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

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  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

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 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

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 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

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