In 2014 and 2015, the International Rescue Committee and the California Center for Cooperative Development reached out to TESA to lead a series of workshops and trainings. Over these two years, organizers and educators from agencies across the country were brought together. The focus was on developing educational practices to empower refugee farmers to take democratic control over their livelihoods.
People that are displaced from their homes and seek refuge in the United States face a long list of challenges and difficulties. These range anywhere from not speaking the language, to cultural differences, to lack of job access, to dealing with unsympathetic bureaucracies, racism, homesickness, and much more.
The groups that were a part of the trainings we developed and facilitated wanted to learn how to use educational techniques that didn’t further marginalize, but rather empower, the refugees they were working with to develop farming and gardening programs. Often, these agencies are aiding farmers from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and countries all at the same time. This means they don’t necessarily speak the same language or have the same norms, all while having to work together to grow and sell food to sustain their livelihoods. Historically, some of these agencies have relied on very hierarchal forms of education – where they simply tell refugee farmers what they need to do on subjects ranging from showing up to meetings, growing food, selling products, conflict resolution, and making decisions. This top-down approach to education disenfranchises the farmers and creates even more issues – like anger, mistrust, misunderstandings, disinterest, loss of crops, and loss of income.
The sessions TESA developed focused on getting the participating groups to learn about and start to implement social justice education with the refugee farmers that they worked with. Many of these refugees were lifelong farmers, meaning that it was crucial to incorporate their knowledge, skills, and ideas into the process while adapting to a different cultural context. At TESA, we view social justice education as a vehicle to empower learners – to make them the primary teachers and do-ers.
Through workshops, conversations, and activities, we helped the participating agencies develop an understanding of this form of education – going over its theories and practices. Groups explored how adopting these techniques would help them create programs and efforts that would allow refugee farmers take the steering wheel when it came to their education, jobs, and lives. We focused on building trust between facilitators and participants, using dialogue and collaboration between participants as a key strategy, giving farmers the tools to collaboratively address and solve their problems, integrating fun into learning, and much more.
However, the workshops in 2014 and 2015 weren’t just meant to tell organizations about these educational practices. Instead, we worked with them to take their existing programs and tools and refine them with their newly-learned social justice education skills and knowledge. We did this by examining their current tools and curriculum and then collaborating on adapting them to employ social justice education (which is based on principles of equality, dialogue, interaction, and group problem solving). The point was to put these theories into practice, and so that the groups wouldn’t simply forget about them when they went home. As a result, these training sessions helped instil social justice education into the long-term efforts of these organizations working with refugee farmers.
We have worked with TESA on a number of projects and could not be more pleased. They are knowledgeable professionals who creatively developed curriculum and approaches that have been invaluable.
-Kim Coontz, Executive Director of the California Center for Cooperative Development
We were so delighted to meet and collaborate with all of these organizations and to learn about the important work they are doing. We hope to continue collaborating with them into the future, as there is a growing need to support refugees around the world.
Featured image: IRC’s logo, via their website.