Last January, I moved back to my hometown of Omaha, unemployed, and began volunteering at the Southern Sudan Community Association, a refugee resettlement nonprofit. My time was spent working on English with international refugees, and Akoy, at that time, was my student. She was one of the women I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with each morning, as the five students and I taught each other about language and laughter, and shared memories of the past.
After a few weeks of discussion, we were no longer just teacher and students; we were friends. Soon I began to notice some common threads: Everyone missed their family. Everyone missed the landscapes and air of their own country. And everyone missed growing their own food.
A wonderful and necessary idea emerged: Create a community garden with refugees. Encourage self-sufficiency and provide a platform for refugees to relate closer with their new community. If anything, allow refugees to do what they missed.
With these thoughts in mind, I started writing grant proposals. In March 2013, the now-named Root Down Community Garden received funding from The Pollination Project, and the reality of the endeavor began to take shape. I met with various refugee communities to discuss the garden, and we found an arable, convenient plot in a midtown neighborhood experiencing its own community revival. Soon enough, we had 11 eager farmers waiting to break soil in their new growing space.