Ali Addeh has been plagued by a lack of water and rations. Hassen began gathering seeds from nongovernmental organizations and he and his wife, both experienced farmers, planted them around their tent.
For years they walked about three miles each way to fetch water, carrying it back to their garden on their shoulders, Hassen said. Then, in 2006, he began digging.
"I dig four times before I could get water," Hassen said. Finally, his well filled when he hit a depth of about 16 feet, he said.
With a closer water source, his garden grew to nearly 1,000 square feet. Other refugees began taking seeds from his crops and planting their own plots, Hassen said.
Today he is working to enlarge the IRC garden so more refugees can take part.
Chandrasekar said the nonprofit would like to double its gardening space in the alley next summer. IRC staffers also have been working to identify other community gardens where the refugees could work, he said.
The nonprofit has talked with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. about using some of the company's land in the Frankford neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore, where many refugees live, for a larger gardening space, Chandrasekar said.
"We look at the garden also as a community integration tool," he said.
Hassen is hopeful that the New Roots garden will expand, that his family will someday own its own plot and that he will find a job in the agricultural field.
But for now he is happy to help in the Highlandtown alley.
"I feel that I am at home," he said.