Community garden provides refugees with support and comfort through pandemic

A community garden in Seattle, Washington is providing a place for immigrants and refugees to come together and find community while growing food from their home countries.

Once a neglected parking lot, the garden, known as Paradise Parking Plots, is now a place for people to gather and tend to their plants.

Community members bond while growing their own food in the garden. (Hannah Letinich)
Community members bond while growing their own food in the garden. (Hannah Letinich)

“We have de-paved over 50,000 square feet of asphalt and put in garden beds,” said Tahmina Martelly, a program manager for World Relief Seattle, which founded the garden. “We have 44 in-ground beds and six handicap access beds. We have people from 23 countries growing culturally appropriate foods and making friends with each other.”

Martelly, who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh and has worked in refugee resettlement for more than two decades, said that the space has only become more important amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Signs show the different regions that plants and their growers come from. (Adam Kaufman)
Signs show the different regions that plants and their growers come from. (Adam Kaufman)

“We see gardeners in this garden who are coming in the middle of a pandemic and growing their food,” Martelly said. “Often, I’ll have gardeners tell me, ‘My plants don’t know there’s a pandemic. We expect to have food, because we put the work in.’ Having the power to grow your own food, a virus can’t take that away.”

Gardeners include Prem Adhikari, a Bhutanese refugee who grows mustard greens and long sod beans and has been working in the garden for over three years.

“It’s very difficult to go to market and buy the vegetable … (but) we have a garden, like a life to meet other people,” Adhikari said. “… It’s a lot of fresh, green, without chemical vegetables.”

Immigrants and refugees grow foods from their home countries that might be unavailable in the United States. (Hannah Letinich)
Immigrants and refugees grow foods from their home countries that might be unavailable in the United States. (Hannah Letinich)

In recent years, the garden’s mission has grown. Martelly said the organization now offers a summer academy where children learn about science in the garden. Even amid the pandemic, children have been able to get outside and learn about the world around them. Those classes are taught by interns like Risa Suho, who immigrated from the Philippines in 2008.

“As an immigrant, it’s super important, especially for these younger children, to see someone who kind of looks like them and can relate to their experience,” said Suho, who primarily teachers kindergarten and first grade-age students. “… Not to make my head sound super big, but I think it’s slightly inspirational if kids look up to teachers. They are leaders to kids. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for me if I was younger, if I saw someone who was like me in a leadership position.”

Children learn at a community summer camp in Paradise Parking Plots. (Hannah Letinich)
Children learn at a community summer camp in Paradise Parking Plots. (Hannah Letinich)

Martelly said that the garden is a place for immigrants to form friendships and other close connections.

“Many of these countries are in conflict with each other, and people will say, ‘Our

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the squalor inside ex-MoD camps being used to house refugees

The squalid conditions inside former military barracks hastily converted into refugee camps are revealed for the first time today amid mounting opposition to the Home Office move.

Images of the “unsanitary and unsuitable” living quarters inside the disused army training camps show crowded dormitories where it appears challenging to socially distance. The British Red Cross said that the Ministry of Defence sites, surrounded by barbed wire and high fences, were not fit to house vulnerable and traumatised asylum seekers who had fled conflict.

So far two sites – in Penally, Pembrokeshire, and Folkestone, Kent which together could house more than 600 asylum seekers while their claims are being processed, have been converted.

Jennifer Blair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which supports refugees who have endured extreme cruelty, said the pictures from inside the military camps prompted fresh disquiet.

“For a start, there’s a lack of privacy for showers and sleeping, and for survivors of rape and abuse that is unacceptable. The Welsh site in particular looks really rundown, with bunk beds and concerns over social distancing.

“It is unacceptable to house survivors of torture and human trafficking in unsanitary and unsuitable conditions. The use of barracks as refugee camps has been done without adequate risk assessment, proper vulnerability screening and specialist trauma-informed healthcare.”

Although the Home Office says nobody housed at the sites is detained, human rights groups have described them as “a prison without the safeguards of a prison”.

Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the asylum seekers were subject to a night curfew and that there was “a real risk that these camps are simply another form of detention with far less oversight”.

Sonia Lenegan, legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, raised concerns over the apparent lack of legal access for asylum seekers on the bases and said that despite repeatedly asking the Home Office for details of any legal provision there had been no response.

She also said that charities had experienced difficulty accessing the camps because of far-right protests outside them. It follows the recent admission by a Home Office official that although they were fully aware of far-right protests outside army bases and hotels holding asylum seekers they were “not tracking” them. A welcome event to demonstrate support for the asylum seekers who have arrived at Napier Barracks in Folkestone will be held next weekend.

Other issues identified by charities include a lack of specialist mental health provision, with one Syrian doctor being transferred from the Kent camp on Friday to, according to Blair, more “appropriate accommodation”, after he suffered a breakdown.

Jon Featonby, policy and advocacy manager for the British Red Cross, said many of the asylum seekers may have been imprisoned by their government or non-state actors in their country of origin and that being held indefinitely inside such bases would not be healthy.

“We certainly don’t think this is a suitable place for people to be in accommodation. It is

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