Refugees Strike New Roots – Literally – in Baltimore18 Sep 2012
Last year, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program resettled more than 56,000 refugees in the United States – people seeking permanent shelter from persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Although the U.S. government provides transition assistance to help refugees learn English and find housing, jobs, and medical care, the transition process is fraught with difficulties, from the practical to the highly personal, as each refugee adjusts to a new cities, a new country, a new culture – a new life.
Many refugees are resettled in densely-populated urban areas, because that’s where most of the resettlement agencies are – the non-governmental organizations that help refugees adapt to their new lives in America. Until refugees develop fluency in English and job skills relevant to the local labor market, they often find themselves living in low-rent districts, often the only place they can afford, given the low-wage work that’s available to them initially.
Low incomes make food insecurity a problem, one that’s further exacerbated when refugees live in “food deserts,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as neighborhoods that lack ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. [See Food Deserts.] For refugees, these “food deserts” also might be located where it’s difficult to find familiar produce and culturally appropriate foods. So, what to do?
Here in Baltimore, a leading refugee resettlement organization, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), is working with refugee families to create a food oasis in an urban neighborhood that many new Americans call home. As part of the IRC’s New Roots program, refugees in Baltimore are now growing their own fruits and vegetables in an urban community garden. [See Refugees Find Comfort in an Alley Garden in Highlandtown, by Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun, 06.Sep.2012.] The Baltimore Sun reports that the garden is intended to “help refugees carry on the agricultural traditions of their homelands,” and that the project may “help refugees mix with locals.”
According to The Sun, the IRC’s garden was started earlier this year, tended by a polyglot group of refugees from Iraq, Bhutan, and El Salvador, and overseen by an irrigation engineer – and fellow refugee – from Ethiopia. The IRC’s Baltimore director, Ruben Chandrasekar, told The Sun that he hopes to double the size of the Highlandtown garden next year, and is seeking land to start new community gardens in other neighborhoods where refugees live.
We commend the IRC for its creative work to build community and improve the quality of life for refugees, as they struggle to get established here. The New Roots program not only gives refugee families access to fresh produce, it builds stronger social ties as people work together for the garden’s success. Further information on the New Roots program is available on the IRC WebSite.
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