Growing Lives: Images of Boise's Refuge Gardens 

Community gardens help refugees build new lives in their new homes

Safiya Abdi works in the garden.

Guy Hand

Safiya Abdi works in the garden.

You may not see it in their faces, but the people in these photographs are the victims of some of the worst atrocities humans can inflict on one another: civil war, ethnic persecution, genocide.

After escaping those threats, many then endured the danger and degradation of living in refugee camps. Eh Soe Min, an ethnic Karen from Burma, fled persecution and spent 11 years in a refugee camp in Thailand before being cleared to move to Boise. He said he was referred to in the camp as a "zero man," because as a refugee he was perceived as having no value. Many of Boise's younger refugees were born in similar camps.

The Somali Bantu, Burmese, Burundian, Congolese and Ethiopian refugees on these pages share one more thing in common: They were once gardeners and farmers or came from communities with close ties to agriculture and the land.

After resettling in the Treasure Valley, organizations like Global Gardens have helped them get back a positive reminder of their former lives: growing food.

"Part of it is just to help them feel connected, giving them a chance to do something they already know how to do. It helps people feel at home, it promotes physical activity, it promotes better health, and most of the people in the pictures are earning supplemental income by selling at farmers markets," said Katie Painter, refugee agriculture coordinator at the Idaho Office for Refugees.

Global Gardens, which Painter administers, started out as two small garden plots in 2004 and has since expanded to include several community gardens, farms and farmers market booths around the area. Several refugees from the program have started their own independent farming businesses.

Painter said these new Idahoans, despite much previous suffering, often exhibit the best qualities in human nature.

"I've learned so much from them about human resilience--people who've been through a lot and still come out on top," she said. "They adapt really quickly. I learn from them every day."

Eh Soe Min puts it another way: "In my mind, any place when I reach it, there is my home."

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