Refugees Sow New Community in a Tukwila Garden

Community blooms in a Tukwila garden where refugees are planting new roots

By Lara Hale

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March 9, 2017

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

They start arriving early in the day, their colorful clothing providing vivid contrast against the cloudy morning skies and natural palette of soil and growing greens. Seattle’s landscape and climate is quite a change from that of the South and Southeast Asian countries most emigrated from, yet in many ways the Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila offers a taste of home. 


Bhutanese refugees are southerners or “Lhotshampas,” of Nepali origin. Left to right: Nar Maya Darjee, Dhan Badur Biswa, Luxuman Biswa and Padam Darjee, Nar Maya’s father 


Purni Rai, who came to Seattle over five years ago, weeds in her garden

The roots of the garden, a partnership between the Seattle branch of the nonprofit International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Tukwila’s St. Thomas Parish, go back to 2010, when the church designated a portion of its land to create a place where refugees who were resettled in the neighboring area could grow some of the crops—such as mustard greens, daikon and squashes—they knew in their homelands.


Jit Gajmer, usually first to arrive at the garden and last to leave, takes a quick break

 

Most of these refugees come from rural areas in Bhutan, Myanmar and Laos (Washington state is one of the United States’ top 10 resettlement states for refugees) and spent much of their lives farming on a larger scale, explains Dal Diyali, who works in the IRC finance department and is a Bhutanese refugee himself. Growing crops here nourishes more than their bodies, though.

“It helps them ease into their new lives,” Diyali says. The garden, open to refugees and immigrants of all nationalities, also provides a level of freedom for the gardeners, some of whom spent 20 or more years in refugee camps before finally being resettled in the United States. 


A gardener tends to the weeds 

Because many are elderly and speak little English, their job prospects are limited, and they might otherwise be confined to their apartments. “This is meaningful work for them,” Diyali says. “This is a place where they can forget their worries and find community.” 


Gajmer, Kumari Biswa, Padam Darjee and Harka Biswa work the land and the fence

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