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.”


GSL Students:Harvesting..Prepping..Cooking..Bottling--> FOOD!!

YOU did it ALL!! I followed you around with a camera for 2 days and have the documentation to prove how hard all of you worked! I really enjoyed meeting all of you and listening to your plans and dreams for the future. I heard conversations of what the group learned and could pass on to others at your college, in hometowns, in Nebraska and beyond.

I learned that the individual worlds that each of you will put yourselves in some day will be a better place...because of YOU & your dedication to help others in your own unique way!
Sue Troutman


Thanks a lot to all the Nebraska University students who were here last month in Tucson. It was really so much fun making prickly pear syrup, harvesting fruits and eating different spicy, hot foods made by refugees. I hope you all had different experience in Tucson with weather, people, life style and refugee people and their culture. You all guys were very amazing friends. Keep it people wherever and whenever you can and it changes the world one people at a time. Once more, I would like to thank the "Iskashita Refugee harvesting Network", Nebraska students, United Methodist Church, donors and all the volunteers who worked really hard unconditionally to make this possible. Hope you will try to work with refugees in Nebraska and make their life little easier. Good Luck to everyone!!

GSL trip to Tucson

Beautiful artticle. Brought tears to my eyes....With the Community Food Bank cancelling their annual gleaning program we sure miss you. We get tens of calls a day to harverst fruit but we are too small an organization to handle this huge task. I hope you inspire others to get involved in their communities - Cultivate food justice in Nebraska, raise awareness about the US refugee resettlement porgram. Are there refugees in Nebraka? Of course.

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The winter service learning trip included work with two organizations that aid and empower refugees.
The group helped refugees mulch garlic.
Students worked alongside refugees and gained a new perspective.
GSL members participate in a national service trip each January and an international service trip each summer.