Osman’s Story

In his home country, Osman had been jailed for speaking against the Sudanese government.

After a short time in prison, Osman escaped. However, his only choice was to flee Sudan and leave his family. It was the only way to ensure their safety. He came to the United States as a refugee with little except his memories, including memories of beekeeping back home.

But Osman didn’t know how to start over in his new home. That’s when he contacted the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, which has helped him build a new life in the United States.

United Way’s partner agency, International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, provided Osman with many services to help him succeed in his new country. IISTL enrolled Osman in English classes, financial literacy classes and even set him up in an apartment.

In addition to offering educational classes, IISTL offers immigrants, or “new Americans,” access to job training programs, such as the Global Farms Program.

The Global Farms program aims to help refugees and immigrants make a life for themselves through farming by offering educational classes in agriculture and providing the refugees with land to grow their own crops.

“Our goal is to get them to a point where they can operate on their own,” said Global Farms coordinator Whitney Sewell.

The Global Farms program began in the fall on 2010, with Osman as one of their inaugural members. After taking some farming classes at the International Institute he was then given a small plot of land in the program’s urban garden.

Osman began to grow vegetables and other produce on his little plot of land. IISTL taught Osman and the other farmers how to properly harvest their goods and prepare them to be sold in the market.

While selling his produce at the farmers’ market, Osman became mesmerized with the stand right across from him. That stand belonged to Jim Robins, a beekeeper and owner of his own apiary.

According to Sewell, Osman would wait until Robins had no customers and then dash across the way to ask Robins a plethora of questions about his business and the art of beekeeping. It was not long until Robins offered Osman a formal apprenticeship with him at his apiary.

IISTL allowed Osman to begin keeping bee hives at the farm. This allowed for one similarity between his life in America and his life in Sudan.

“I’ve been keeping bees my whole life in Sudan. In America, the method is different; your honey comes from the hive and in Sudan ours came from the wild. The American way is a lot more predictable,” says Osman.

United Way helps fund all of the Institute’s programs, including Global Farms. In addition to financial support, United Way also provides volunteer support. Both are vital to the program.

“It allows us to offer the continuum of services that refugees like Osman depend on for support during their transition to a self-sufficient life in St. Louis,” said Sewell.

Osman is now in his second year in the Global Farms program, and not only has his plot in the global farm grown, but his beekeeping business has grown as well. He still grows other produce to take to the market, but he’s now the proud owner of three hives.

When he’s not at the farm, Osman still helps out in Jim Robins’ apiary a few times a week. In addition, he has begun taking classes at Forest Park Community College.

Recently, Osman received a prestigious award at a microfinance conference. He was awarded $3,000 to further develop his business plan. To get the award he had to go through various presentations and interviews, which worried Osman because he is not yet fluent in English.

“He was nervous, but his English seems to be so much better when he talks about bees. I think it is because he is so passionate,” said Sewell.

“I plan to sell the honey at the farmers’ market and to some small stores nearby. This is the way I want to live my life,” said Osman.

Osman still has a year left in the Global Farms program. After he leaves, Sewell hopes the program can set Osman up with his own parcel of land to expand his business. Though Osman is a world away from his home country, his passion for beekeeping truly is spanning the globe.

Photo credit: Wayne Crosslin

About the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis

The International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis offers a variety of services for 7,000 new Americans from 75 countries each year. IISTL helps immigrants and their families become productive Americans and champion ethnic diversity as a cultural and economic strength. IISTL has been a UW partner agency since 1923.