Refugee Garden Art Program gives newcomers a sense of belonging

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Last week, the Biden administration raised the refugee ceiling from 15,000 people to 62,500 people this year.

As we prepare to welcome more refugees to Tucson, a new program is expected to develop. The Refugee Garden Art Program (GAP), which emerged amid the pandemic, gives newcomers a sense of belonging.

“It’s an equalizer,” said Gretchen Crossley, volunteer art teacher for GAP. “Whether it’s music, cooking, gardening or painting; everyone can express themselves differently. Some of our friends here have just been in their apartment and don’t speak English or learn English and feel very isolated. So we meet in the garden once a week.

“COVID-19 in addition to social isolation, in addition to refugees who have gone through genocide and war is just a bad combination,” said Dr Eiswerth, Founder and Director of Iskashitaa Refugee Network.

On Wednesdays, refugees gather at the University of Arizona Community Garden to collect food and participate in art projects. Some have never taken a brush in their life.

“Never,” said Mathurin Maoundonodji. “So, I’m thrilled to learn the art! “

Maoundonodji is from the African nation of Chad.

“My country [has been] under a cruel dictatorship for over 30 years, ”he said.

Fleeing violence and human rights abuses, Maoundonodji found himself in a refugee camp for six years before being resettled by the United Nations. He moved to Tucson in 2008.

“I was alone, but it was not easy,” he said.

Through product harvesting and other refugee programs, he learned to speak English and found a strong sense of community. Maoundonodji now jumps at the chance to give back and has served Iskashitaa and AmeriCorps for several years.

So far, Iskashitaa has worked with 38 ethnic groups. The association brings people together harmoniously through food, music and art.

“It is a universal language,” Maoundonodji said.

If you would like to donate art supplies, contact Iskashitaa at (520) 440-0100 or send an email to [email protected]

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.

Kayleen C. Rice

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