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Refugees learn American customs, culture at Foothills church

Iskashitaa Refugee Network
Posted at 8:40 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 11:40:49-04

CATALINA FOOTHILLS, Ariz. (KGUN) — Charles Barakikiza squeezed oranges at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church on Tuesday. It’s a routine he and other refugees like him take part in every first Tuesday of the month.

Barakikiza immigrated from Burundi in Africa a little over a year ago and came to live in Tucson.

“We come from countries which is not politically stable and we don’t have a future,” Barakikiza said. “So when we are here, we have hope.”

However, immigrating came with challenges such as having to learn English and integrating into the American lifestyle.

He started volunteering for the Ishkashitaa Refugee Network and worked his way up to becoming an advisory board member. He attributes his success in the network to being able to communicate with other refugees from his home country.

“I can feel the safety. I can feel I’m at home. I can feel I have a family,” he said.

On Tuesday, he pressed oranges against a juicer, laughing and joking with volunteers from the community and other refugees. They were oranges that were donated by a local community member and also oranges refugees harvested themselves.

They were making jams and marmalades out of the oranges, one of the simple activities he said helps him get used to life in America.

“It breaks all the walls, the fears, and for the integration, it’s the best place,” he said.

The jams and marmalades are sold online by the organization and it funds their harvesting and art programs for refugees. The jams are also sold every Thursday at the Santa Cruz River Farmer’s market.

Eris Shaver runs their shop online and their social media. She started volunteering during the pandemic after a friend who volunteered told her about the network. Shaver also had a food-related major in college.

For Shaver, the organization is a way to connect her culture with the refugees’ cultures.

“Where I get to learn about their language and the country they come from, and they get to practice English and learn about food,” Shaver said.

It’s people like Shaver and the rest of the volunteers who Barakikiza said are helping him feel like he has a home here in Arizona.

“If people can be friends to refugees, it can help us with the integration and we can build together the community,” he said.

Andrew Christiansen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Before joining the team, Andrew reported in Corpus Christi, Texas for KRIS6 News, Action 10 News and guest reported in Spanish for Telemundo Corpus Christi. Share your story ideas with Andrew by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, or Twitter.