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Each year, the IRC helps thousands of refugees who have been granted sanctuary in the United States to rebuild their lives. An essential part of our broader resettlement efforts, the New Roots program enables refugees to reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities.
Bahati Mama’s: Seeds of Change
A decade ago, thousands of Somali Bantu refugees who had fled civil war in their home country were granted sanctuary in the United States. In San Diego, IRC staff helped arriving Somali Bantu families to find jobs, learn English and enroll their children in school. But starting new lives in a city where the language, the customs—even the grocery stores—were unfamiliar presented numerous challenges.
Somali Bantu leaders asked the IRC for help in finding land where their community could grow their own food, as they had for centuries in Somalia. With our assistance, Somali Bantu farmers won approval to transform a 2.3-acre vacant lot near the IRC’s San Diego office into an urban farm. By the end of the first summer, refugee farmers from around the world were harvesting 1,000 pounds of fresh produce a week. The IRC provided ongoing technical support, helping them to adapt their agrarian skills to the local climate.
Soon after, a group of women who had helped inspire the Somali Bantu community’s quest to farm in San Diego began marketing their produce for extra income. They called themselves the Bahati Mamas, meaning “lucky mamas” in their native language, Kizigua. They say they are lucky to live in a place where they can reestablish their ties to the land and nourish their families and neighbors with what they grow. “We want our children to eat tomatoes, not tomato ketchup,” they say.
Inspired by the leadership and vision of farmers like the Bahati Mamas, the IRC launched the New Roots program to help resettled refugees across the U.S. grow healthy food and share their knowledge and skills with their new communities.