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Youth voices: rediscovering home in Dallas gardens

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Win Tin works in one of the community gardens.

Photo: Yui Iwase/the IRC

I was born in Umpiem Camp in Thailand. My mom carried my older brother and sisters as they fled Karen State, Burma. Our house faced green mountains covered with big trees and hidden caves. A winding river carved through the base of the mountain where our village soccer field was. Early in the morning, my older brother would go to work at different farms. When he would come back, he would talk about harvesting plants and having fun with his friends. Even though I was only ten, I wanted to go too. My parents tried to stop me, but I kept asking and eventually they let me go with my brother.  I had never been in a car before, so feeling the fresh air in the back of the truck was great. At the farms, we planted rice and chilies until noon. Then I would play in the hay or a nearby river with my new friends. We swam, did flips, and played hide and seek. During harvest time, I used a big scythe to cut the rice and collected the chilies to be weighed by the farmer.

On January 15th, 2015, my family was resettled to Dallas. When I first got here, I didn’t feel comfortable anywhere. I didn’t like the city, my house, my school, or even the new restrooms - I didn’t like the way I had to sit! I missed going to farms, seeing animals, and the sunshine and trees. Last summer, I heard about IRC’s Youth Food Justice Internship. A teacher told me it was about farming and gardening, and I thought it would be fun to learn new things about plants. When I was accepted to the internship, I was excited, but also nervous because I thought I wouldn’t have friends there.

My first day, we started our own gardens with corn, beans, and okra. Mrs. Becky, at Our Savior Community Garden, taught us how to make bread with the rye we harvested in the garden. I was tired when I went home, but so excited to go back the next day.

Every Tuesday, we would go on a different field trip. We visited the Texas Worm Ranch, Paul Quinn College, La Bajada Farm, and Dallas Community Farmers Market. Out of all of the trips, my favorite was to World Hunger Relief, Inc.. There were so many different animals – chickens, pigs, rabbits - which reminded me of when I used to raise those animals in Thailand. Other days, we would cook or have leadership classes. We even made Lahpet Thoke (tea leaf salad) from my culture and food from the cultures of other students.

Win Tin and his friend Peter work with produce. Photo: Yui Iwase/the IRC

After 5 weeks of field trips, leadership training, cooking, and planting, I was chosen to represent our group at the Rooted in Communities Conference in Poughkeepsie, New York. I felt so nervous on my first day, there were so many new people from other states. I was surprised to see how many students were working in other food justice organizations around the US.  We talked together about food justice: not everyone lives near grocery stores or has money to get healthy food. We shared our ideas on how racism affects populations that don’t have enough access to food. We discussed the history of the civil war and slavery in food inequality. To better understand this, we visited a farm where slaves used to work the fields. Later on, a wealthy man purchased the farm and gave it back to the rightful owners. After learning about its history, me and my group helped harvest their crops.

In my internship, I learned about nutrition and what plants need to grow. I was taught that food justice was essential to my community and all communities. Many people struggle to have enough food for themselves and their families, so we explored ways we can help by planting food and donating it to food pantries. Before this summer, I was afraid to talk to new people. Now, I feel more comfortable communicating with other students, groups, and others who know more than me.

I’m so glad that I joined Youth Food Justice. When I first came from Thailand, I never thought I would make new friends or have experiences like these. Working in the different gardens in Dallas, Waco, and Poughkeepsie, I was reminded of Thailand. Thanks to this internship, I feel more confident moving forward in my education and one day, my career. I hope that someday everyone can be healthier and work together to make a more sustainable and just earth.    

Win Tin and his family were resettled in Dallas from Thailand in 2015. He is in the eleventh grade at Emmett J. Conrad High School. This past summer, Win Tin participated in the Youth Food Justice Internship at the IRC in Dallas, and was asked to write about his experience.

Win Tin after harvesting from a community garden.

Photo: Yui Iwase/the IRC