International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Refugee Youth Explore the Arizona Trail

Fifteen headlamps bob along the Arizona Trail as it traces through a dry river bed in the Catalina Mountains. IRC’s Refugee Youth Coalition is on the move. As the trail crests a hill, the students notice a campfire flickering in the distance.  “That’s our fire!” someone shouts. “Let’s go!” The evening’s adventures have just begun.

RYC Members, Mon, Frorasi, and Sipora eagerly take to the Arizona Trail on a hike to Sycamore Reservoir.

RYC Members, Mon, Frorasi, and Sipora eagerly take to the Arizona Trail on a hike to Sycamore Reservoir.
Photo: Andrew Jenkins

Partnering with Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings, the Refugee Youth Coalition (RYC) held a teambuilding hike and campfire to kick-off the new program year. Refugee high school students from 4 area schools joined the event. “I was with the RYC from the beginning,” boasts Joseph as the students climb into the van ready to head up the mountain.  Standing timidly behind him is Sipora. “I’m the new girl,” she says. “It’s only my second meeting.” By the end of the night you couldn’t tell them apart. Veterans and newbies alike laughed, teased, and hung on each other’s shoulders as they huddled around a ring of receding embers.

“Fire is good. It makes people come together.” This was Dilli’s reflection as he tried to sum up the high points of the trip. “But I also liked walking through the valley and the mountain.” Throughout the hike this 17 year old Nepali refugee from Rincon High School was irrepressible, surging to the front of the column, pointing out everything in sight. “I have good eyes and ears,” he smiles. “The mountains remind me of my home in Nepal.”

Dilli and Dhan say the mountains remind them of their home in Nepal.

Dilli and Dhan say the mountains remind them of their home in Nepal.
Photo: Andrew Jenkins

The evening was divided into two parts: a teambuilding hike to stretch the student’s natural senses and awareness of each other and a campfire to break down inhibitions and forge friendships. As temperatures dropped and the moon rose, everyone was still reluctant to go home.  A uniting sense of joy hung in the air. “This was my first campfire! I’m definitely coming back here with my friends!” promised Khadija.

But the consensus didn’t last long. On the ride home an argument broke out in the back of the van. “Walking the mountain was the best.” “No! It was telling stories at the fire.” “Well, I liked the Tucson city lights.” “I saw a deer!!” Apparently there are some differences that not even a campfire can solve.

By Andrew Jenkins

To learn more about the Refugee Youth Coalition contact Aaron Grigg. Tucson Inner City Outings (ICO) is non-profit outreach program of the Sierra Club designed to provide opportunities for urban youth and adults to explore, enjoy and protect the natural world.  Click here to see more trip photos. Andrew Jenkins works as a Program Coordinator at IRC Tucson and is also a certified leader with ICO.