Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Joy of Cooking.... COntinued from December's Newsletter

...... "Whenever a friend goes to Africa or is coming to America to visit, I ask them to bring me this stuff," he followed up with. This is undoubtedly one of the best gifts a friend can give, a piece of home.

After nearly an hour of carefree cooking, the much-anticipated dish was nearly complete. All that was now needed was the taste test. "Stick out your hand," Ndikum said. Being the adventurous type, I cooperated and before I knew it, egusi soup was splattered on my palm. "This is how we do in Africa," said Ndikum, as I was instructed to lick it off my hand. The savory base from the cow meat and oil livened my taste buds, while the infused creamy tomato smoothed everything out; I couldn't wait to dig in.  

Just as we sat down and began to pig out, a knock came from the door. Mustafa, a Cameroonian man who lives in the same apartment complex as Armyao, came in and immediately began talking about his car problems that day. "It sucked man, I was so pissed," he said. To cheer him up, we offered him some of the egusi soup and he politely declined. "Mustafa, you must try this," I said, "it is delicious!". "No it is alright, I have been trying that for my entire life," he cleverly stated. This interaction only reinforced my understanding of how ingrained this dish was to the West African culture.

I have always cherished the rewarding nature of cooking; but cooking alongside refugees, asylees, and the like, has expanded this juvenile feeling into something that cannot simply be stated through words in order to fully convey, but instead must be directly experienced. That is, a sense of worldly connection.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Top 3 Reasons to Eat Local Foods

 With all those food choices out there, it is hard to choose the right ones. So Iskashitaa would like the chance to help you make those tough decisions by reminding you why it is important to eat locally:
  • Local produce has more time to ripen. Because local foods don't have to travel long distances, they don't have to be sturdy, solid and harvested too soon like their counterparts. That means we catch those fresh fruits as they fall from the trees and create something delicious for you.
  • It keeps open spaces! If you buy locally, you are encouraging and supporting farmers with open spaces and giving them the means to stay in business. This keeps nature present and discourages industrialization.
  • You are in touch with the seasons. When you buy locally, you are buying based on the harvest calendar. These will not only keep you in touch with the seasons, but can be a great knowledge base for those of you who are aspiring growers!
If these reasons weren't enough to tempt you to buy local, then maybe some of our products will. Currently available are Cactus Pickled Garlic, Garlic Olive Oil, Prickly Pear Syrup, Fiesta Salsa, Cinnamon Loquat Jam, Prickly Pear Jelly, and many more! All ingredients are harvested and prepared locally. They are available for purchase at:
  • Creative Juice located at 6530 Tanque Verde, Suite 160. Operational hours vary, visit for details.
  • Mi Casa located at 3248 East Grant Road with operation hours Mon- Sat 930am to 5pm.
For more information or to contact us through email to order products to

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pictures from Tucson Meet Yourself 2012

United Nations Refugees from all over the world demonstrated their traditional sewing and crafts skills to the public during the annual Tucson Meet Yourself Folk Festival.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Iskashitaa Welcomes New Staff Member, Kristen Vellinger

Kristen Vellinger developed a passion for refugee rights when working on the Save Darfur campaign in high school. Time living with a number of war torn communities in Central America made her realize the power of community leadership in development, and furthered her desire to work with the refugee community. In college, she worked to promote the empowerment of local communities through international investing and microenterprise, but her favorite activity by far was teaching ESL to adult and high school students. Her senior thesis focused on the importance of community leadership in women's development efforts. As the new AmeriCorps VISTA, Kristen looks forward to working as Resource Coordinator to help further Iskashitaa Refugee Network's transformational impact.

Iskashitaa is excited to welcome Kristin as a new staff member in November.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Recipe of the month


Date Syrup - Asel el'taemer  
By Faeza Hillilian

10 lbs of Dates
  1. Wash dates quickly in cold water, wash dates until water is clear
  2. Boil whole dates in pot with water for 2 hours, until date is soft
  3. Remove dates from water and strain dates with a cloth cotton fabric (pillow case). Boil liquid extracted in a pot for 2 additional hours until thick.
  4. Place liquid in plastic or stainless steel trays. Cover and secure with gauze to prevent moister. Leave in sun for 6-10 hours. Until liquid has honey/syrup like consistency.
  5. Package in containers/jars
  6. Ready to enjoy with bread, tajini, etc.
Package in Jars of 1/4 pint

Friday, November 9, 2012

Celebrating United Nations' Day

Thank you all for helping to make our first annual United Nations Day Breakfast Fundraiser on October 24th a success. We look forward to seeing you October 24th, 2013! Thank you for all those in attendance and for donating towards Iskashitaa Refugee Network. I hope you enjoyed the delicious breakfast donated by Whole Foods, MYA Distributing, Bentley's Coffee House and volunteers. We appreciate you taking the time to hear about our mission, accomplishments and refugee stories despite your busy schedules. Thank you for your engagement in this event with the purpose of seeking support and expanding our community and network. If you were not in attendance, you can find out more about Iskashitaa's progress and mission on our website, Facebook page and/or watch this video! You can always donate to Iskashitaa online by clicking HERE!

With your support, Iskashitaa will continue to grow and help refugees reach Tucson resources.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Learning to Finger-weave at Tucson Meet Yourself

Walking through the center of the bustle at Tucson Meet Yourself in search of an Iskashitaa banner, an overwhelming wave of smells, sounds and movement crashed my sense of focus. It didn't take me long to find what I was looking for: the Iskashitaa crafts tables in the Folk Arts and Global Market center. Covered with hand-woven baskets, palm leaves, scarves, and other vibrant merchandise, the color-blasted tables were not hard to miss, much less the smiling and welcoming faces of the Iskashitaa members.

I introduced myself to the craft-makers and asked about their work. After learning about the patient skill behind the palm-frond and recycled plastic baskets, my interest directed itself towards the only child at the table. Expecting a shy character, I was surprised when she jumped at the questions directed towards her. Wondering which method she used to make the colorful scarves, she offered to teach me how she finger weaves each one, putting a whole new meaning behind the phrase "made by hand." Watching her wrap the yarn around my fingers, I began to ask her about herself and how she came to be the sweet Nepalese teen teaching the silly American girl how to make her own clothes. Originally from Bhutan, fifteen year-old Krishna told me about her family's journey.

A sophomore at Catalina High School, Krishna came to Tucson with her brother, sister, and mother in March of 2010. Before coming to America, Krishna's family spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal.
"So why did you come here?" I asked her.
"Why? To have a better education, and to live in peace, freedom..." A nice answer, of course, but an expected answer, almost rehearsed. I wanted to know more, if the stereotypical belief that everyone wants to come to America is a falsifiable truth, or if obtaining the real answer is like drilling someone at a poker table. I drilled anyway.
"Did you always want to come to America or did it just turn out that way?"
"It just happened," she admitted. "We were in refugee camp for 18 years.... People from Bhutan start war and they came (to Nepal) to run away. I stayed in refugee camp for 11 years but them (her family) they stay for like 18 or 19."

Due to the rising population of the Nepali-speaking minority in Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck began a policy that resulted in the expulsion of roughly 100,000 members of the ethnic minority from the 1980s to 1990s by the Royal Ghutan Army. By 2010, around 40,000 Bhutanese refugees in camps in Nepal were resettled in Western countries like the United States due to Bhutan's refusal to allow the return of its citizens (Subba and Mishra 2010). According to a relative 1995 article in the academic journal Pakistan Horizon, the "pro-democracy protests in Thiumphu, a corollary of the democratic movement in Nepal, seem to have triggered the eviction of the ethnic Nepalese from Bhutan" (Shakoor 1995: 33).

"Do you ever want to go back?" I inquired.
"Maybe... probably not" Krishna replied, a serious look on her face. But when asked about the future, her positivism remained undimmed. "I want to go to U of A. I want to be a doctor."
"What kind of doctor"
"Family doctor? Or Dentist? My sister wants to be a nurse, yeah and my brother's study nurse now."

As I continued to weave the scarf on my own, I asked, "So how do you learn to finger weave?"
"Her." She gestured to the women to her right weaving a scarf of her own. "My cousin." Brought to attention, the women I now knew to be named Pompa joined our casual banter, although her limited English produced Krishna as our on-deck carrier pigeon.
"So when did you come here, to Tucson? I asked.
"Uh, I came 2009. March."
"Before Krishna?" I asked for clarification.
"Yes before Krishna."
"And you're originally from Bhutan?
"Yes, yes my country is Bhutan," Pompa answered with an air of pride. When asked about anything related to her experience in Tucson, she would answer simply, "Yes, I like United States," as her face lit up in a smile. Although details were difficult to extract due to the language barrier, the message was clear; her resettlement experience has been a positive one. "It's difficult because the system I think is good and law here is good. Two things I don't like." With the help of Krishna's translations, Pompa then went on to describe her dislike of the common attire by the students at schools in Tucson and the normalcy of street smokers, a lighthearted air to her disapproval.

Resulting in a similar reaction, any questions about their involvement with Iskashitaa Refugee Network, or anything related to Iskashitaa for that matter, produced Pompa's repeated remark, "Too much help, Iskashitaa, too much help, Barbara" Their positive reaction towards Iskashitaa's programs and presence in their lives was undeniable. Krishna elaborated for her cousin, explaining how Iskashitaa provides fabric to make clothes, supplies to make the merchandise they sell at local events such as this festival, and helps her communicate with people in the community. Along with supplies, Pompa also acquires much of her produce from Iskashitaa harvests, including "apples, oranges, pomegranate..." she added with another bright smile.
As I continued my finger weaving, Krishna noticed my length, wrapped one end around my neck and said, "Maybe a little bit more. It's good."
Pompa may not think of America or Tucson as her home, at least not in the way that she thinks of Bhutan as her home, but she appeared happier than most people I know. A constant expression of complacent contentedness rested on her face in the time I spent with her. Other than the expected anxiousness one feels after spending a long day in the heat, Krishna seemed happy too. A feeling that may have been harder to come by without a community, a home, to call her own-a community whose doors were undoubtedly opened through the Iskashitaa Refugee Network.

-Kayla Halsey, Journalism Intern 

Saturday, November 3, 2012



Feeling Stressed?

Not exercising enough?

Attend a yoga session and support Iskashitaa Refugee Network!

Iskashitaa has been selected as the non-profit of the month of November at Session Yoga!  100% of class donations from Karma Sessions, held every Sunday at noon,  will be donated to Iskashitaa.  Karma Sessions have no class fee, but a suggested minimum donation of $5/person.  Session Yoga is located at 123 S. Eastbourne Ave (near Broadway and Country Club).  More information can be found at  We hope you'll attend all 4 sessions! 

Thank you, Session Yoga, for your support!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Intern of the Month - November 2012

Max Efrein, a Broadcast Journalism and History Major from the University of Arizona, began his internship with Iskashitaa Refugee Network on August 2012. He is working with Iskashitaa staff, Girls Making Media, volunteers and refugees to develop a cookbook that highlights refugee recipes and cultural traditions. Max has used his journalistic skills to proactively collected recipes while creating relationships with refugees, so much so that he has been invited to refugees' homes to share delicious meals that will be featured in Iskashitaa's cookbook. Max is always ready to lend a helping hand and has been a great asset to Iskashitaa.

Thank you Max for all your hard work!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recipe of the Month

Pumpkin Shoots & Leaves Curry
By Indra Chauwan
6 one foot long pumpkin shoots with leaves attached                  
2 medium sized hot peppers                                   
½ tomato chopped                                       
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 onion sliced                     
dash of turmeric for color and smell (optional)
1 garlic clove finely chopped                        
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1)     Strip the pumpkin shoots of all the leaves and stems, keeping the younger, softer leaves for the dish and tossing the larger, older leaves in the trash.
2)     Peel the stringy skin off of the pumpkin shoots and cut into bite size pieces.
3)     Wash the leaves and shoot pieces in strainer.
4)     Heat the vegetable oil on high in a medium sized sauce pan.
5)     Lower to medium heat and sauté onions and peppers until lightly brown.
6)     Add the pumpkin shoots and leaves and continue sautéing.
7)     Then mix in the garlic and tomato, add a little water, turn heat to high, and cover pan for about 3 minutes.
8)     Uncover the pan, add the salt and the dash of turmeric, and stir frequently. It is also good to mash the chunks of tomato in the pan with the back of a spoon to release the juice.
9)     Add a little more water to avoid drying out the vegetables and then cook until most of water is reduced.
10)  Serve over rice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Harvesting to Our Hearts Content at the Conservation Farm in Patagonia

With hunger in our eyes, eight refugees, Joanne Finch, and myself carpooled our way down to Patagonia, Arizona on September 14th to do some harvesting.

Patagonia, a small town famous for its beautiful scenario and 300 plus species of birds that nest or pass through the area during migration seasons, is also the location in which lies a 160-acre conservation farm[1].  

Native Seeds/ SEARCH, a major regional seed bank based in Tucson, Arizona, operates this farm along with The Nature Conservancy. These organizations are known for not only perpetuating the existence, growth, and consumption of native fruits and vegetables, but they are also known for their charitable services.

Without a moments thought, we decided to take advantage of one of these services. By putting a few hours of leisurely work in on the farm, we were compensated with 1/3 of the products we picked. With everything on the farm being 100% organic, we were treated with some of natures finest. The main courses consisted of cowpeas, sunflower seeds, and millet -- all of which never having been harvested by Iskashitaa before--, but that wasn't all we got. Wishing for the refugees to get as much out of the experience as possible, we toured various parts of the farm, gathering bags full of wild tomatoes, hot peppers and even pumpkin shoots. You heard me, pumpkin shoots. With a little ingenuity, one can cook both the leaves and the stock of these shoots to create a delicious vegetable dish.

The eight refugees, coming from Bhutan, Somalia, Cameroon, and Someplace Else, were all experienced farmers and plowed through the fields until we compiled large trashcans full of tasty morsels.
As my first experience interning with Iskashitaa, It was truly heart warming to see the smiles on the faces of the refugees as they plugged away at a task they were so familiar with.

"Farm was great!" said Maryann, a woman from Somalia. "I love those tomatoes we picked," said Indra Chauwan, a woman from Bhutan.  
We all, including Joanne and I, went home with bunches of food so raw and indigenous that I don't even know how to cook much of it. The refugees on the other hand seemed to know exactly how they were going to use their portion of the spoils, and in the end, that's all that really matters.  

By Max Efrein, Iskashitaa Cookbook Intern

[1] "Conservation Farm", Native Seeds/SEARCH, Native Seeds/SEARCH 2011,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Grace Green

Intern Spotlight
Grace Green
Iskashitaa would like to welcome Grace Green to the Iskahshitaa Team. Grace was picked to pursue the Paul Lindsay Internship through the College of Education this Fall 2012. She will be working directly in our ESL program supervising the Honor's Civic Engagement Teams while developing instructional material to engage and empower refugees.

Grace received her Bachelor of Science degree in Public Affairs from Indiana University Bloomington in 2011.  As an undergraduate she volunteered as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor in public schools, in addition to interning for political campaigns, a congressional district office, and state environmental protection agency.  After graduating, Grace worked for Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, where she conducted environmental education, and as an ESL Instructional Assistant at a junior-senior high school.  Grace is currently a graduate student in the University of Arizona's Teach Arizona Master of Education program, and an intern at Doolen Middle School.  She is excited to build relationships within Iskashitaa and serve the Tucson refugee community. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Prickly Preparation

On Friday, Sept 28th Iskashitaa was joined by an amazing group of volunteers from The University of Arizona. With the help of these Public Health graduate students and a few United Nations refugees, we created scrumptious loquat jams and prickly pear pickled garlic (what a tongue twister!). Unfamiliar with loquats? Now is your chance to purchase a product and experience the true delight of this local fruit.          

Despite a "prickly" hiccup of a water-main break, everyone powered through with some bottled water and made the day a success. We would like to extend a particular thank you to our volunteers for their patience and enthusiasm. Our newest interns, Max and Kristin joined us at this workshop to begin their creation of an Iskashitaa cookbook highlighting some of our best recipes as well as refugee stories. Look for our cookbook soon!     

Interested in joining us on the next food workshop? Check out our website at and sign up or join our food workshop mailing list: to stay in the know! Interested in buying a product? Come to Tucson CSA or send us an email.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Mission Continues

Iskashitaa Reaches Out to Veterans
The Mission Continues
Iskashitaa Refugee Network is excited about our partnership with the Mission Continues. We are able to host up to three post-9/11 veterans who will work half-time for six months and earn a living stipend of approximately $900/ month. Each Mission Continues Fellow will work with their choice of the following programs: Harvesting, Sewing and Crafts, and Marketing.  At the culmination of their service with Iskashitaa, each Fellow will lead a service project that unites veterans and the community. We are eager to interview veterans who are interested in this opportunity for experience working within the non-profit sector in Tucson.

On October 20, Iskashitaa will participate in Nam Jam, a family friendly music festival at Reid Park hosted by Vietnam-era veterans. Steve Kreamer, an event organizer, told Iskashitaa that he and his colleagues wish to assist post-9/11 veterans as they navigate the transition back to civilian life and the services available to them upon their return. It is Iskashitaa's desire to offer meaningful, life-changing employment to veterans and hope that Nam Jam will be a venue to make connections to veterans looking for work.

If you know a veteran who has served since September 11, 2001 and is looking for work in Tucson, please ask her or him to contact Natalie Brown at

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Iskashitaa's New Food Preservation Coordinator, Kate Faschan

Iskashitaa's New Food Preservation Coordinator,
Kate Faschan
Iskashitaa warmly welcomes Kate Faschan as the new Food Preservation Coordinator. Kate will be working along-side refugees and volunteers using her expertise to manage Iskashitaa's food preservation workshops. Want to get to know her? Here's her Bio!

Kate Faschan arrived in Tucson in August 2012 as Master of Public Health candidate and a Peace Corps Fellow attending the University of Arizona.  Kate served as an HIV/AIDS educator in Swaziland, Africa. There she worked with orphan and vulnerable children as well as under-privileged adults to provide health education as well as life and business skills to those struggling populations.  Her service in Africa made her aware of the need for people to have a chance to develop themselves. She offered this opportunity to Swazi's by facilitating experiential education in fields such as agriculture and food preparation, language skills, arts and craft skills, nutrition, exercise, and personal empowerment. Kate was thrilled have found Ishkashitaa because Iskashitaa's mission mirrors her Peace Corps efforts.  She looks forward to continuing community development with Ishkashitaa.

The next Food Preservation Workshop is October 26th! Email Kate to let her know you are coming!

You may contact Kate at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ESL Classes in Fall

Honor's Civic Engagement Interns commence ESL Classes
New ESL Classes catered towards refugee needs are underway. The University of Arizona Honor's Civic Engagement Interns started ESL Classes the last week of September teaching students greetings, how to process forms and day-to-day English terms. These highly motivated teachers will continue to give classes and assist refugees in the acculturation process through introducing material that is based on real life-skills in the United States and 'real' material, like coupons, newspaper advertisements, bills, forms and what the students want to learn. Classes also serve to introduce refugees to Iskashitaa's programs: harvesting, diaper donations, food redistribution, food preservation workshops and our Sewing and Crafts Circle.
Know of anyone that can benefit from these classes? We are enrolling new students everyday! Contact Lizbeth at for enrollment information.

Class Schedule:

-Tuesdays from 6:00 - 7:30pm at Desert Tree Apartments
Teachers: Janine Clark and Alexis Lozcano

-Thursdays from 6:30 - 8:00pm at Oasis Apartments
Teachers: Rachel Wehr and Alyssa Caraway     

Sunday, October 7, 2012

NPR story

The Iskashitaa Harvesting Project
Story by Gisela Telis

Photo: Gisela Telis
Marian Ahmed harvests tomatoes with the Iskashitaa Refugee Network. Ahmed is a refugee from Somalia who arrived in the U.S. more than eight years ago.

Download as MP3

When Barbara Eiswerth came back from Africa, all she saw was waste. Walking the streets of Tucson, she found sidewalks littered with oranges, figs and pomegranates-the unharvested yield of people's backyard trees.
Having worked as a researcher in the impoverished villages of Malawi and witnessed hunger firsthand, Eiswerth couldn't stand by and watch the food go unclaimed.

Photo: Gisela Telis
Scientist Barbara Eiswerth founded the Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network in 2003, after graduate fieldwork in Malawi made her acutely aware of how much food is wasted in the U.S.

"As an environmental scientist, the road to sustainability is using what we have right here," she says. "We can do the right thing, which is not let food go to waste." So Eiswerth started doing something she'd trained to do in graduate school: making maps.

With help from teens she recruited through a local high school, she scouted for friendly homeowners and productive fruit trees or garden plots. Then she mapped the unwanted bounty.
That year, her team redistributed the harvest from nearly 200 homes to local soup kitchens.

Then, in 2003, Eiswerth met refugees from Somalia who had just arrived in Tucson, and was struck by the challenges they faced. Like refugees elsewhere in the country, Southern Arizona's refugees encountered language and cultural barriers, few job opportunities and limited resources to pay bills or support their families. Many had left family members and friends behind, and found themselves struggling to adjust to a strange land with little support.

Eiswerth wondered: what if the harvesting could help them? What if feeding people could create community ties too? And she decided to invite refugees into the gleaning.

Photo : Gisela Telis
 Bhakta Khadka, a refugee from Bhutan, shares his story with other refugees in the Iskashitaa Refugee Network office.

Since then, the Iskashitaa Refugee Network has touched the lives of thousands of refugees, who volunteer with the network to glean and cook the city's surplus food together. In the process, they develop some of the language and job skills they'll need to build new lives.

The refugees also form new cross-cultural friendships that help ease the loss of leaving their homelands. Iraqi refugee Faeza Hililian says she found a sense of community and belonging in Iskashitaa that made Tucson finally start to feel like home.

Photo: Gisela Telis
Iraqi refugee Faeza Hililian prepares a dessert made from sour orange peels during an Iskashitaa gathering.

"We get together and cook and have good times, and I feel like I'm giving back to the community and that's a good thing," Hililian says in Arabic. "I wish that people will help and support this organization, because it helps refugees so much."

Almost ten years after its founding, Iskashitaa has grown beyond Eiswerth's dreams. Over its lifetime, the network has gathered about 400,000 pounds of produce and fed thousands with its harvests. It has also grown to include English and swimming classes for refugees, cooking classes for the Tucson community, sewing and craft circles and even catalog sales of the goods Iskashitaa refugees make.

But Iskashitaa's-and Eiswerth's-mission is still simple: to fight injustice and make peace through food.

"How we reach world peace is through communication, through cross-cultural experiences, and that's where the common denominator of food comes in," Eiswerth says. "It's a journey for each of us to learn from each other."

This piece was produced in collaboration with the NPR program State of the Re:Union. Learn more about the Iskashitaa Refugee Network and other local stories by tuning in to the Tucson episode of State of the Re:Union at 3 p.m. on October 7, 2012, on NPR 89.1.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tucson Meet Yourself

Come Celebrate Cultural Diversity in our very own town - October 12-14th!

Iskashitaa will be well represented at this year's Tucson Meet Yourself Festival - crafters, food demonstrations, retail sales of our locally-gleaned and produced specialty items. Come join us downtown, October 12 -14!
Ten refugee crafters will serve as tradition bearers, showcasing their talents and cultures both Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 5pm, in the Pima County Courthouse Courtyard. Stop by to learn more about crafts from Bhutan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Iraq. Their items will be sold in the Tucson Meet Yourself Store, located nearby.

The Heritage Kitchen, on Jacome Plaza between the Main Library and low-rider exhibits, will also feature refugee talent. Refugee cooks, including Afghani, Bhutanese, Congolese, Eritrean, Iraqi and Russian women, will demonstrate dishes taught to them by their mothers and grandmothers. Samples and recipes will be shared, allowing everyone a taste of these traditional foods. With a table anchoring a corner of the "Heritage Food Pavilion", Iskashitaa will also be well-positioned to retail our newly expanded line of specialty products, among them hot lime pomegranate marmalade, hot chile mango sauce, mesquite syrup and garlic in olive oil.

People and partnerships are at the center of all these Iskashitaa activities. Priscilla Mendenhall, Iskashitaa board member and principal of Crossings Kitchen with which Iskashitaa is collaborating to create a culinary space for refugee and immigrant women and families, is coordinator of the heritage food demonstrations. Santa Rita high school volunteers from the Culinary Program of the Joint Technical Education District (JTED), a recent partner organization, as well as University of Arizona student volunteers and interns, will be on hand to answer questions.

Volunteers are still needed to assist with Iskashitaa's participation at Tucson Meet Yourself. If you would like to help, please contact Natalie at

Monday, October 1, 2012

Upcoming Events for October and November

Upcoming Events

Sewing and Craft Supply Redistribution Day: Saturday, October 6th (11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.)
Oasis Learning Center, 306 E. Navajo #1106!
The generous donations of volunteers and friends of Iskashitaa have led to a VERY full storage shed and we want to get those donations back out to our refugee friends!  As usual, we cannot do this without your help! Please RSVP online or send an email to Emily at We need volunteers to set up, help redistribute the supplies and clean up.

Tucson CSA: October 2nd, 10th, 16th, 24th, 30th. (4:00pm-7:00pm)
Come purchase Iskashitaa Products made with locally harvested delights or help us sell at the Tucson CSA at the Historic Y, 738 North 5th Avenue. New products include: Fiesta Salsa, Grapefruit Honey Marmalade, Loquat Dessert Sauce, Mesquite Pods, Orange Grapefruit Marmalade Pecan Dressing, Orange Marmalade , Parsi Ko Bien - Nepali Spice Rub, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Stewed Tomatoes, Green grocery bags and Baskets. Contact Lori Coletta at for more information.

NPR Tucson, State of the Re:Union: Sunday,  October 7th (3:00pm) on NPR 89.1
Listen to the Tucson episode of Stare of the Re:Union that features Iskashitaa Refugee Network.

Refugee 101 Information Night:  Thursday, October 11th (6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.)
Come learn more about refugee life, communicating in different languages, and refugee work. Want to learn what Iskashitaa Refugee Network does in the community? Want to become a volunteer? Anyone who wants information can attend and attendance does not commit you to serve. The training is at St. Francis in the Foothills, 4625 E. River Rd. Room 30/31. Please RSVP to

 Short Fall  Harvests: Fridays or when you have time
Harvesting local fruit and vegetables with Iskashitaa Refugee Network!  You would be working alongside refugees picking fruit in backyards or local farms. Currently we are harvesting figs, prickly pear, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, carob, oranges, squash, grapefruit, chilies, calamondins, pomegranates and more. You will definitely have a chance to make new friends from interesting cultures, learn about eating local in Tucson and try some of these delicious fruits of the desert!
Check our Facebook page and our website for more details, or email for more information.  

Tucson Meet Yourself: Friday and Saturday, October  12-13th (11:00am - 10:00pm)  and Sunday, October 14th (11:00am - 6:00pm)
Learn about cultural diversity in Tucson. Eat great food. Watch cultural demonstrations during this Tucsonan festival. This is a free event with multiple opportunities to support local vendors and buy Iskashitaa’s baskets, food products and crafts. Bring the entire family. Want to volunteer? Contact Natalie Brown at

NamJam: Saturday, October 20th  (9:00am - 7:00pm)
This family friendly music festival will be held at Reid Park for a $5.00 donation admission. Iskashitaa will be represented to increase awareness of our Mission Continues intern opportunities.  

United Nations Day Iskashitaa Breakfast: Wednesday, October 24th (7:00am - 8:00am)
Iskashtiaa Refugee Network invites you to join us for a free breakfast to learn more about our programs and services and ways that you can help support our work. Please start United Nations Day with Iskashitaa Refugee Network, an organization that creates opportunities for United Nations refugees in Tucson year round.  A light breakfast will be served as you learn more about Iskashitaa through the eyes of refugees, board members, and staff.  This event will take place at First Christian Church, located at 740 E. Speedway, from 7am to 8am.  We promise to get you to work on time!  There is no cost for this event, but donations will be requested.
Please RSVP to Natalie Brown at or 928-503-7496.

  Food preservation workshops with refugees and Iskashitaa: Friday, October 26th (12:00 - 5:00pm)
Citrus juice, organic chutney, local marmalades, Nepalese pickled veggies, & more!
Learn about new foods, techniques, and cross cultural traditions.  Come for an hour come for half the day! If you are interested in volunteering please email and visit the website for more information: You can also sign up to attend at our website under our Calendar! Please RSVP in advance.

Iskashitaa’s Annual Pumpkin Harvests at Buckelew Farms: November 1st and November 3rd (7:00am-1:00pm)
Ready to harvest pumpkins during our beautiful Arizona Fall weather? Volunteers along-side United Nations Refugees with harvest and load 18 wheelers for the Community Food Bank and Iskashitaa Refugee Network that will feel tens of people. We will harvest pumpkin flowers, leaves/greens, squash, pumpkins and seeds. Participate in our race for walking the farthest and fastest with a pumpkin on your head and win an awesome Iskashitaa prize! This volunteer opportunity is great for groups, families or individuals. Register online at or contact Lizbeth at  or call 520-331-6585.

Annual Green Living Fair: Saturday, November 3rd (10:00am – 2:00pm)
Mark your calendars! Want to become “green” and live a more sustainable lifestyle? This is the event for you. Iskashitaa along with 30 other agencies, groups and businesses will showcase during this event with products and information. Want to help Iskashitaa at our table? Contact

*Interested in volunteering in Iskashitaa’s various programs? Contact Lizbeth Gonzalez, our Volunteer Coordinator at or call 520-331-6585

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Commence the Harvest

Story continued from September Newsletter

It is at this point that Iskashitaa takes up the mantle of service. By having refugees take part in the harvesting and food production, Iskashitaa both provides them with food and eases them into American culture, acquainting them with volunteering locals and other refugees alike.  It's an assisted assimilation tool; a support system of compassion as well as sustenance.

Before working at Iskashitaa, I witnessed this at a social event held by the organization. We met at a Korean restaurant; we, significantly, being an amalgam of refugees from different nations, senior citizens volunteering their time, and college students interning. The sole purpose was to better know people of different stripes, which in this profound context catalyzes an exchange of culture and the establishment of a more global mindset. I spoke with Abdullahi, a merry, wisecracking Somali refugee who has been working as a prison guard in the United States for almost a decade. I talked to an Iraqi refugee who was in the States studying dentistry. In Iraq he had been an established dentist, but since the U.S. did not accept his accreditation he had to start again from square one. In spite of this, he seemed to bear no ill will toward the institutions that bore him this setback; he bore it with grace. For many, being forced to flee from their country of birth to a new one, only to find that your blood, sweat, and tears were not deemed valid would bethe straw that broke the camel's back. But the refugees are possessed of a profound appreciation on a level seldom seen. They smile more than most anyone you will meet.

Refugee is a label necessary for understanding what these people endured in coming here and what they have lost, which surely has impacted them, but does not define them. They are a group of joyous, brave people who are not separate from American society, but are a part of it. Simply put, Iskashitaa is the manifestation of the duty we have as immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and human beings, to make our country a shelter and a balm for the afflicted.
-Tymon Khamsi

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Meeting of Many Nations

On Saturday, April 28, youth and adults from The Owl and Panther Project traveled to Sells, Arizona to meet with Tohono O’odham elders and youth.  This day of cross-cultural sharing included over fifty people from many countries including Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and the United States.

The Owl and Panther Project is funded by the Hopi Foundation and is “a unique group designed to help families affected by trauma through expressive arts”.  Iskashitaa Refugee Network’s Resource Coordinator Natalie Brown and Community Education Coordinator Kathy Zaleski volunteered with the Owl and Panther Project and had the joy of joining them on their journey to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The day was packed with activities and began with a photo scavenger hunt to make the bus ride go a bit faster.  The youth were excited to identify the birds, plants, and landmarks throughout the journey.  Many thanks go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Marie Long especially for assistance with funds and availability of knowledgeable docents to share their insights throughout the day. 

Upon arrival at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum, we were greeted by Tohono O’odham youth and elders.  Tohono O’odham women taught the women and girls present how to play toka, a traditional game for women only that is similar to field hockey and very competitive.  Toka begins with traditional singing and was a great fun for all.

Later in the day, Tohono O’odham women demonstrated their skillful tortilla making.  As their guests each took turns making tortillas, we learned the word for “flat bread” in many languages and realized that most cultures have some equivalent: chapati, roti, naan, etc.

Food continued to be a unifying force as we began our global feast.  Many participants brought food to share that was traditional from their homelands.  The Iraqi dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) were just one of the big hits of this meal!  Iskashitaa Refugee Network was happy to supply locally harvested grapefruit and loquats, which were left as gifts for the Tohono O’odham since citrus is not abundant on the reservation.

After we ate, a local Tohono O’odham band provided wonderful music and soon everyone was dancing!  The day concluded with traditional storytelling and poetry writing. I think all present would agree that this was a day none of us will soon forget!  Many thanks to all who were involved in making this great day a success!

By Natalie Brown 

Monday, July 16, 2012


Iskashitaa Refugee Network has teamed up with Shop-4-A-Cause Thrift Store! U.N. refugees who volunteer with Iskashitaa or participate our programs can receive a Shop-4-A-Cause flyer with an Iskashitaa stamp on it which they can bring in to Shop-4-A-Cause and receive two FREE outfits! Not a refugee? You can help keep this partnership alive by donating your used clothes and more to Shop-4-A-Cause. Just let them know you’re donating (or shopping) in support of Iskashitaa! Please contact us for flyers especially if you know refugees that could benefit by this new program!

Shop-4-A-Cause Thrift Store helps homeless families in need and disabled veterans across Arizona. Make a difference while you shop for a bargain! (Donations are tax deductible)

Shop-4-A-Cause  5140 E Speedway  520.323.5024


The people behind the scene: The basket weavers!

Tightly weaved Burundi Baskets

Have you ever wondered the faces behind these wonderful crafts? Well, I certainly have. Whenever I filed Iskashitaa product inventories and saw the tags that read "Antoinette" and "Tabia" I could not put a face on our crafters. The spectacular works they produced only made me more curious as to who they were. And last week, I finally had the amazing opportunity of not only seeing the crafters in action but also meeting them at Native Seeeds. 

The Youth Group was already there when I walked in and the students were listening to Sue and watching the basket weavers as they quietly but speedily weaved their baskets and mats.
The trio: Our amazing basket weavers from left to right -Zodi, Antoinette and Tabia.  Emily and I walked in and we shared our stories about Iskashitaa and some techniques of weaving. In the beginning, the students were not too excited to watch the basket weavers; however, when Antoinette motioned a couple of them to come up and try weaving, things got a little more interesting. 

The thing I learned from (attempting) to weave was that it is NOT easy! The crafters were able to push the needles through the date palms with ease but in reality, it is extremely difficult. (Not to mention the pain on your fingers from pulling and pushing the needles to get it on the other side)

One student weaves as Antoinette watches -ah, the apprentice and the master photo!

I personally loved the time with the crafters because they were so graceful, caring and kind. Antoinette and Tabia spoke little English but language was not stopping us from having fun because fun is universal. The basket weavers patted the students on the back whenever they struggled and guided them with their expert fingers through the maze of date palm weaving. One by one, students were more interested than ever before to try and every one of them got a turn to try weaving baskets and mats. We then moved on to gourd painting and released our artistic creativity to produce some interesting "gourd works". 

When the event was over, I did not want to leave. It was not long but I felt a good connection with Tabia, Antoinette and Zodi. I asked Sue to take a picture and left feeling happy yet sad. So I wrote a short blog titled Scent of the Women what I saw through the basket weavers that made me nostalgic about my family and especially my own grandmother. Overall, it was a beautiful, beautiful day.
This is a deceptive picture because it looks like I have the "Aha!" face but I  was so, so so bad at it.