THE ANGEL OF TUCSON
2011 Hon Kachina awardee Dr. Barbara Eiswerth is known in refugee camps around the globe for her dedication to – and care for – some of our country’s newest residents
PHOENIX – Tucson’s Dr. Barbara Eiswerth didn’t comprehend her global impact as the founder of the Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network until a recent refugee from an African country halfway around the world met her and exclaimed, “You are THE Barbara?”
A recipient of the 2011 Hon Kachina Volunteer Award, Dr. Eiswerth downplays her growing notoriety as leader of Iskashitaa, a group of refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who partners with local Tucson volunteers to harvest approximately 75,000 lbs. of fruits and vegetables each year from backyards and local farms. These foods are then redistributed to refugee families and other Tucson organizations that assist families in need. (www.iskashitaa.org)
Dr. Eiswerth and five other Arizona volunteers will be honored at the annual Hon Kachina Awards dinner on Oct. 1, 2011 at the J.W. Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa.
Coordinating complicated efforts to utilize local food resources that might have otherwise gone to waste is just the beginning of Dr. Eiswerth’s involvement with refugees. She becomes part family, part employment counselor, part advocate and part friend to those who often arrive in Arizona with very little of any of the above. Even though she dedicates much of her time and energy into helping these new residents, Dr. Eiswerth would say the relationship gives her back far more than she gives.
“She’s just got a real way of quickly identifying and relating to their journey what they’ve been through and wanting to use that journey, wanting to learn as much as you can about their culture and their experience and what they have to teach her,” said Natalie Brown, who works with Dr. Eiswerth as a resource coordinator at Iskashitaa and nominated her for the Hon Kachina recognition.
Dr. Eiswerth’s biggest fans are the refugees themselves, who describe her frequently as “an angel” or “an answer to our prayers.”
“Barbara is my idol,” says Hari Nepal, who arrived in Tucson two years ago from Bhutan. While her family initially struggled, Dr. Eiswerth stepped in to help them adjust. Nepal recently graduated high school, earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona and plans to become a gynecologist. “I have learned so much from her and she inspires me to give back daily.”
Dr. Eiswerth’s work is also developing a reputation for her hometown as one that not only welcomes refugees from difficult situations across the globe, but one that embraces them and helps them succeed.
“For somebody like that to forget herself and care about others, it show us that as a refugee you could be loved anywhere you go -- especially in Tucson,” says recent refugee Chris Garang.
To Dr. Eiswerth, her efforts are as much about demonstrating what a community can – and should – do in this trying economic environment.
“The only way we’re going to come out of this economic crisis, the only way we’re going to build a community is if we get out in the community and share our talents… and friendship,” Dr. Eiswerth says.
About Hon Kachina
Since 1977, more than 375 nominees have been honored for their dedication to causes that include health care, neighborhood revitalization, youth and senior activities, the arts, education, justice, housing, nutrition or social services. Many have given what they can at great personal sacrifice.
The Hon Kachina Council, affiliated with St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, is a group of servant leaders from the Valley business and professional community who promotes volunteerism by recognizing ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things, applauding them and presenting them as an example to motivate others to volunteer.