The Buddy System

How the permaculture community can support permaculturalists in hardship, in devastated and deteriorating countries, or in camps/settlements for a long time


When a country closes down or is battered by war and invaders, permaculturists, or perhaps others you know, are left locked in these devastated countries, struggling to have a life. Some leave and become refugees, others stay but hope to leave.

Those of us who live in other countries and who have friends, students or acquaintances in these situations, maintain contact with them via phone, email, and platforms such as Whats App. We learn of the terrible tribulations people suffer when their countries are invaded or bombed, and when they are forced out. 

Some manage to get out to camps or neighbouring countries where life is also very difficult, and they are likely to be there a very long time. In these cases contact is sometimes easier. Whether in their own countries or in places of transition, distressed people need others outside, to know about their lives and to support them. 

They also may need help with ​​applications for humanitarian visas to a country of final settlement. The processes involved in applying for a humanitarian visa can be exclusive because the forms are complicated and difficult to fill out, yet when given assistance, chances of finding asylum are increased. Your buddy may or may not be able to leave their afflicted country and this relationship provides a reality check for verification, references and assistance with immigration forms in seeking humanitarian visas.

They also may need help with ​​applications for humanitarian visas to a country of final settlement. The processes of filling forms and writing up stories are often complicated and difficult, and may prove exclusive, but assistance and support from a buddy can greatly increase the chance of being granted asylum. 

The buddy relationship may offer a refugee a reality check for clarification of their personal history that will fit with immigration department guidelines. A person can be excluded from a humanitarian visa because the forms are complicated and difficult to fill out. The buddy may also be able to help with verification of identity and ethnic group, plus provide other assistance with immigration forms and references. With outside assistance their opportunities of finding asylum are increased. 

Where there is an informal network or group of people working on their behalf, or there are family or other groups in camps and settlements, it is possible to access resources and support. 

The buddy system

Our experience across the USA, UK, Canada and Australia is that when someone under great duress and possibly danger in their own country, in a transition centre or camp, is paired as a ‘buddy’ with someone in our permaculture network, their hopes and contributions are much greater. 

We, Refugee Help (not a real name), have formed a small group, just two of whom hold the confidential identification information of people we are supporting. If we don’t already have a personal connection, the group gives us a buddy. Then we make contact and we talk over a variety of media about once a week, one-on-one with our buddy, also sharing news and other information in the group, such as the state of visas, food and security..

The outcomes from this ‘buddy’ system has been deep and valuable for us in the program as we’ve grown in appreciation of the courage and selflessness of our buddy, and the buddy is greatly comforted and feels supported by their counterpart.  Buddies in western countries say the experience is rich and real friendships are formed. The buddy under stress is able sometimes to supply clear and accurate information about conditions wherever they are and this assists us in providing resources for them and others in similar situations. Your buddy usually likes to hear about your life. 

The buddy relationship may or may not continue beyond the time of absolute need, and you may adopt another buddy, once the buddy is safe, or the relationship may continue for years, and become a lasting friendship. Not all buddy relationships end happily, depending on the circumstances of people’s lives. However most are rewarding.


Language differences are a challenge. So far we are working with forcibly displaced people who have sufficient English, however buddies with other refugee languages especially Arabic, Dari and French would help immensely.

What is required

We have written a Guidelines for Buddies leaflet, which stresses that promises should not be made which cannot be kept, and to adhere to absolute honesty about our own powerlessness (say with Immigration decisions), while doing what is possible to gently maintain hope and well-being. Confidentiality is necessary because your buddy may be in danger.  

Whether you belong to a Refugee Support Group or individually want to support someone you know,  you can assist a person with their forms, and keep contact with them. You will be profoundly appreciated and also it will be one of your special life experiences.

By Rowe Morrow

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