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

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