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Yousef & Hawaa, farming from Darfur to Draper

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Yousef farmed his whole life. Raised in a farming community in Darfur, he joined his family in the fields at a young age, tending crops of corn, okra, beets and arugula. In 2015, however, after being forced to flee their home in Darfur, Yousef, his wife Hawaa, and their five children resettled in Utah with the support of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City.

Adjusting to life in the Beehive State proved difficult for the family. Hawaa described her experiences in those early months: “I was really heartbroken when I was here, because I had a little girl who was put into the University of Utah hospital. When we would go to work, because I was so upset, I wasn’t eating or drinking. Even at night my head hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I was awake. Maybe I would only sleep an hour or two [each night].”

Though their early months were challenging, Hawaa and Yousef slowly learned more about life in the U.S., went to work and began looking to their future. Two years after arriving, Hawaa and Yousef’s IRC caseworker recommended that they participate in the New Roots program by applying for a garden plot in a New Roots community garden. After a successful season in the community garden, Hawaa and Yousef decided to scale up from their garden plot to a larger sprawl of land at the New Roots Wheadon Farm in Draper.

Yousef, Hawaa and their youngest son at their farm plot in Draper.

Photo: Maggie McCormick/IRC

Beginning to grow a garden again helped the family heal in their new home, especially Hawaa. “When I came to the farm, I separated from [my ailments]. I really liked the farm, and I really liked the vegetables. I don’t really like being around a lot of people talking, so I was really happy here. I could come here and I could just focus on the vegetables. When I go back home, I find myself relaxed.”  

On the farm Yousef and Hawaa grow nearly all of the same crops that they would grow back home in Darfur. “All the things here we have [in Darfur], but the one thing that we didn’t have was kale,” Yousef explained. Yousef and Hawaa sell some of the produce they grow on their farm plot to Whole Foods Markets and other local grocers through partnerships the IRC in Salt Lake City’s New Roots program has built in the community.

For their family, Hawaa and Yousef’s “primary goal is to go to school, because education is very important,” Hawaa explains. Hawaa and Yousef want to improve their English abilities in an effort to increase their educational and career opportunities. They hope their efforts continue to increase opportunities not only for themselves but also for their children. In fact, their oldest child is about to graduate from college.

Despite the challenges of resettling in a new country, Yousef and Hawaa have felt welcome in Utah. “Utah is easy! It’s like we are living in our home country,” Hawaa exclaimed.

“Because of … the people,” Yousef explained, “The way they carry themselves, they treat you like you’re someone who is close to them. I never felt like a stranger. [People in Utah] help the refugees. Utah is really good in my opinion.” Hawaa agrees, saying “I don’t think I could live anywhere else.”

Ensure programs like New Roots continue to grow and thrive in Utah to support refugee farmers and gardeners, like Hawaa and Yousef, by making your gift of welcome today: Rescue.org/GiveSLC.