Growing together nurtures community for international students at CQUni Melbourne

Published:03 June 2020

International Student Health Promotion Coordinator Liza Costello connected students through the Grow Together initiative.

CQUniversity Melbourne students are creating small scale food forests at their homes, with a project to nurture community despite social distancing.

The innovative “Grow Together CQU” initiative has distributed free herb seedlings to more than 100 international students across May 2020, and connected them as they share growing progress, tips and produce.

CQUni’s International Student Health Promotion Coordinator Liza Costello designed the project after COVID-19 lockdowns began, and said it gave students welcome relief from the screen.

“Because all study went online, we needed new ways to help students connect and bridge gaps despite social distancing restrictions,” she explained.

“So much of what was on offer was technology based, so Grow Together was a chance to do something tangible, bring them face-to-face with support, and give them something they could nurture and grow at home.”

The project invited students to collect the seedlings while on campus to access CQUni’s free twice-weekly food bank, which is helping feed hundreds of students every week.

Over a month, the students collected more than 300 free plants, received weekly emails with growing and care advice, and used social media to share their own gardening tips.

Liza said the process helped students feel more positive about the challenges of lockdown, remote study, and being away from family and friends.

“A student came up to me last week and said Grow Together had made such a big difference to him, he actually wanted to volunteer with the project,” Liza said.

“He was from India, his father and grandfather were farmers, and they had actually sold the family farm so he could come to Australia to study.

“He was just so happy to be planting, to feel connected to his family history – he’s changed his physical landscape and his headspace too.”

A keen gardener, Liza said she had experienced the health and wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature.

With a background in counselling, psychotherapy, and community development, Liza joined CQUni Melbourne in January this year, and she is preparing to offer the Grow Together program across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in Term 2.

“I’ve been personally inspired by the students, because they’ve been so enthusiastic about sharing their progress - they’ve gone beyond just growing their seedlings, they’re getting cuttings, they’re making fertiliser, we really are all growing together!”

In Term 1, Liza has also helped coordinate the Eat-Chill-Sweat series of thrice-weekly Zoom online classes for mindfulness, workouts and cooking.

In Term 2, CQUniversity will continue to deliver all units online, as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response.