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Posts Tagged ‘bantu’

Photo: Molly Haley for the Boston Globe.
The Amjambo Africa! team: Georges Budagu Makoko, cofounder and publisher; Kit Harrison, cofounder and editor in chief; and Jean Damescène Hakuzimana, deputy editor and kinyarwanda translator [Bantu language]. They make use of a co-working space at the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

When I edited a Boston Fed community-development magazine, we had several articles on the resettlement of Somalians in Lewiston, Maine. With some exceptions, Mainers welcomed the refugees because that part of the state had been losing population. But I also read that among the immigrants themselves, the Bantu had a hard time. Prejudices had carried over from Africa. Today’s story focuses on the Bantu community.

Thomas Farragher reports for the Boston Globe about an unusual partnership.

“She is the daughter of a celebrated Washington Post correspondent who wrote from New Delhi and Tokyo, seeking out truth and telling the essential stories of people’s lives. And so, Kit Harrison continues to nurture the journalistic flame. …

“It’s a passion shared, too, by Georges Budagu Makoko, who is the publisher of the newspaper that Harrison edits here called Amjambo Africa!

“It’s a free publication about the African diaspora and immigration. And it’s intended for the eyes of newcomers to Maine with this lofty goal: to build a community by spreading information about its readership throughout Maine.

” ‘We operate on chutzpah and brains and energy and teamwork,’ Harrison told me when I visited her offices here the other day. ‘I grew up abroad quite a bit with my journalist father. I also taught kids in the range of (kindergarten) through eighth grade and the focus for me was always international. … I was constantly trying to teach kids about what we all have in common around the world — and why we can live together peacefully if we try.’ …

Amjambo Africa! [chronicles] the efforts to curb hunger in Africa and the state of the forests of the Congo and the environmental challenges facing Burundian coffee farmers. There are stories about efforts underway in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda to address mental health issues — and another one about a center that helps kids in Nigeria with autism. …

“All of it done in seven languages: English, French, Kinyarwanda, Portuguese, Swahili, Somali, and Spanish. …

“Makoko first arrived in Maine in 2002 and thirsted for news about the Africa he had recently fled. He could find none. So, he set out to do something about it.

“ ‘When I came here,’ he told me the other day, ‘I didn’t speak English at the time. I had to take English classes. After that, I was hired by a nonprofit organization that develops housing.’

“The people for whom he provided housing wanted something else from him: help in navigating a bureaucracy without the language skills to do it.

“ ‘So I started thinking: “What can I do to help these people?” ‘ he said. … ‘They need information about how to find their way in the system.’

“Makoko had written a book, Ladder to the Moon. A Journey from the Congo to America.

“It told the story of a growing up in a beautiful peaceful village surrounded by family — a life upended during the genocide in Congo and Rwanda. …

“ ‘But then my book was not enough. I started thinking maybe we can come up with something that will regularly inform the immigrants about resources that are around here, but also the whole community as to why people are coming here and what’s happening where they are coming from.

“ ‘And that’s where the whole idea of the newspaper came from. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to start a newspaper. I was thinking I have this idea. And I have zero background in journalism.’

“But Harrison did.

“And so a friendship and a critical collaboration and a partnership were forged.

“The first issue appeared on April 1, 2018, the product of a year’s worth of planning and answering critical questions: Who’s going to read it? Who’s going to advertise in it? How is this all going to work?

“ ‘You can’t print for free,’ Makoko said. ‘That’s an obvious cost that was there. We needed somebody to design the paper. Those are skills that we didn’t have. Kit was very good in writing and doing interviews and coming up with articles — but also translation. ‘You’ve got to understand that this newspaper is published in (multiple) languages.’

“All of that is a tall task. A monumental and important undertaking. And, yet, they have done it. It exists, telling stories about conflict in Ethiopia and about how to stay warm when Maine’s temperatures dip to dangerously low levels. …

“ ‘We’re about to celebrate our fifth anniversary,’ Harrison told me. ‘And we’ve grown. We’ve always been small and we still are. But within that smallness there’s been quite a lot of big reception and a lot of interest. We’re in it for the long haul. But it’s not easy. It’s very challenging to get the finances in place to do what we want to do, which is big stuff.’ …

“ ‘The word Amjambo — by the way — has meaning which you might want to know,’ Harrison said. “It means two things. It’s a greeting. But is also means W-O-R-D. Word.’ …

“ ‘You try to work for the common good, using whatever skills and attributes you happen to have,’ she said.”

More at the Globe, here. And at Amjambo Africa! here.

From a recent issue, you can read Bonnie Rukin’s article, for example. It’s on the Somali Bantu Community Association’s Liberation Farms in Lewiston, where farming skills have translated relatively easily from Africa to America.

“Two large building projects are planned for springtime at the farm – building a goat barn, and also a corn house for processing and storage. Local contractor Scott Doyon will oversee both projects. He has worked with the community before, on several projects. Good Shepherd Food Bank is supporting the goat barn; a State of Maine grant is funding the corn house. In addition, a new small commercial kitchen is going into the building that currently houses the farm stand. The space will allow community members to process produce grown at the farm.” More.

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In an article by the “Cooperative Development News” at Mother Earth News (by way of twitter), I read about a group of Somali Bantu refugees in Maine who started a cooperative farm.

This interests me particularly because when I was at the magazine, I acquired a couple articles about Somali refugees adjusting to life in Lewiston, Maine, through farming.

Here’s the story: “A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine … Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

“New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“ ‘Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,’ says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail. …

“The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period. … After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

“Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.” More here.

I’ve been interested in Somali immigrants since living for three years in Minneapolis, where there is a large population. I was friendly with one man who worked in our apartment building, ran for mayor, and got a job as a community liaison for a US Senator. Very nice guy. I loved his stories about being a child in Somalia, soaking up geography from international radio news, and pausing for a camel to get off the field when he was playing soccer.

Photo: Jenny Nelson/Maine Farmland Trust
Bantu refugees start a cooperative farm in Maine.

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I thought you would like this story from the National Deseret News about refugees making a new life for themselves in Arizona.

Lourdes Medrano writes, “In a small field on the outskirts of [a] desert town near the Mexican border, close to 30 women and men stoop over rows of pumpkins, carefully picking the pulpy autumn fruit along with its flowers, stems and leaves.

“The volunteers are part of an innovative program that helps refugees from war-torn countries find work and food. Called the Iskashitaa Refugee Network, the Arizona-based organization consists of a diverse group that harvests donated crops from local farms and people’s backyards to feed displaced populations from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“On this recent fall afternoon, Adam Abubakar, a refugee in his early 30s who came to Arizona two years ago from the conflicted Darfur region of Sudan, quickly clips pumpkin leaves and drops them in a tote bag for later distribution to newcomers who eat them. For Abubakar, picking fruits and vegetables comes second nature. Back in his homeland, he grew most of the food his family consumed …

“The government provides refugees limited resettlement assistance and organizations such as Iskashitaa work to help the newcomers become self-sufficient as they adapt to American society. Refugees working in the pumpkin field not only harvest the fruits and vegetables they eat, but they also distribute crops to fellow newcomers, learn about urban gardening, market what they grow, and participate in cross-cultural food exchanges. …

“The number of incoming refugees has fluctuated over time and reflects shifting world conflicts and heightened security concerns. In 1980, for instance, 207,000 refugees — including many displaced by the Vietnam War — resettled within the country.

“Iskashitaa was founded in 2003 by Barbara Eiswerth, an environmental scientist, with help from Somali Bantu refugee students who began harvesting crops no one was picking to boost their diet. The refugees inspired the name of the fledgling group: ‘working cooperatively together.’ …

“By tapping into the agricultural roots of refugees, Iskashitaa aims not just to provide food, but also to empower those they’re helping.”

More here.

Photo: Lourdes Medrano/National Deseret News

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