Sunday, September 27, 2009
Burundi Refugee Farmers
What do you do as a refugee in America with few career skills? The Seattle-area Burundians, including Adirine Ntirabampa, turned to the land. She and others pick bean leaves, which some African cultures consider a delicacy.
Ranito Simbagoye weeds the corn crop in late summer. With many hands pitching in for the good of the community, corn will soon be ready for harvest.
Workers often spend their days in stooped labor at the Hope Burundian Community Cooperative farm in Kent. At night, some go to dish washing jobs or take classes in English as a second language. Others, unable to speak English, haven't found paying jobs.
Celestine Sibomana, farm manager, works with potatoes at the Hope Burundian Community Cooperative Farm in Kent. The land has not been certified organic, but the workers are using organic methods.
Njambi Gishuru, a Kenyan immigrant, helped the Burundians adjust and resettle here. "I can't begin to tell you where we started," she said. "There was a lot of fear, hopelessness."
All day trucks rumble past the Burundians' farm, a plot of agricultural land in a sea of warehouses in the Kent Valley. Celestine Sibomana, farm manager, works in the field.
Members of the Hope Burundian Community Cooperative harvest potatoes in Kent.
Farming on the urban fringe may seem odd. But any further away, and the Burundians would have a lot more trouble getting there. Farm manager Celestine Sibomana travels every day by bike. Others come by bus or walk. Only a few members of the community own cars.
Hakizimana listens to farm manager Celestine Sibomana (at center) during a community meeting, held every three months. The refugees work together to solve group problems. If someone can't make rent, others will chip in to help.
(from left) Serges Hakizimana(cq), 29, shakes hands with Barutanzaro Ntahondi(cq), 70, after a Burundian community meeting at a Tukwila apartment. Serges lead a ceremony that honored farm workers with gifts for their hard work and dedication. Most of the workers received soap, while one man received a bike.
The Seattle-area Burundians view themselves as a family, making plans and trying to solve problems together. Speciose Barera braids the hair of Phoebe Niyongabire, 4, during a community meeting this summer.
(From left) Jenifer Niyishobora talks with Grace Nyabenda, vice president of Hope Burundian Community Cooperative. Nyabenda is also the leader for the women in Burundian community.
Grace Nyabenda, vice president of the Hope Burundian Community Cooperative, listens during the community meeting while holding her daughter Josephine Nishobora, 3.
At a recent community meeting, children quietly played while the adults discussed business. Here, Odax Manirakiza takes a break to cuddle with his daughter Mary Manirakiza, 4.
The Burundian community meeting closes with a prayer.
With temperatures topping 100 degrees in August, the Burundians struggled to keep the crops alive, spending hours watering their acreage by hand.
Beans, planted scattershot instead of in rows, were somewhat of an experiment. Adirine Ntirabampa collects the leaves, which will mostly be used for family consumption.
During the heat wave, it looked for awhile like the crops might not make it. Earlier this summer, Domisio Baragenya waters by hand.
Members of the Burundian "Hosanna" Choir, including Diana Ndayahundina (second from left) and Violet Mfisumukiza (third from left), sing during their weekly practice at the Angle Lake Neighborhood Church. The group performs for some Sunday services.
Serges Hakizimana, leader of the Hope Burundian Community Cooperative, leads a meeting after the choir practice. Hakizimana said he would like to become a spiritual leader sometime in the future.
The Seattle-area Burundians are Pentecostal Christians who worship at the Angle Lake Neighborhood Church in SeaTac. Clockwise from right, Violet Mfisumukiza, Diana Ndayahundina and Serges Hakizimana pray for Roger Kabura, bottom right.
Violet Mfisumukiza carries her baby while practicing dance steps and songs with the Burundian "Hosanna" choir.
Mary Manirakiza, 4, carries her doll like Burundian mothers, wrapped on her back.
Finally, it's harvest time. Hakizimana digs up one of the farm's first potatoes, in mid-September. But with a potential for thousands of pounds of produce, they still have no way to haul it to the farmers markets.
With experience as an agriculture supervisor, Celestine Sibomana was chosen to oversee the farm.
(From left) Adirine Ntirabampa and Speciose Barera pick some of the beans at the farm in Kent.
After helping to set up the produce stand, Odax Manirakiza rests. Manirakiza works at the farm and at a West Seattle Goodwill.
Under the shade tree they jokingly call "the office," Roger Kabura cleans off his feet after a day's work. Their aim is to be self-sufficient next year.
To read Maureen's written story about the Burundian farmers: http://tiny.cc/Nma9z
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