Background and Purpose: Presently, more than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes to escape the Russian military invasion, including 3.7 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, ranking this refugee crisis as among the “world’s worst in recent history” (www.pewresearch.org). The world now hosts an unprecedented number of displaced individuals. As of 2020, the UNHCR reported that more than 82.4 million individuals have been forcibly displaced. The United States ranks first in the world among countries receiving refugees for permanent resettlement.
As a consequence of displacement, immigrants and refugees grapple with significant resettlement challenges, such as social isolation, language barriers and depression, anxiety, and trauma. A growing body of literature focuses on place-making, or emplacement, to promote health and well-being for resettlement challenges. This timely study will help social service providers understand the necessity for community-based interventions to improve the resettlement process for immigrants and refugees, using a place attachment model.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with Karen and Chin Burmese (Myanmar) adult refugees who participated in a community garden program in Philadelphia.(ages 28 to 82). All interviews were conducted via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from June, 2020, through December, 2020. Interviews lasted between 23 and 69 minutes (n=17). The sample was predominantly female (16 females; 1 male) with nine Karen and eight Chin participants. All study participants had resided in the United States between 4 and 18 years. Participants were recruited in-person, facilitated by the program director of the refugee organization. Karen and Chin interpreters translated all interviews into English. All interviews were transcribed verbatim. The data was thematically analyzed using conventional content analysis with two cycles of descriptive and axial coding. All data was uploaded to Dedoose, a qualitative software program.
Results: Data analysis revealed that community gardens offer an opportunity for social interactions, improved well-being, a sense of belonging, maintenance of cultural traditions, and cultivation of native crops to sustain a connection to one's country of origin for refugees. These findings also operationalize and conceptualize the meaning of place and home, especially the mechanisms of place-making within the context of a community-based program. Findings also contributed to the formation of a new conceptual model for immigrant and refugee resettlement.
Conclusions and Implications: Community programs for immigrants and refugees build social connectedness, belonging, and unity, as well as trust and rapport, and decrease psychological distress, all critical tasks during resettlement. Integrating both community and the natural environment, community gardening programs offer immigrants and refugees the opportunity to maintain agrarian and cultural traditions practiced in their countries-of-origin, especially the cultivation of native food.
Strong community partnerships between social workers and communities, especially resettlement agencies and different refugee ethnic groups, are imperative to meet the needs of refugee populations, as well as to facilitate culturally appropriate interventions and community integration.