Arizona Service Trip Helps Students See Refugees' Perspective
Eighteen students interested in refugee and immigration issues have returned from a service trip to Arizona.
Members of Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Global Service Learning (GSL) spent part of their winter break in Tucson, Arizona, where they worked alongside volunteers and refugees who harvest fruits and vegetables and provide them to those in need.
GSL members worked with two organizations: Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network and Marana Farms. Together they worked on various activities including harvesting produce, mulching garlic, pulling weeds and cornstalks, tending to the animals, and sewing.
The focal organization the group worked with was the Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network, a volunteer-based organization that works to aid and empower refugees in the Tuscon area. The organization’s founder recognized a need after seeing citrus trees go to waste. One lemon tree, for example, can provide 4,000 lemons in one season, said NWU senior and Global Service Learning member Kaycie Rupp.
The organization’s founder began approaching fruit tree owners, many of whom were willing to have their trees harvested. Iskashitaa volunteers and refugees help harvest the donated produce. The produce is then sold at local markets or given to the refugees.
“One surprising thing was how nothing was wasted from the produce,” said first-year student Kelsey Arends. “The fruit, seeds, rind were all put to use.”
“The people we worked with were amazing,” Rupp said of the refugees. “It was interesting to see the cultural differences and work to gain some understanding of their experiences.”
GSL members also worked with Marana Farms, an entity that works with uncertified organic farms and grows food for local food banks.
“It provides an opportunity for food banks to receive fresh produce instead of the pre-packaged food, and provides families with healthier options,” said Rupp.
Food that is not donated to the food bank is sold at local farmer’s markets.
“The farmer’s markets in Tucson are different than those we know of in our community,” said Arends. “The markets are year-round and cater to lower-income individuals, accepting food stamps and offering necessities, rather than the luxury items we see in our markets.”
GSL members were just a few blocks away from a Tucson supermarket where the deadly shooting that killed six and injured thirteen others including Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords happened.
“When the incident occurred, we felt like a third party watching,” said Arends. “The organization leaders were trying to explain the situation to the refugees, whose first instincts were to comfort the leaders.”
“Everyone in the group we were working with seemed to know the congresswoman; it truly displayed a sense of community within the organizations,” said Rupp.
“Throughout the entire trip, we saw the generosity and culture built among volunteers and refugees,” Rupp continued. “This trip allowed us to step out of our own perspective and try to understand the refugee experience.”