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. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Francheskah's: What is there to do in July?!

Francheskah's: What is there to do in July?!: Click here to view  Iskashitaa July Newsletter! Want to paint these beautiful pi...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Saguaro Harvest at Tohono O'odham Reservation: Thinking about the mother nature

Pictures tell a thousand words stories. Iskashitaa's Saguaro Harvest on Tuesday was quite an experience. The weather was beautiful --we were blessed by the clouds and the breeze as we made our way to Tohono camp.

The pickers for Saguaro fruits are made out of Saguaro "bones" - the trunk of the cactus. See how tall it is?

Before we began harvesting, we were given Tohono Harvesting 101. We do not eat our first harvest but dip it, and put it on our forehead and heart to bless ourselves. Then we place the fruit facing towards the Sun so as to call the rain. After the harvest, we place a piece of our hair on the cactus to express our gratitude to the mother nature. 
One of our interns, Cheska, loved the idea, got a little carried away and smothered it on her face!
Don't worry, the fruit that she is eating is her 45th harvested Saguaro fruit :)

Our wonderful staff Lori loved not only peeling fruits and putting the content into our ice-cream box, but she also loved TASTING them.

Look at how vibrant the colors are! Luscious red and pink fruit inside the green, rosy fruit still amazes me.

Emily and Lori working together to harvest Saguaro fruit: division of labor, yes go team!
                                                                                                                                                               I couldn't get over how beautiful it was and how sweet and savory it was! (Hence, the face I made when I devoured the fruit)
After the harvesting, Tilahun learns how to dry the contents of the fruit and sort out the seeds.
This is the dried Saguaro fruit "pancake".  

Molasses made from Saguaro fruit. So sweet and divine! Perfect on pancakes and waffles.

Quick tip on how to eat Saguaro fruit like a native: Take the dark stem of the fruit, use the tip and slice the fruit all the way through. Open it up, use your fingers and enjoy! 

Wonderful group picture with Stella from Tohono tribe. She comes to the Tohono Camp site during this time, camps out here to harvest Saguaro fruit. I felt so blessed to have been a part of it and returned with full heart (and stomach!)  Special thanks to our wonderful photographer Emily. (All rights reserved. Emily Ann Jones Photography)

Monday, July 2, 2012

A New Partnership Off to a Tasty Start!

Early this year First United Methodist Church committed to partnering with Iskashitaa Refugee Network to foster understanding and compassion for refugees transitioning into Tucson community life through story telling, culinary arts and more. 

The first event was the "Mini World Tour of Foods", held May 25 in the church kitchen and Arizona Room. A half dozen FUMC women had a "hands on" cooking lesson preparing Iraqi vegetarian dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and Congolese chicken tomato stew with Faeza Hililian and Marie Bampamulowa. The men
set the tables, shopped a sale table of food items made by refugees, andchatted about the work of Iskashitaa with Director Barbara Eiswerth. Iskashitaa staff, volunteers, the cooks, and three recent immigrants from Eritrea joined us for a sumptuous meal rounded out by rice, salad, and dessert dishes brought by FUMC participants and Iskashitaa volunteers. 

Lively fellowship among two dozen people made for a memorable evening, It was all recorded by Girls Making Media, a local media production training program for young women, also partnering with Iskashitaa.

The evening culminated with conversation about following up next fall with a Refugee 101 event sponsored by the Adult Education Team and Iskashitaa. 

Stay tuned and check out Mini World Tour recipes at for delicious dolma recipes and many more! 

July has come!

New month has come and it is indeed July!
Mark these dates on your calendar and join us for upcoming Iskashitaa events.
It is also our interns last month before they return to their homes so lets make this month worth it! :)

Upcoming Events

Refugee 101 Information Night: Thursday, July 12th (6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.)
Come learn more about refugee life, communicating in different languages, and refugee work. What 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 Spring 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. We harvest excess citrus, figs, plums, squash, pumpkins, dates, corn, 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.

Food preservation workshops with refugees and Iskashitaa: 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month (9:00am -3:00pm)
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!

Sewing and Craft Supply Redistribution Day: Saturday, July 7st (11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.)
Moved to the 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.

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