Tuesday, December 10, 2013

GMO Infographic - Guest Post from Sandra Mills

GMO's - Are They Good or Bad?
     The genetic modification of foods began in the 1990's. Since then, many Americans have been concerned about what is going into the ordinary foods we eat every day. When we think about genetically modified food we envision a science lab where a mouse has a human ear growing on its back, or the old movies of Jekyll and Hyde. It's more than a little daunting to think that the “healthy” carrot we are munching on could actually be implanted with the DNA of corn -- or
worse, something ultimately harmful to the human body. Almost 85% of the foods we eat are genetically modified in some way, so this issue is not going way anytime soon. The debate rages, and since genetic modification hasn't been around long enough, it is hard to say what the long-term effects will be.
     Genetically modified foods are purported to be stronger, since they are developed to be pesticide tolerant. Industrial scientists tell us that genetic modification is not only desirable, but it's necessary, to keep up with the high food production necessary for American consumers. But is it? Is there a link between the amount of genetic modification of foods and the great number of Americans who have food allergies? Could genetic modification be causing cancer and other diseases? Check out this infographic from Carrington College and decide for yourself.

Written by Sandra Mills

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pomegranate Harvesting

Pomegranates have a priceless quality about them. Shiny, jewel-like seeds stud the inside of the fruit, lending it a deep, ruby-red color. In fact, once you’ve gone through the effort of removing the tiny arils, you’re left with a feeling of accomplishment, as if you’ve got a real treasure in your hands. This is not new – pomegranates play prominently into the cultural heritage of many societies. Greek mythology, for example, explains the seasons through the story of Persephone, who eats six pomegranate seeds in Hades and is thus doomed to spend six months of the year in the Underworld. Her mother Demeter grieves over her daughter’s absence during these months, leaving the earth barren.

Aside from their delicious tartness, the fact that they’re prohibitively expensive in the grocery store, and the reality that I’m often too lazy to go to the trouble of picking out the arils, the above was pretty much all I knew about pomegranates before this fall. I certainly didn’t know how abundant they are in Tucson, or that so many fruit never make it to people’s plates. I also didn’t know how prized pomegranates (pronounced something like “ruman” in Arabic) are in the Middle East. I learned this from an Iraqi gentleman and an Egyptian woman, who joined me for my very first harvest with Iskashitaa at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Although I don’t know Arabic, and I often spoke much too quickly in English, I learned a lot from Alaa through the course of the morning. He showed me that you can tell if a pomegranate is ripe by pressing into the side of the fruit with your thumb and listening for a crunching sound – that means there’s plenty of water and the seeds will be juicy. He also explained that the lighter-colored, more tart pomegranate seeds are excellent in baba ganoush, a concept Barbara and I were excited to test out at our bimonthly Food for Thought dinner with refugees at Sinbad’s (yum!).

Most importantly, though, I was introduced to the abundance that we have in Tucson, and the amount of food that never makes it to people who are in need of nutritious fruit at the right price. I saw the absurdity of shipping pomegranates from miles away when they grow so well in our own backyards. As we continue in pomegranate season through the fall, please keep Iskashitaa in mind for your own shrubs or trees, and keep an eye out for friends and neighbors who might not be able to use all of their fruit. And of course, remember that we are always looking for new harvesters. Come join us and help spread the good word!

Heather Gerrish
Harvesting Coordinator

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reuniting Family of TWELVE

This was no easy feat for Isakshitaa but with the gracious help of many generous institutions and individuals, including St. Francis in the Foothills, UMC, St. Marks UMC, First UMC and Southside Presbyterian, the Musombe family has arrived to a completely renovated house and property, enrolled in school, and family-member Oswald has found a job, to name just a few feats. These efforts exemplify the very definition of the Somali word Iskashitaa, “working cooperatively together”.

But we want you to hear directly from the family’s most dedicated Iskashitaa volunteer, Charmaine Lewis. Many hands, ranging from volunteers, donors, organizers, truck owners, drivers and mentors helped Iskashitaa staff and refugees in this endeavor. To all of them we to say Asanti sana sana sana – thank you very very much, in Kiswahili.

There is an old saying in my native Jamaica, “One cocoa full basket!” It speaks to the power of collective action and effort to yield a greater result than would the effort of one person alone.

In late July I received an email invitation to join the “Dream Team” to help the Mushombe family from Congo resettle in Tucson. Initially, they had been placed in Portland, Oregon after being granted refugee status in the United States. I was really struck by the needs of this family of 10 children and two loving parents faced with rebuilding a life in yet another place after nearly 5 years of displacement from their homeland.
It would have been easy to just write a check and walk away, feeling that I had contributed something of great value, but sometimes money is not enough. Sometimes giving demands concrete personal involvement and even a measure of personal sacrifice. It’s a kind of giving that requires going beyond one’s comfort zone to invest personally in the lives of strangers. It’s a kind of giving that may just yield greater impact and value in the longer term.

I asked myself, what would I need were I to be dropped into an alien place without any possessions or language skills or the cultural currency needed to survive and thrive? So instead of just writing that check and walking away I chose to take what for me is more meaningful and impactful action.

In addition to calling on all my local friends and contacts to donate clothes and household items to the family, I chose to make myself available to the family as a concierge or ambassador. As a busy mom of two very young children, that has required some planning and coordination.

It’s meant driving rather long distances to their home and struggling to communicate with them in my terribly broken French. It’s meant popping by to be present with Mrs. Mushombe in her home to play with her kids while she tidies up her kitchen. It’s meant driving Mr. Mushombe to the hardware store to buy a replacement window or to the DMV to help him navigate that wonderland of bureaucracy! It’s meant talking to their children about my children and my life so they can get a picture of the possibilities and potential that may await them in their new life in America.

So far I don’t feel I have done terribly much and I wish I could do more, if only I had more time and brilliant ideas. However, if everyone reading this can put “one cocoa in the basket” then our small efforts combined could certainly make a greater impact on the long term success of this family than could mine alone. Sometimes we don’t take action because we feel we can’t make a big splashy showing or because we can’t see the immediate impact of our actions.

This family has been on an uphill climb for many years and will continue this way for many more years by dint of being refugees in a new place, during difficult economic times. Without significant financial resources and long-term support there is a great risk that they will fall through the cracks of our society and be doomed to a life of poverty. However, it is my belief and experience that poverty of knowledge and lack of access to the intangible cultural and social language is one of the greatest barriers to escaping poverty. So if you can’t give money, you can give of your knowledge and experience of making a life in the US. Things you take for granted and do automatically are things they will have to learn, sometimes through painful experiences. If you can give nothing else, you can give of time and experience and knowledge.

By making direct, sustained personal connection with this family, we can create a humane social safety net for the Mushombes. Another way of thinking about it is to imagine our actions creating a launch pad for this family to transition out of this state of their lives into one in which they can become productive and contributing citizens of Tucson and the United States.

Charmaine Lewis
Iskashitaa Volunteer

Monday, August 12, 2013

Health in all Dimensions

Caring for Health Beyond the Physical: Mental Health of Refugees
The second week of July, the Arizona Daily Star ran a story highlighting a recent study looking at the mental health of Bhutanese refugees from a variety of states across the country. Researchers administered a standard mental health test to all Bhutanese refugees in its sample, which spanned the states of Arizona, Georgia, New York, and Texas, and found signs of depression and other mental illnesses to be prevalent within the population. It concluded that there could be a “high burden” of undiagnosed mental illness among the Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States[1]. This study serves to analyze a noted trend of suicide within the U.S. Bhutanese refugee population. U.S. Department of Health and Human services reported 16 suicides among approximately 57,000 Bhutanese refugees who settled in the United States since 2008, according to the Arizona Daily Star article.
The mental health of refugees has been a rising concern and focus of studies in recent years. One study published in the Journal of Immigrant Minority Health in 2012 examined food security of Cambodian refugees, who were two decades resettled in Lowell, Massachusetts, as it related to depression and acculturation. Their findings demonstrated that those of food insecure households were more likely to be depressed, to be low-income, and to be less acculturated than those of higher food security[2]. From this, they concluded that high depression and stress within the population could be contributing to low food security and that low income could be contributing to both depression and low food security. The relationship found between depression and food security was not clear with which might be influencing which, so there is also the possibility of low food security leading to the depression and stress seen within the population.
While these two studies are community specific and do not necessarily depict a perfect, complete picture of the present refugee communities in Tucson, they do hold many truths about the refugee experience in general. For this reason, they can be drawn upon to highlight some needs within the refugee community. The Arizona Daily Star article echoed the voice of the study it quoted and called for prioritizing mental health among the services provided to refugees. They even suggested that social-support and mental-health components be added in along side the job and language training.
The services provided to refugees upon arrival generally focus on their physical health and their new cultural surroundings. There is not an extensive focus on the mental health of the refugees. As members of a community that works with and alongside refugees, we have a role in addressing this need. This role could vary from donating time for social support to recognizing certain warning signs of mental illness and depression. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one community organization that targets this issue through their Center for Well Being here in Pima County. Their services include behavioral health, support for survivors of torture, and refugee well-being programs. Case management, counseling, and group therapy are available to address physical and mental hardships encountered as a refugee resettling to a new country, and both western and non-western traditions are used in the treatment of physical and psychological illnesses. Furthermore, they accept and follow-up on referrals from volunteers and agencies that work with refugees.
Additionally, due to the circumstances of refugees’ resettlement and process of resettlement as a whole, refugees remain vulnerable to both economic hardships and poor health outcomes long after resettlement in the United States. For this reason, the food security study called for more funding and promotion of programs that “target reach” refugees beyond the resettlement process, as many refugees continue facing economic and mental-health hardships that can contribute to food insecurity as well as other chronic diseases.
Iskashitaa Refugee Network’s programs extends beyond the beginning of resettlement and target hunger and food security as one primary goal. Buying food from a grocery store is a normative task for many Americans, but for refugees struggling to learn the language and cultural customs of the United States, it can be a challenge. It can also cause a great economic burden when it is considered on top of expenses like rent and utilities. By redistributing community grown food to refugees, Iskashitaa helps to alleviate the financial burdens they might be encountering and to provide fresh fruit and vegetables that are often the most difficult to come by due to their cost and absence in the food banks and pantries, which might act as a primary source of food for the refugees in need. As a member of the community, you can spread the word about programs, like Ishashitaa, where refugees can get donation to fill their needs. An extensive list of local food banks and pantries can be found on the Iskashitaa website. The largest barrier to the utilization of these resources is the knowledge of their existence. If refugees are not aware that such these resource or program exists, then there is no way they can use them. Raising awareness of and supporting such programs can help to alleviate some of the financial and emotional stresses of the resettlement experience.
The experiences of the refugees are often far beyond what many others might ever endure in their life. Refugees are a resilient demographic whose strength and endurance shows in all aspects of their lives. Nonetheless, there can be lasting mental effects as a result of such hardships. Mental health is an incredibly personal affair, but, nonetheless, the resources must first be made available and known. Early diagnoses and culturally appropriate resources available for the full span of their lives could make a huge difference in the lives of refugees across the United States and the world.

Miranda Jennings, Nutritional Studies Intern

[1] “Suicide of refugees from Bhutan studied,” Arizona Daily Star, July 8, 2013
An electronic, follow-up article was published July 13th on the Arizona Daily Star website
[2] Jerusha Nelson Peterman et al.,  “Food Insecurity Among Cambodian Refugee Women Two Decades Post Resettlement,” J Immigrant Minority Health 15, (2013): 372-380

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good Things Come In Threes: Reflections on the Past Week

I had a number of interesting and exciting experiences this week, so I want to touch on a few things.

1. Iftar with Adam and his family from Sudan.  I had never been to an Iftar meal before and although I ended up forsaking my vegetarianism for the night, this was a  great experience. The family is incredibly sweet, friendly, welcoming, and great to talk to. Highlights of the night included meeting Adam’s youngest son who inhaled the box of figs we brought with us, and bonding with the family over language learning.  I learned a lot and got to spend time with some fantastic people!
2. Lunch with Faeza Hillian from Iraq. Faeza has become my fig harvesting buddy (I basically live to hear her say “Oh good good, a lot, a lot!” when I hoist myself into a fig tree and magically discover more figs than either of us thought were present), and so I was honored that she invited me into her home for a meal one afternoon. Although I again had to forsake my vegetarian ways (I ate more meat this week than I’ve eaten in a combined 2.5 years), I had a great time and was fed the equivalent of probably three days worth of food. I also got to see the family’s garden and visit a homeowner we had harvested figs from previously to deliver some fig jam that was homemade by Faeza. I was sent off with a jar of the tasty stuff myself.

3. Harvesting at Tohono Chul Park. This was a great harvest with great volunteers (including two I had never met before, one of whom was brand new). Heather Quinney from Tohono Chul took us around the park to harvest a variety of things and gave us a nice mini tour on the way. I also got a picture of teenage Quresha from Kenya touching a snake, which was great because after that one little pat she refused to touch any of the others. Unrelated to the harvest, that morning I also gave Quresha a book to read which I had happened upon in a thrift shop and hoped she would enjoy (it’s a historical novel by an author I really enjoyed when I was younger). She spent the first ten minutes of our car ride reading it, after which she announced, “This is a good book!” She later told me she was looking forward to reading it every night. Made my week.

Natalie Melkonoff, Summer Harvesting Coordinator

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quantifying Our Impact

Did you know that the federal standard for calculating the value of a volunteer hour is $22.14?  We at Iskashitaa value your time infinitely more than that, and thank you for all that you do!  We need you to know, however, that the quantifying our impact in the community, including the dollar value of your time spent working to empower refugees, helps us to secure additional funding to continue and expand our life-changing work.  Please be sure to routinely count your volunteer hours and report them to us.  Feel free to simply shoot us an email weekly or monthly to report the time that you helped Iskashitaa further its mission!  Remember that driving time to and from events counts as well.  Your support is critical in so many ways!  Please report your hours to Tucsonrefugees@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Faith-Based Organizations Put Their Faith in Action

Iskashitaa Refugee Network is grateful for the support of many faith-based organizations throughout Tucson and beyond.
Last month, Disciple Women's Ministries monies from the HAGAR Fund to help cover the expenses of our food preservation workshop program.  Iskashitaa hosts three workshops each month in which refugee women and men learn food handling standards in commercial kitchens. They utilize locally harvested produce to create specialty food items.  Refugee friends receive produce and kitchen equipment to take home, as well as knowledge that will help them on their path to self-sufficiency here in Tucson.  Sales of specialty food items only partially cover the costs of this program, so we are very grateful to Disciple Women's Ministries for their funding.
Lutheran Church of the Foothills donated funds last month to cover the cost of supplies for our English as a Second Language classes.  Iskashitaa volunteers teach classes in two apartment complexes that are refugee-populated, as well as in a refugee-owned daycare that serves primarily refugee clients.  These classes range from basic English for pre-literate adults to citizenship preparation for more advanced students preparing to take this challenging exam.  Thank you, Lutheran Church of the Foothills, for helping us purchase needed supplies for these classes.
Of course, there are other churches whose long-term support has been and remains critical to our success.  St. Francis in the Foothills UMC  is our fiscal sponsor.  They are providing office space, kitchen space, and administrative services, in addition to many active members who volunteer their time.  Our work would not be possible without them, and we can't thank them enough.  First United Methodist Church's partnership is described here and includes adult education presentations and alternative giving opportunities. Southside Presbyterian Church generously donates the use of their kitchen and walk-in cooler to Iskashitaa for our food preservation program.  Catalina UMC's youth group has volunteered with us many times in the past several years.  There are so many other faith-based organizations that have helped Iskashitaa in ways large and small over the years.  We thank you all.
If your congregation would like to become involved with Iskashitaa through gifts of time, talents, or treasures, please contact Natalie Brown at Natalie@iskashitaa.org.  We are always in need of financial support and volunteer support.  Please consider putting your faith in action with Iskashitaa Refugee Network.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The 25th Annual YWCA Women's Leadership Conference

The YWCA Women's Leadership Conference was established in 1989 for professional women and young leaders. Our 25th annual event on September 13, 2013 will celebrate the positive changes that have occurred since then, while exploring the current barriers that exist and identifying steps that can be taken to create positive change. This year's theme is "Leadership Across Generations" and our keynote speakers are women leaders across three generations. 
  • A 12 year-old who met First Lady Michelle Obama to discuss her program to prevent childhood obesity
  • A 30+ former mayor of Flagstaff who is now the Director of the Maricopa County Medical Society
  •  A 60+ year old amazing woman who is a Senior VP of Tucson Medical Center.
Workshop and panel topics include becoming a more effective leader in the workplace, as an entrepreneur, in your personal life and in your community. Conference programming will help attendees envision the type of lead
er each wants to become, develop the skills to get there, and put those skills into action to drive results at any career level.
Past attendees have reported: "One of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced!"  "Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  At 23 I feel I have more than enough time to make a bigger difference than I thought possible."  "Thanks for all the courage, strength, & inspiration to go out & be a leader!"  "Excellent conference!  I am already on your emailing list for next year!"
We wish to thank everyone in the community who contributes to making this conference excellent, year after year. We hope to see you there!
Iskashitaa Refugee Network is extremely grateful to the YWCA for providing two scholarships for refugee women to attend this year's conference. Executive Director Barbara Eiswerth, Development Director Natalie Brown, and volunteer Sue Troutman will be attending will also be in attendance.  We hope you'll join us!  For more information or to register, please visit www.ywcatucson.org.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tomatoes R Us!

From the week of June 3-7, supervisor Barbara Eiswerth and her staff were lucky to harvest tomatoes at the University of Arizona hydroponics green houses, C.E.A.C. (hyperlink for controlled environment) With much help from our many volunteers, we were able to collect over 1000 lbs of tomatoes, both red and green.
When we first entered the greenhouse, we immediately saw rows upon rows of hydroponic tomato plants ranging from 20-45 foot vines with their growing ends reaching 10 feet tall. The ceiling could barely be seen and walking the aisles felt like being in a forest.  We were given a debriefing about the greenhouses and learned valuable information about how hydroponic growing is the most effective method for crop production today.  The crops grow rapidly during the summer, but during the winter, there is very minimal setback in production due to all the      resources provided inside the greenhouse. The professor, Dr. Rorabaugh, explained how the leaves are sprayed with natural oils to protect the plants from any insects that could be dangerous to the plants as a form of pest control. The nutrients the greenhouses provide are a significant factor in the success of the plants blossoming. The controlled light, temperature and carbon dioxide permit the plants to grow effectively. Many of the families loved volunteering as we got to dismantle the experiments that the students collected data from all semester long. What really made it wonderful was that Iskashitaa was able to redistribute the tomatoes the volunteers gleaned to other families.
Big thanks to  Georgia, Jama, Wayne, Muna, Ky, Kul, Kendal, Shamsa, Anthony, Robin, Kyler, Marcela, Andrew, Rahma, Natalie M., Liz, Faeza, Metaseybia for volunteering, and to Professor Dr. Rorabaugh and her staff for an awesome educational week of  harvesting hydroponically. Kul Kefley plans to begin volunteering on a weekly basis perhaps take a class or specialized workshop in growing hydroponically. Iskashitaa connecting  refugees to resources.  
Written by Anthony Adun, UofA and Good Will summer intern.

Friday, July 19, 2013

ESL with Natalie

My time at Iskasitaa thus far has been full of new, exciting, challenging and eye-opening experiences. I have learned a great deal-and quickly-which can only be a good sign going forward. I have found everyone at Iskashitaa to be extraordinarily friendly, helpful, and committed to a common cause. This not only creates a great (if sometimes hectic) work environment, but is also inspiring. The combined knowledge base of everyone involved with Iskashitaa is so large that there always is, and I'm sure always will be, something to learn.
One of my most memorable experiences thus far was the introduction to the Tuesday night ESL class I will be teaching. I have a fair amount of experience with teaching and curriculum development, but I have never taught adults or English. My Tuesday night class ranges anywhere from five to eleven students. Six women were present that first evening. One of the women had been in the United States only a few months, but the others had been here for nearly ten years. English levels varied, along with the priorities and opinions of the students. It seemed to me that the feelings in the room ranged from resentment to frustration to embarrassment. After about an hour and a half of introduction with Iskashitaa Director Barbara Eiswerth, we both had a better idea of the challenges that were ahead.
Looking forward at the two classes I have had since that first night, there have definitely been challenges, both expected and unexpected. The students fluctuate and English levels fluctuate with them, which means it can be very difficult to plan ahead. Looking forward at the short amount of time I will have with these students, I can only hope to impart some lasting knowledge, as I have already begun to gain an immense amount in return.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Spotlight on Volunteers of the Month Judith and Bruce Billings

Iskashitaa would like to extend our deep appreciation to two wonderful supporters, Judith and Bruce Billings, who have shown great hospitality to Iskashitaa this summer.  We are thrilled to host many summer interns this year. When we reached out to the community to help us secure housing, the Billings graciously made their casita available at no cost so that we could enthusiastically say, "Yes!" to a hardworking intern who is gaining hands-on leadership experience and helping us further our mission of empowering refugees.
Judith and Bruce learned about Iskashitaa Refugee Network several years ago through our partnership with First United Methodist Church. Since then, they have attended many Iskashitaa culinary demonstrations and community presentations, and often purchase refugee-made crafts as gifts for loved ones.  Judith has also shared her expertise regarding weaving with Iskashitaa's staff, volunteers, and refugee artisans. Bruce and Judith, we are so very grateful for your ongoing support of our work. Thank you.
Iskashitaa will continue to host short and long term interns in the months to come.  If your household has a guest bedroom or casita to spare and you would be willing to open your doors to an intern for one month or longer, please contact Natalie Brown at Natalie@iskashitaa.org. Many thanks for considering this request.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Iskashitaa Welcomes Duke Intern Natalie Atyeo

Hi, my name is Natalie Atyeo and I am a rising sophomore at Duke University, which is located in Durham, North Carolina. This summer, I am excited to be participating in a civic engagement program called DukeEngage, in which Duke students work with non-profit organizations throughout the world. I am part of the DukeEngage Tucson program, which focuses on issues surrounding immigration and immigration reform.
 This summer, I will be working as an intern with Iskashitaa and getting involved with the food preservation workshops. On Thursdays, I am teaching ESL at OASIS apartments, and it has been extremely rewarding thus far. I am thrilled to be working with Iskashitaa and hope this experience with allow me to learn more about the refugee population both in Tucson and in the greater context of the United States.

Iskashitaa Welcomes Stanford University's Miranda Jennings

Hello! My name is Miranda Jennings. I am Iskashitaa's summer Nutritional Studies intern, supported through Stanford University. I am an incoming Junior in college majoring in Human Biology with an interdisciplinary concentration of Approaching Health and Nutritional Disparities. My academic interests include nutrition, public health, and health policy. I hope to pursue a career in either health politics or non-profit work. I was born and raised in Ramona, California, a small town in San Diego County, but currently reside here in Tucson when I am not at school. This summer marks my one-year anniversary of being a Tucson resident, and I am pleased to have found the wonderful Iskashitaa community to be a part of.
This summer my research will be focused on two different topics of concern within the refugee community: water consumption and diet. We have noticed that many refugees do not carry water with them or consume it regularly throughout the day. This could be due to their aversion to tap water and an inability to purchase bottled water. I will attempt to address this concern by making flyers about the importance of hydration for distribution among refugees. We have also observed a shortage of certain nutrients in many refugees' diets, a need Iskashitaa has been fulfilling with its food redistribution. Aside from economic factors, I want to examine how certain cultural stigmas and environmental influences might affect refugees' likelihood to eat or not eat certain foods. This will extend from their life in their home country to their experience in the refugee camps and finally consider specifically how Iskashitaa has met these needs and what else we could do to better fulfill them. If you have input, experiences to share or ideas please email me at information@iskashitaa.org.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Iskashitaa Welcomes Goodwill Intern Jasmine Grant

"My name is Jasmine Grant. I was born and raised in the good ole desert of Tucson, Arizona. I am a 2010 graduate from Catalina Magnet High School. There, I graduated in the top ten percent of my class. I served as the captain of the lady Trojans basketball team and was a thrower and runner on the track team. I was also recognized as team leader in the Gila Region. Usually, most throwers were muscle built.  I was the skinny one who had heart. I believe that's why I did so well, I might have not had a big body, but my technique was what really stood out.
After graduating High School, I attended the magnificent University of Arizona, studying molecular and cellular biology. However, during my freshman year, I missed and yearned to play basketball while attending school. So I worked out hard and diligently and prayed that I may get the chance to play collegiate basketball. Thankfully, I received a scholarship to play college basketball at Holy Names University in Oakland, Ca. I now reside there and am pursuing a major in Kinesiology with a minor in Business Management. Nothing but the grace of God is how I have gotten this far. To Him I give all the glory!"
A week into her time as a Goodwill Intern at Iskashitaa Jasmine has impressed us all with her computer skills and willingness to learn new things. You can contact her at Tucsonrefugees@gmail.com. We say farewell to Anthony Adun but hope he will be back this next semester. If you know a refugee between the ages of 17 and 21 that could use a job after school contact Goodwill and let them know Iskashitaa sent you!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Iskashitaa Welcomes ASU Intern Natalie Melkonoff

"My name is Natalie Melkonoff and I will be a junior in the School of Sustainability and Barrett, the Honors College, at Arizona State University this fall. I am pursuing a bachelor's degree in Sustainable Ecosystems. My passion for languages led me to take Russian and I will also be completing a Biology minor during my time at ASU. I am very interested in sustainability and education. I am particularly interested in the development of informal educational programs based in sustainability.
I was drawn to Iskashitaa because of its unique manner of reaching people through efforts which support sustainability and educational goals. Although I have a fair amount of teaching and curriculum development experience from my time spent with the Arizona Science Center and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, I have never taught adults or worked with refugee populations. I am intrigued to work on the same goals in a new environment and   expand my ideas about sustainability and education. I am also excited to learn simultaneously about new cultures and gleaning in the desert."
We were hoping harvesting would wane with the heat but it has not and which makes us even more thankful for Natalie M. We are experiencing more low-desert apples over the longest stretch of weeks and are still harvesting beautiful pink grapefruit and carob pods. Help us locate mature carob trees to harvest! Email Natalie at Harvesting@iskashitaa.org

Monday, July 1, 2013

Food Resilience in the Desert

Once upon a time Tucson was a lush green oasis, a hotbed of agriculture. Now it's a food desert, in the desert!
On May 13th, the non-profit organization Sustainable Tucson brought together an amazing panel of local food experts to discuss Food Resilience. The speakers provided insight on how to re-green the desert during global climate change:
Growing your own, harvesting water and sharing with neighbors are the roots for building food resilience. Then, when you grow too much, you give the surplus to Iskashitaa.
Sarah Sheehe
Volunteer for Iskashitaa at Sustainable Tucson Meeting

Friday, June 28, 2013

Foundations Help Us Grow

Iskashitaa Refugee Network is very grateful for two local foundations whose contributions will help us grow this year.

We would like to thank the Long Realty Cares Foundation for its support of our harvesting program.  This support will enable us to continue our harvesting program throughout the summer months during which time we will harvest garlic, pomegranates, figs and Calamondin limes.

We would also like to thank the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and the William and Doris Rubin Endowment Fund for naming Iskashitaa Refugee Network a recipient for the 2013-2014 grant cycle.  Their support will allow us to hire a harvesting coordinator in the fall to lead our gleaning efforts just in time for the apple, citrus and pumpkin harvesting seasons.

Foundations like these make our work possible.  We are extremely grateful.  Thank you so very much!  In the languages of our refugee friends: murakoze, dhanyabaad, mahad sanid, shukran, asante sana, and muchas gracias!

Natalie Brown

Iskashitaa Development Director

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mayor and Council Meeting: Plan Tucson

On the evening of June 10th Iskashitaa Director Barbara Eiswerth and I attended the Mayor and Council meeting with the intention of showing support for Plan Tucson, the most recently proposed general plan for the city. Jurisdictions use general plans to address issues having to do with development, and to set forth groundwork and goals which are to be referenced and built upon in the future. A good plan can give a positive flavor to all forthcoming development and help shape a city’s direction. Arizona state law requires that a jurisdiction either adopt a new plan or re-adopt its current plan every ten years.
Plan Tucson was prepared with the goal of replacing the current General Plan in order to emphasize goals, policies, and language that take into account the future of Tucson’s social, economic, and environmental growth. The plan focuses on relationships, stressing the connections that are inherent between all city systems. This plan incorporates sustainability goals and ideals into the workings of the city in ways that have not been seen here before. Sustainability can be loosely defined as the combination of societal, economic, and environmental factors that provide a groundwork for global operations with the purpose of balancing the needs of the present with those of the future. Iskashitaa played a role in assuring that the Local Food System was emphasized as well as fruit and vegetable gleaning being named specifically. If you are interested in policy and would like to represent Iskashitaa in some of these efforts please contact Eiswerth@iskashitaa.org.
 For more information about Plan Tucson, including public comment and upcoming meeting dates, please visit http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/plantucson.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Childcare Center Thanks Iskashitaa for Healthy Snacks and More

 At the exciting Open House of Amani II in May, Amani International Preschool & Childcare Center II publicly thanked Iskashitaa for its efforts in assisting this community in meaningful ways. Since Amani I opened in October 2012 Iskashitaa has provided it with local fruits and vegetables, educational materials, diapers, volunteers, and more.
Serving refugee and non-refugee families, Amani highlights:
  • 24/7 operations and acceptance of DES
  • PR/ First Aid certified staff
  • Caring for children ages 2 weeks to 12 years
  • Free transportation to and from school
  • Healthy snacks provided with the help of Iskashitaa
Amani is located conveniently at 131 E Mohave Road near Amphi HS and is enrolling now. For additional information call (520) 777-3864. Amani is among the more than 30 organizations to which Iskashitaa donates healthy and nutritious local produce by gleaning Tucson's backyard bounty, Avalon Organic Gardens, and Tucson CSA. We thank all our donors.
Can you suggest other farms or organizations for us to partner with? Please email Iskashitaa at information@iskashitaa.org or find us on Facebook.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Entreaty for Advance Warnings

Early in May Iskashitaa Refugee Network director Barbara Eiswerth received notice from Murat Kacira the U of A's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center that the lettuce from two full greenhouses would be sent to the composting facility within two days unless Iskashitaa could harvest it first.
The Refugee Network had never harvested lettuce before, let alone on two days notice! It was a mad scramble to recruit a crew of volunteers, procure vehicles, and muster some mismatched crates, buckets and coolers at the last minute, not to mention the tremendous challenge of finding people and organizations to take the gorgeous heads of lettuce before they wilted in the hot sun.
Upon arrival at the Iskashitaa headquarters it soon dawned on the sleepy volunteers that they would have to fine-tune their fast-paced cooperative improvisation and decision-making skills ASAP! What was the best way to harvest lettuce? Where would it go once picked? There were not enough coolers, or other suitable containers on hand to hold it all. How many trips would it take to transport the delicate greens in the two small pickup trucks available? How would we organize the distribution throughout the city immediately after the harvest? It was truly harrowing, and yet, amazingly, many families in need were ultimately able to enjoy deliciously fresh lettuce that day!
Iskashitaa is extremely grateful to all the people and organizations that afford the Network the possibility of providing people in need with food that would otherwise go to waste. And at the same time, we would like to ask all these generous providers to kindly give us as much advance warning as possible, so that we can actually get the most food to people who need it, without suffering from a heart attack in the process!
Dena Ellen Cowan
Editor Iskashitaa Newsletter

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iskashitaa Welcomes U of A / Goodwill Intern Anthony Adun

"Hello, my name is Anthony Adun and
I am currently an intern at Iskashitaa.
I graduated from Catalina Magnet
High School, and I am going to be a Sophomore at the University of
Arizona in August of 2013. 
In my time at Iskashitaa I look
forward to working with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, as well
as supporting the staff here on our mission to give back to the
community and empower individuals
in Tucson.
You can email Anthony at tucsonrefugees@gmail.com or welcome him when he answers your many calls at (520) 440 0100.

If you are interested in an internship or know someone attending any university who may be interested, contact volunteer@iskashitaa.org with a résumé, and request list of available internships and special programs. Later this summer we will introduce interns from Duke, Stanford and ASU.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lively Food for Thought at Café Desta


For May's Food for Thought dinner a record number of us (31) gathered at the hospitable Cafe Desta where we shared a delectable meal, big platters of lovely spiced vegetables and meat. We scooped up our food with traditional Ethiopian injera bread made with teff flour. Our hosts were very attentive and happy to talk to us-Catalina Rotarian and Kirk Reed even tried to put nametags on the refugee staff. We had interesting and lively conversations with the eight guest refugees. I was so happy to see many new people at this dinner.Robbie Dick spoke with Gamiel from Darfur at length but sometimes he had to draw pictures for her to understand as he described some Sudanese marriage customs.

LeVonne Kelly said that she enjoyed visiting with Amani, a young woman originally from South Sudan. She was so excited because she had just graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Development from Pima Community College. She already has a job working with young children, yet plans to further her education soon. Gidday, from Eritrea, was happily sharing a photograph of her beautiful little daughter, which drew lots of oohs and aaahs and smiles from the crowd.
Fourteen-year-old Meteseybia talked about the math award he had just won at his middle school where he has been studying since he arrived in January. He also talked passionately about drawing and how he had learned to fix computers. I was amazed at how his English had improved since I met him last and that he was not so shy anymore. Margaret & Jim Liebig talked with a young Ethiopian lad and found out how much he likes soccer and how he hopes to play at Catalina High next school year. It was good of him to interpret a little for his mother so she could converse with Margaret & Jim.
Several of the waiters kept coming out of the kitchen to talk to Adhanet in her language, Tigrinya. Sarah Griffiths, an Iskashitaa family mentor and ESL volunteer, had invited Adhanet's family to this event. As it turns out Adhanet works at Café Desta and the waiters were surprised to see her at the table eating instead of serving.
Look for information about our next Food for Thought dinner in the Iskashitaa Newsletter or on our Facebook page. We'll gather again on July 10th. Please RSVP to information@iskashitaa.org.
Joy, Peace & Love,
Annlee Laughlin
Iskashitaa Intern

Monday, May 6, 2013

Celebrate Mothers at Tohono Chul!

Celebrate Mothers, grandmothers and our Tohono Chul partnership!

Mothers and grandmothers all over the world have their favorite recipes for traditional family fare. For refugee families these recipes are often their only link to homes they have had to leave behind. At Iskashitaa Refugee Network we not only connect refugee families to fruits and other backyard bounty that would otherwise go to waste, but also share their rich flavors of culinary traditions.

Iskashitaa Refugee Network will be at Tohono Chul Park on Sunday, May 12 from 10am-4pm to share our stories and local foods. Come sample products from our new food line and purchase more from La Fuente Museum Shop to take home and share with others.

Oh, and the best part, all mothers and grandmothers will enjoy free admission! Iskashitaa invites volunteers and supporters who want to treat refugees to a special Sonoran day of outdoor fun at Tohono Chul.

For non-mother guest passes contact:
tucsonrefugees@gmail.com. Please do not forget to send us your garden reflection, peak park memorable moment, refugee quote or noteworthy experience after celebrating with Tohono Chul and Iskashitaa.

If you would like to help with this event, please email volunteer@isksahitaa.org.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Grateful for Our Founders

Iskashitaa Refugee Network is very grateful for our funders.  We are thrilled to announce that in April we were named the recipients of grants from three funders. 

We would like to thank the Desert Southwest Conference Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church for their support of our harvesting program. 

We would also like to thank the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona for their support of Dishes & Stories, Iskashitaa's social venture in partnership with Crossings Kitchen. The Women's Foundation has provided funding for the first year of activities including recipe testing and curriculum development and implementation, which will help us build toward the goal of a café and training center for refugee and immigrant women.

Additionally, as a part of LEAF's (Linking Edible Arizona Forests) successful proposal to the University of Arizona Green Fund, Iskashitaa Refugee Network will host an intern for the 2013-2014 academic year. The intern will work to develop materials related to best practices for harvesting local food including carob, pomegranates, and various types of citrus.

Natalie Brown
Development Director

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bohemians, Bolsheviks and Border Rats Helps Fund Iskashitaa

On the evening of Friday, March 8th, at least a hundred people packed into Solar Culture
for a magical evening of literature and music. Passages from Iskashitaa volunteer Harvey Burgess' new book, Tucson Tales - Bohemians, Bolsheviks and Border Rats  were read in between music segments from local group Combo Westside, and folk singer Pete Sundt.

Refugees also contributed significantly to the event. Young Laxmi Dahal, who came to Tucson directly from a refugee camp in Nepal in 2008, and who starred in the Iskashitaa-sponsored Borderlands Theater production of the play Agnes Under the Big Tent, read from the book with passion and panache. Violinist Fadi Iskandar, an Armenian/Syrian refugee, who fled the Syrian city of Aleppo a few months ago, played solo violin and also performed onstage with Combo Westside. The combination of the group's mellifluous jazz, funk, bossa nova fusion and Fadi's warm, lyrical violin tones, was memorable.
Iskashitaa client, volunteer and friend, Tilahun Liben, an Ethiopian who arrived in Tucson in 2010 after spending ten years in a refugee camp, played the saxophone and the recorder. His deep, haunting sound brought the evening to a wonderful conclusion.

It was a unique event both in terms of the format and the broad cross-section of Tucsonans who attended. The atmosphere was terrific and the interaction between people was lively and good humored.

Iskashitaa was able to introduce refugees and its work on their behalf to the wider community, and for refugees to display their array of talents at one of Tucson's most iconic venues was truly groundbreaking.

Harvey Burgess

We cannot thank Harvey enough for his support through the years and this night was exceptional, with proceeds from his book, and from Combo Westside's CD's and the sales of Iskashitaa products all dedicated to benefiting Iskashitaa programming. Do you have a fundraising idea? Would you like to be a part of our fundraising committee? Please contact eiswerth@iskashitaa.org today.

Got lots of citrus peels? Make Fragrant All-Purpose Household Cleaner


- Local citrus peels
- White vinegar
- Water

 How to make:

1) Cram as many local citrus peels into a jar. I keep a mason jar next to our compost bowl in the kitchen. All other kitchen waste goes into the compost container and the citrus goes into the jar. Once the jar is full, go on to step 2.

2) Pour white vinegar over the peels until the jar is very full. Seal the jar and shake it to get all the air bubbles out. Add more vinegar if needed.

Samson Tsaeda  
Eritrean Volunteer with Ishkashitaa 

3) Put in a sunny window and let it steep for 2 weeks.

4) Pour the contents through a strainer, then funnel into your spray bottle. (After the process is complete you can compost the peels.) Add enough water to your spray bottle so that the mixture is roughly 1/2 citrus vinegar and 1/2 water.

5) Use on everything.

We warmly welcome any and all ideas for making use of citrus!

Why "Like" Us on Facebook?

Iskashitaa is all about community, and an important part of keeping this community together is--you guessed it--Facebook! Facebook is much more than a fad; it has the potential to connect us in new and powerful ways. Social media has been employed extensively to create change, for example when young people in the Middle East used Facebook to organize during the Arab Spring. Facebook allows reaching new people, so "like" us, share and comment! Let's get our voice out there.

If you have any suggestions or questions about Facebook, feel free to contact Laura Kurtzberg, Iskashitaa's Social Media Intern, at laurak2@email.arizona.edu. If you are recovering from a Facebook addiction, we're also on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and YouTube, and our blog is awesome!

Laura Kurtzberg
Iskashitaa Social Media Intern

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tucson's New World-Class Musicians

On Friday, March 15th, I had the joy of accompanying Tamara Khachatryan and Fadi Iskandar to the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's performance of Beethoven's "Pastoral". Tamara and Fadi, asylum seekers from Syria, were concert violinists in Aleppo, as well as college-level music educators. Between them, they speak five languages: Russian, Arabic, Armenian, French, and English. They will soon be looking for work here in Tucson.

I met Tamara and Fadi at the Tucson International Alliance for Refugee Communities' fundraiser Violins Against Vandalism. I was so impressed with their talent that I asked them to play at Iskashitaa's fundraiser at La Cocina earlier this year. The crowd loved them! At that same event, I had the chance to meet Dawn Calista, a violinist with the TSO, who, upon hearing their story, arranged for complimentary tickets to the TSO. We are grateful to Dawn and the TSO for this opportunity! After the TSO performance, Tamara, Fadi, and I went backstage to meet the musicians and learn about the audition process. We would not be surprised if someday soon our new friends were invited to join the TSO!

If you would like to hear these talented performers, join us for A Night in the Courtyard at the YWCA on May 2nd at 6:30pm at 525 Bonita Ave. Please click Courtyard Concert to purchase tickets.  They are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Food will be available for purchase from Dishes & Stories, Iskashitaa's joint venture. The concert will begin at 7pm, preceded by a meet-the-musicians reception. For questions about the event, please call 520-884-7810. In the meantime, you can get a glimpse of Tamara's talents on YouTube.

Natalie Brown
Development Director

Friday, April 26, 2013

Honors College Students Step Off-Campus to Broaden Horizons

This spring, Sloan and I came to Iskashitaa through an internship class offered by the Honors College at the University of Arizona, Honors Civic Engagement Team.  We had never heard of Iskashitaa before, but through our experiences volunteering over the past month and a half, we have become well acquainted with the organization and come to love it and the people involved.

Before Iskashitaa, I never realized that Tucson possessed such a large and vibrant refugee community. One of the most amazing things I noticed through my interactions with them was just how cheerful and happy they were to be here. I asked one refugee if he missed his home country, and he responded that he did not because America was his new country. It's hard for me to imagine leaving the US and settling down in an entirely foreign place due to persecution. Perhaps because of this, I find it so unbelievable that after all of their hardships, the refugees are still some of the most positive people I have ever met. Each week during our harvests, we have at least two refugees help us. Our goal is to harvest fruit, distribute some to our refugee helpers, and at the same time, help the refugees improve their English. Many of them have managed to pick up English very quickly. To my surprise, one of our regular refugee harvesters has only been in the States for 3 months, but can already hold a conversation and even text. Besides interacting with the refugees, harvesting itself is also very calming and heart-warming. All of the homeowners are very willing to help and receptive to our work. By the time we bring the fruit back to the Iskashitaa office each harvest, we have encountered several wonderful people that leave us feeling amazed, fulfilled, and positive.

Angela Wu
HCET Intern

The Iskashitaa program has provided me with a wonderful experience to learn more about the culture of the refugees. Angela and I have had the pleasure of planning harvests every Tuesday and having refugees accompany us. They are always so polite and eager to help, and it's so endearing to see how far these people have come since they were forced to flee their countries.

We also attend food preservation workshops to use some of the different fruits we harvest to make dressings, jams, and other yummy items. I never knew you could make so many delicious food items out of normal, everyday fruit from our trees in Tucson! One of my favorite times so far was going to a movie with a refugee and his brother. They taught me a few words in French and talked about how different it was in Africa, where they are from. It has been a lot of fun being able to meet these refugees and working with people from Iskashitaa who dedicate so much hard work and time to keep this program going.

Sloan Sonksen
HCET Intern

Mother's Day with Iskashitaa!

May 12th from 10am-4pm to share our stories and local foods. Mothers and grandmothers will enjoy free admission!

Iskashitaa invites volunteers and supporters who want to treat refugees to a special Sonoran day of outdoor fun at Tohono Chul.

Contact: tucsonrefugees@gmail.com