Family to Family Welcome Meals
Co-creating ways to ease resettlement alongside new citizens
Samaritas, Resettlement organization
Michigan Engaging the Community through the Classroom (MECC)
Designer & Design Researcher
One of three design master's students
As part of a larger project to help create a "Refugee Ready Region" in Michigan, our small team engaged with new citizens from Afghanistan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan to better understand how their experience settling into a new place could be improved. We began without a specific project, intervention, or solution in mind – just curiosity – finding footing in ambiguity and allowing for a messy, non-linear project. After several months working alongside families, the idea for Family to Family Welcome Meals was developed. Family to Family Welcome Meals (F2F) is a way to develop social connectivity between arriving families and those who have already spent time in the area.
SKILLS & TOOLS
Analysis and synthesis
Workshops & Engagement
We spent time getting to know several families through a Samaritas case manager who was generous enough to make introductions and assist with translations when necessary. Our time together included informal conversations, hands-on workshops, pickup soccer, cooking lessons, and more.
During ongoing efforts to deeply understand the thoughts, feelings, and implicit knowledge of the families we interacted with, we conducted a shadowbox workshop along with visiting artist, Tracey Snelling. Afterward our team used narrative sensemaking to more deeply consider the boxes each person crafted. In addition to conversations, observations, and interviews this was a great opportunity to continue building trust. Aside from the boxes, the workshop also highlighted the importance of community. A surprising result of the activity was observing how the shared food and music brought by participants created a warm, joyful atmosphere. Key themes that we decided to take forward were food and collectivism.
Once we had zoomed in more specifically on a project direction and question, we spent time cooking with families. Making food together was a lovely time to learn about experiences and share stories. One of the women explained how she had learned to cook from her mother and laughed gently as she told me that they didn’t have smartphones to look something up if you forgot back then. Each woman we cooked with made a dish they’d learned in their country of origin. At the end we shared a delicious meal with four families and felt how food can result in connection.
In the later stages of the project we decided to organize another workshop to better understand what ideas continued to resonate with the women we’d been working with. We brainstormed different ways to run a workshop that would give everyone multiple opportunities to talk about their experiences, feelings, preferences, and ideas. We ended up bringing a variety of objects as well as a whiteboard where we took notes so that everyone could see them. Not every method we had strategized was useful, but by being flexible we continuously shaped the time around what everyone in the room was most interested in.
With so many interactions and learnings, our team was constantly using a variety of methods to sensemake. One of our key activities was creating an idea framework that we could use to evaluate and think critically about what we wanted to bring into our next meeting with families. We used this framework to craft our feedback workshop. We also made stakeholder maps, debriefed sessions with other MECC teams, crafted storyboards, produced physical prototypes, and utilized affinity mapping.
How might food act as a means of social connection and/or economic agency in a way that is accessible for women?
The two ideas that stood out in the process were: family to family meals and family to business resources. The first is a way to foster social connectivity through food by having settled families cook a meal for newly arriving families. The second is a set of resources that connects women who are interested in food entrepreneurship with organizations and opportunities in the area that align with their aspirations. Although this engagement was scheduled to last an academic semester, we decided to continue supporting Samartias in making Family to Family Welcome Meals (F2F) a reality.
A critical part of this project was group and individual reflection. Conversations about language within our project team stuck with me the most. We discussed the ways that we unintentionally othered families and women we spoke with by saying “them” or using generalizations and worked hard to correct ourselves. This project was an exercise in complexity and ambiguity. It was important to balance the collective and the individual while interfacing with stakeholders who have different priorities. While we continue to work on this, I continue to consider ways to close the loop and ensure the families we got to know feel valued.