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First Person: The Somali Refugees Planting A New Life In The United States

After spending years living in UN-supported camps
in Kenya, some 220 former refugees from Somalia now work as
farmers in the US state of Maine, growing crops ranging from
beets to broccolini.

Thousands of
Somalis who fled persecution and civil war in the Horn of
Africa country have benefitted from resettlement programmes
in third countries like the

Muhidin Libah is one of them. He
told UN News how he set up the Somali Bantu Community
Association in Lewiston, Maine, to both preserve Somali
Bantu culture and help the former refugees integrate into
the American way of life.

“I fled my home
in the Jubba valley in southern Somalia in 1991, when my
community was attacked. Many people were killed, some people
starved, women were raped and our land and property were
looted by the different sides fighting in the country’s
civil war.


I am a Somali Bantu and
my people are the descendants of African slaves who were
brought to Somalia generations ago. We have always felt
persecuted by ethnic Somalis.

I crossed the border
without my family and ended up in Dadaab refugee camp in
eastern Kenya. I was just 15 years old and had never been to
school and knew only how to farm.

If I had stayed in
Somalia, I think I would have been killed at some point as
there were so many young boys carrying guns.

Child of
the UN

I spent 10 years in Dadaab and life was hard.
It was dry and sandy and very hot and so different from my
home in the Jubba valley which is very green in the

We couldn’t do much in Dadaab, so it was a
bit like an open prison, although I did start studying
thanks to the schools that were set up by the United
Nations. Kids were given the opportunity to go to school
rather than carry guns, for which I am very thankful. The UN
also provided rations of food and water, so I am really a
child of the UN.

Somali Bantus, we were safer living in Kenya, but still
targeted by other Somalis, so the UN moved us to another
camp in Kenya called Kakuma where I spent two years before
being resettled in the US.
In Kenya, we were very
dependent on the UN, so my dream in the US was to create a
self-sufficient community of farmers. The Somali Bantu
Community Association is a way to empower my people, many of
whom cannot speak English.

Farming life

have recently secured long-term tenure of our land here in
Lewiston, Maine, so have entered a new phase where we know
we can build a future here. We call our land Liberation
Farms as a sign of our new freedom.

Our 220 family
farmers, three quarters of whom are women, each have a tenth
of an acre to cultivate are practicing traditional farming
which involves intercropping different plants and vegetables
and often placing multiple seeds in one hole at a time. They
are growing what I call culturally-appropriate crops like
molokhia (Egyptian spinach), amaranth, eggplants, various
beans as well as African corn.

They are also learning
new American techniques including drip irrigation and row
planting. They are cultivating crops like beets, broccolini
and fennel for the first time.

All the food they
produce is organic, which creates income and provides food
security for many families who otherwise may be receiving
support in the form of food stamps.

From birth to
death, land is deeply connected to our culture and so
farming is at the centre of the Association. We also run
other community advocacy programmes including conflict
resolution, health advice and youth groups.


are 7000 Somalis in Lewiston and its twin city Auburn, of
which 3000 are Somali Bantus. The integration of our
community into American life has been slow which I blame on
a lack of English but also ignorance about people who come
from abroad and who are different. Farming will help
integration as food is a universal language. It will bring
our communities together and we are already seeing this when
we sell our produce at local farmers’ markets.

believe from the next generation as our young people
graduate from school that we will be fully

We want to maintain our way of life as
much as we can but at the same time adapt to life here,
keeping the best parts of Somali Bantu and US culture, so we
can nurture kids who are well-rounded and can thrive in this

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