The high school I went to had a strong Signature Program, Community Development and Global Citizenship, which I was an avid member of for all four years I attended Arundel High School. This program introduced me to the concept of applied learning and showed me a contemporary way to learn that excited me. I went to Towson University after high school and felt completely out of place. Even after transferring to UMBC, I still felt like there was something missing about my education. Although most people say they never want to relive high school, I found myself missing high school because it was a time I felt engaged in my education and most importantly, I enjoyed what I was learning. When I saw the flyer for the INDS 430 seminar about Astrobiology I got so excited! I immediately rushed to my computer to sign up for the class but then I learned that 430 had many sections with different topics. After spending some time trying to decide which seminar I would enjoy the most, I chose Creating Food System Justice and I am so pleased with my decision.
This past semester I was lucky enough to work on the New Roots Garden project on campus. I came into this class knowing some information about the International Rescue Committee (IRC) due to personal experiences with them. I knew that this was an amazing organization that helped many of my loved ones escape our war-torn country of Iraq. However, I didn’t know the IRC had started a new initiative to build gardens for refugees to feel empowered and comfortable in a foreign land. Our group’s goal was to get a community garden for the refugees that are a part of our very own UMBC community, living within walking distance from campus.
Although we were unable to break ground for the garden this semester, we have definitely learned a lot on the way. I am sure everyone in my group, and in the class, did not know much about the bureaucratic system at UMBC before we had to learn in order to get our projects moving. This is a challenging system with no clear routes that has made our group feel completely stuck and overwhelmed many times throughout the semester. While we still haven’t been granted permission to begin the garden, we have definitely made many allies along the way who posses great knowledge about the system and have been assisting us along the way. It has been very hard to not have much physical proof of our work this semester, however, I truly believe that if we continue to work hard we will be able to have a New Roots Garden on campus in the near future.
I am planning on stay with this project during my time at UMBC and hopefully gain help from students and faculty along the way. Although I am hoping most of the bureaucratic work will be done quickly, I understand that it is a long and draining process that might take some time. With that in mind, I hope students who will work on this project in the future remember that there is not always instant gratification when working in civic engagement, if you hold on and keep working hard, you will almost always see a change. And if there is no clear change, then know that you learned a lesson that can be used to better your objectives. I believe one of the most important concepts to remember when working in civic engagement, is to never give up when you are challenged with a problem.
My understanding of Food Justice has definitely evolved throughout the semester. I was only 3 years old when I moved to America so I have no memory of Iraq. However, my siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all vividly remember our home. My family had many acres of land where we grew fruits and vegetables. We had a surplus of fresh dates from the tree in our yard. I remember the way my grandfather’s face would light up when he talked about the apricots he grew. I knew the transition to life in America was very difficult for my family. I also knew that it was even harder for the older generations. I saw the hope of going back to Iraq slowly diminish from their eyes year after year.
I knew one of the things my family valued, due to a cultural predisposition, was food. No matter how hard we tried, some foods just never tasted the way they did in Iraq. I knew that hurt my family. I knew they missed the flavors of the lamb and the sweetness of the apricots and the freshness of the cucumbers. I also know that my family is not the first family to be displaced and miss the comfort of their homeland.
One of the main reasons I wanted to work with the New Roots Garden was to be able to help refugees feel more comfortable in their new land. I know the large value food represents in my life and I’m sure it holds an equal value in the lives of many refugees. Besides wanting to provide a place for healing in the garden, I want to provide these refugees with a place to grow the foods they miss from their homeland. During my research for my final paper, I read an article about an Iraqi refugee who took cucumber seeds from his family’s garden in Iraq and kept them with him during this time at a Syrian refugee camp and eventually planted them in Phoenix, AZ where he was able to have a small part of his past with him in America.
I hope that the work my group and I have done this semester does not go unseen just because it was a more behind the scenes task. I am so grateful I have finally found a class that brought me the same joy I had in high school with learning outside of the classroom and seeing what my actions can do in my community. I am so happy I came across this class and met so many wonderful people who will no doubt, change the world.