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A garden of opportunity
October 23, 2012 by Sharon Waxman
|Abdi Hassen (right) arrived in Baltimore in May 2012 after fleeing political oppression in Ethiopia. He shows the IRC’s Sharon Waxman produce grown by refugee farmers at a local New Roots garden. Photo: Jennifer Messer/IRC|
BALTIMORE, Maryland - Imagine hiking six miles round trip for all the water you need for drinking, cooking and washing each day. Now imagine trying to grow food for your family with that water too. One of Baltimore’s newest residents, Abdi Hassen, faced this situation during his time in a refugee camp.
I recently met Abdi while visiting a community garden run by the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore. As part of the IRC’s New Roots program, the garden provides refugees who are granted sanctuary in the United States with the tools and skills they need to grow healthy and affordable food for themselves and their families. During my visit, I learned about Abdi’s incredible journey from Ethiopia to the U.S. and heard his dreams and aspirations for the future.
Abdi grew up in Erer, a town in central Ethiopia where his family — mostly farmers — faced persecution because of their affiliation with a political opposition group. When Abdi was a boy his father was "disappeared." “I don’t know if he is alive or not now,” Abdi says.
When Abdi was a teenager, his mother was imprisoned by the authorities. Abdi went to live with an aunt in another part of Ethiopia to finish school, eventually obtaining a bachelor’s degree in irrigation engineering from an Ethiopian university.
This expertise in irrigation systems came in handy when the political turmoil in the country intensified, forcing Abdi to flee to a refugee camp in neighboring Djibouti. Abdi recounted how he was able to find an underground water source and dig a well so that he and others in the camp would no longer have to trek three miles carrying water on their shoulders. Now, with plenty of water, Abdi and his wife were able to expand the garden they had planted around their tent, growing tomatoes, cabbage, onions and potatoes to supplement their camp food rations.
Since he arrived in Baltimore in May, Abdi has been able to draw on the farming traditions he grew up with and harvest fresh Swiss chard, peppers, cabbage and other produce for his family.
“I don’t have to buy food from the market,” Abdi told me. “It’s all fresh here.”
Abdi is hoping to one day become a farmer in the U.S. As he pursues his passion, Abdi is also sharing his knowledge and skills with other members of the community — truly putting down roots in Baltimore.
Sharon Waxman joined the International Rescue Committee in August 2012 as vice president of Public Policy and Advocacy and head of the IRC’s office in Washington, D.C.
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