Iskashitaa Refugee Network creates opportunities to integrate UN refugees into the Southern Arizona community while educating the public and strengthening the local food system, reducing local food waste, and increasing food security.
Who We Are:
Iskashitaa Refugee Network (IRN) is an intergenerational network of Tucson volunteers and UN refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, who locate, harvest, and re-distribute locally grown fruits and vegetables which would otherwise go to waste. IRN's goal is to empower recently arrived refugees by connecting them with a wide variety of resources and opportunities to interact with the community. Through gleaning activities, refugees are introduced to local farms, hydroponic and aquaponics operations, farmer’s markets and other community festivities as well as backyard and community gardens. IRN teaches community members about sustainable food systems and fruit tree identification, harvesting techniques and seeks to increase food security and improve self-sufficiency among refugee households and other families in need. Refugees from ~30 ethnic groups learn the geography of Tucson, gain valuable life skills, improve their English, develop a US work history and access to healthy foods and food preservation techniques.
Iskashitaa operates the only year-round gleaning program in Southern Arizona and educates on the multiple uses of traditional and nontraditional, native and non-native fruits, nuts, pods, seeds, and even flowers. Harvests include over 20 types of citrus and an additional 50 of food products from trees, herbs, and cacti.
IRN builds bridges in the community toward increased cultural competency and diversity awareness. All of Iskashitaa’s community relations have the underlying goal of increasing awareness and action for pressing human rights issues both locally and globally through direct contact with individuals and organizations in the Tucson community and beyond.
Iskashitaa is under the fiscal umbrella of St. Francis in the Foothills UMC, a federal501c3 organization.
Dr. Barbara Eiswerth, the founder and director of Iskashitaa, recruited refugee students in 2003 to participate in a project identifying locations where produce was going to waste in Tucson. They also worked to harvest and redistribute these locally grown foods. After organizing four youth mapping programs, Barbara received a grant from the United Way to begin regularly harvesting (gleaning) with refugees.
Iskashitaa has grown from a harvesting network to a diverse organization securing important needs of the Tucson refugee community. Programs have been developed to empower refugees through education, the development of practical life skills, and food security.
Iskashitaa has been recognized locally, nationally and internationally for our work in promoting local food resources and empowering refugees. Our neighborhood harvesting builds a stronger, and more just community.
We are dedicated to raising awareness about issues that affect refugees and other marginalized groups We work to ease their transition into our society, and collaborate with others to benefit of the refugee community.
In her first year of working with Somali Bantu youth, Barbara was taught the word "Iskashitaa". Iskashitaa is the Somali and Maay Maay word for “working cooperatively together.” Maay Maay is the main language of the Somali Bantu ethnic minority. The word perfectly conveyed what the group was becoming. As Barbara built a community based organization focused on empowerment and education, she knew no other word fit as well as Iskashitaa. At that time, the Somali Bantu had no written form of their spoken language. Therefore, Barbara was challenged with the task of creating the spelling for Iskashitaa.
HONORS AND AWARDS:
- 2014 Marmis Foundation Humanitarian Award, the Jewish Federation of SoAZ
- 2011 Hon Kachina award for increasing volunteerism in AZ
- 2008 First Prize, White House Portrait of Compassion video national contest
- 2008 Presenter White House Round Table discussion, New Citizen’s Day. Presentation of an innovative model to help new Americans acculturate.
- National Finalist in Community for Sustainable Food
- The Baha’i “Vision in Action Award”
- National Garden Crusader Award for Feeding the Hungry
- Church Women United's Human Rights Award