paris is offering free courses to refugees and asylum seekers to learn about beekeeping, permaculture and composting. They hope these courses will lead to better integration in France. InfoMigrants went along to meet up with the apprentice beekeepers and their teachers.
"Beekeeping is a huge joy in my life! I grew up around my father's apiaries so I have been playing with and speaking to bees since I was three years old," says Ibrahim Karout, a Syrian refugee living in France since 2013. He loves to share his joy of and passion for beekeeping every times he's near the hives.
"When I left my tiny Syrian village to come to a huge city like Paris, I thought to myself: Beekeeping for me is finished. I am indescribably happy that it is back in my life once again," he confided to InfoMigrants at the unveiling of a new apiary on the roof of the town hall at the 17th arrondissement in Paris.
Ibrahim and the French beekeeper Jean-Philippe Haulin, are part of a two-person team working for the Espero association, which was started in November 2016. The two men have around 30 pupils, almost all of whom are refugees or asylum seekers, who are keen to learn about apiculture.
"As well as our beekeeping courses we also offer courses in market gardening and another about composting," explains Maya Persaud, one of Espero's co-founders. Persaud herself is in charge of looking after about 10 hives dotted around Paris, in parks and on the roofs of certain buildings.
The courses are free and can be started at any point during
the year. They are offered to both refugees and asylum seekers. Depending upon
participants' level of French, most pupils start out learning with Ibrahim
Karout with whom they complete about 16 sessions before moving on to expanding
their knowledge with Jean-Philippe Haulin.
When they are placed with Haulin, pupils typically start preparing to enter the job market.
Rolling out the concept across France
"I already did a bit of beekeeping in my country, Chad. When someone told me about Espero upon my arrival in France, I just couldn't believe it! I am so happy to be able to work alongside nature and bees. Furthermore, the bees seem less aggressive here, and anyway, we also wear protective clothing," explained Abelhaq Adam, an asylum seeker and apprentice beekeeper, in perfect French.
Adam hopes to find work in the field of urban agriculture and apiculture after he completes the course — that's if he obtains refugee status. To increase his chances of success, he has been attending French courses as well as attending the beekeping course with Ibrahim Karout every Saturday in Bobigny.
"Ibrahim is teaching in Bobigny, but we have been opening up other spaces in Paris, too. During the first year we taught about seven people, and this year we are already teaching around 30. Associations and non-governmental organizations which work with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the French Office for immigration and Integration (OFII) are starting to get to know us and take notice," explains Maya Persaud, who hopes to roll out her courses right across France.
If you would like to sign up for courses, or would like more information, you can contact Espero directly via their email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find out more on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/esperofrance/