GHIC 2018: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 14-15, 2018
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite For Sight's 2011 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report by Chung-Sang Tse, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

"Agriculture For Asylum Seekers," Melodie Kinet, MPH/MBA Candidate, Johns Hopkins University

Social Enterprise Pitches are ideas in the brainstorming or early implementation stage. Selected participants presented their new idea in the format of a 5-minute social enterprise pitch. Following the pitch, there was a 5-minute period for questions and answers, as well as feedback from the audience. The presenters were directed to focus their presentations on the problem that they are working to solve, the evidence basis for their idea, the expected impact, as well as plans for measuring outcomes, and not just outputs.

Torture survivors from abroad seeking asylum in the U.S. face a broken system. Asylum status applications take up to 3-6 years for processing. Applicants cannot be enrolled in school or be employed. They are responsible for legal fees and for the costs of any interpreters. Social services are limited. Few housing options are available. Without a source of income generation, asylum seekers become dependent on others. Consequently, many applicants succumb to the mental stress and live in a constant state of anxiety and depression. 

In light of this problem, Melodie Kinet, a MPH/MBA candidate at Johns Hopkins University, proposed one solution: the establishment of Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) systems for political asylum seekers. This would include a 20-acre farm, a communal farmhouse, and various on-site social service centers, such as health clinics, legal clinics, and education centers. Available and accessible support networks would be provided, ranging from agriculture and English classes to legal aid and financial aid services. On this communal farm, asylum-status seekers cook and eat meals together, plant and labor together, and adjust and adapt together.

In this communal farm model, shares in the plot would be sold to the community. The revenue generated would then be re-invested back into the operation of the farm (such as for water, land, seeds). The dwellers can live for free, thus solving the issue of poor housing. They will not be legally labeled as employees, thus bypassing the non-employed applicant status hurdle.

Is this a permanent home or a transition house? It can be whatever the workers want – people who “graduate” could either stay to become employees at the CSA or move out to live in other communities. Regardless, this marginalized group of newcomers would have a safe and hospitable place to transition into a brighter future.