Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Iskashitaa Lives Up to Its Name

I recently had the opportunity to visit with two Bhutanese women at their apartments in town. One of our Goodwill Interns, Melissa, is studying American Sign Language, so Iskashitaa was presented with an exciting opportunity to connect with these two women, both of whom are hearing-impaired. When Melissa and I arrived at the apartment complex, along with another young man from Burundi, we came across a woman working on a knitting project in the parking lot. We approached her and began asking her questions, but she pointed to her ears and shook her head. Then we knew that she was one of the two ladies we had hoped to visit that day. Her face lit up when Melissa began signing to her, and she eagerly accepted when we offered to give her a box of oranges and grapefruit. She then invited us into her apartment and began telling Melissa about her living situation here and how hard it is for her to get enough to eat. She kept signing the word “friend.” We told her we would be there to pick her up for our harvest on Friday, and she smiled as we drove away.

This encounter reminded me how important it can be just to spend time with someone. It’s unfathomable to me that just a few blocks from where I work every day, a woman is sitting in the parking lot alone, simply because she has trouble communicating with others in her community. Now, by harvesting with Iskashitaa she can begin to make more connections with people and explore the city of Tucson. I am struck again by how well our name fits this organization: we aim to “work cooperatively together” in all that we do. Simply by listening to this woman’s story we helped her feel safe and comfortable, and that someone cares. And now, by involving her in our work, we are able to help her feel that she can contribute to her community as well. This is what Iskashitaa is all about.

Heather Gerrish
Harvesting Coordinator

Iskashitaa Refugee Network

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Iraqi Refugees Introduce Date Vinegar

“I tried date vinegar today,” I told my mom, who called from snowy Michigan to hear how things were in sunny Arizona.

“Date vinegar? I’ve never heard of such a thing! What did it taste like?”

I didn’t know how to describe it to her; I couldn’t think of words that fit. That got me thinking: Is this how refugees feel when they come to the US—like they don’t have the words to describe what they are experiencing, even in their native language?

So often we see refugees solely as people in need of aid. After all, they have come here for protection, and must learn a new language, a new culture, and a new way of life. English is often not a second language but a third, fourth or fifth. The culture is confusing, and navigating systems like healthcare and education can be overwhelming. Finding a job that can both feed the family and pay the rent is another stress-filled challenge. And all this is on top of dealing with the aftereffects of the trauma and persecution which caused them to leave their homes initially.

While all these struggles are real, we can forget to see beyond them to recognize that refugees have things to teach us, too. Date vinegar is just one example of this.

Under the instruction of Alaa and Faeza, two Iraqi refugees, we started the vinegar in December. After about 45 days, it had reached the point where it was ready for processing. An Egyptian refugee, a Sudanese refugee, and several other volunteers joined Alaa and Faeza to get started.

As we stood in the kitchen, I tried to soak in the steps while Arabic sentences floated over my head. I recognized that even if the refugees spoke in English, I still wouldn’t understand; I know nothing about the intricacies of making date vinegar. As Alaa showed Barbara a more effective way to squeeze the dates, I remembered the time he showed us all how to properly cut open pomegranates. The Sudanese refugee, who was a farmer in Darfur, was with me on my first orange harvest, where he showed me how to pick oranges properly. Manerva and Faeza have done cooking demonstrations at Tucson Meet Yourself, and they continue to share their food and their culture in other ways, as well.

At Iskashitaa we work with refugees because we care deeply. We want to see them become successful in America and we want to see them become part of the community. Yet we also work with refugees because we recognize that what they have to teach us is incredibly valuable. As I experience this more and more, I realize that these lessons change me in significant and meaningful ways. I begin to think that cross-cultural exchange is not just enriching, but vital.

As we finished up in the kitchen, Faeza said, “I want everyone in Tucson to taste date vinegar.” So do I—but I hope that date vinegar is only the beginning.  

Stephanie Plotas

Faith-Based Liaison
Iskashitaa Refugee Network

Friday, March 14, 2014

Iskashitaa Welcomes New Intern

My name is Anahiza Vianey Carrillo, born and raised here in Tucson, AZ since September 14, 1993. I graduated at Toltecalli High School in 2012 as valedictorian and throughout my four years there received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, City Council Office Certificate of Appreciation, and the Roots of Success: Environmental Literacy Curriculum. I was awarded the Luis Perales Service Learning Award, an award that was given to a single person out of the entire student body for being the most dedicated and hardworking. I also won the Superintendent's Achievement Recognition award. With the training I received from four years working with the Tierra Y Libertad Organization gardening, composting, harvesting, and doing community-based outreach, I am very excited to continue and expand my knowledge here at Iskashitaa for the next 8 weeks as an Intern through the Goodwill program.

Anahiza Vianey Carillo
Goodwill Office Intern

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Nurturing Projects at UA

Growing a Garden and Stocking the Pantry

Iskashitaa Refugee Network is always venturing into unchartered territory in an effort to spread the good news about sustainable efforts in Tucson to a wider audience. Well, we’ve done it again! This semester, Iskashitaa is opening two new doors to community collaboration and cooperation. 

First, we have been granted the use of a plot at the University of Arizona’s Community Garden headed by the Students for Sustainability association on campus. We are really excited about this new project and are still looking for volunteers to help maintain the garden as well as donations of seeds and plantlets. We want to create a space where volunteers and refugees can trade understanding of the earth and its food riches through a cross-cultural gardening experience. In exchange for useful vocabulary and cultural insights, we hope to receive valuable information about the refugees’ traditional knowledge and use of the same plants in their own culture. Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved and get your hands a little earthy this spring!

Second, Iskashitaa has entered into a partnership with two justice-minded organizations from the University of Arizona. The UA Community Garden and the UA Campus Pantry have joined with Iskashitaa in the fight to end food waste and insecurity in Tucson. Iskashitaa will be donating fresh produce monthly to the UA Campus Pantry, which is an organization committed to helping food insecure students gain access to nutritious foods. This seemingly insignificant collaboration is helping to bring the UA and greater Tucson community one step closer to food justice! Check out the Iskashitaa Facebook page and website for more information and to see how you can help make Tucson more sustainable!!

If you are interested in helping with the garden, please contact Emily, our Food Security and Sustainability Intern, at

Emily Sylvia
Food Security and Sustainability Intern

Iskashitaa Refugee Network

Friday, March 7, 2014

Candied Citrus Peel Recipe

Candied Citrus Peel

Around 2 lbs. citrus peels

2 cups sugar

Dipping chocolate (optional)

Put peels in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Strain (save water for irrigating plants, moistening compost or some such) and repeat this operation five times, or until bitterness is satisfactorily reduced. Fill pot with water again, add sugar and simmer for half an hour. Turn off heat and let cool. Remove peels and save syrup for any number of culinary uses (sauces, smoothies, etc.) Slice peels into equally sized strips. Spread them on drying racks and dry in sun oven, in dehydrating machine or in the sun. When dry, though not hard, cover them with sugar to prevent them from sticking together when stored. You can also dip them in chocolate!

 Don't throw away your citrus peels--save them and turn them into something delicious!