Refugee Women’s Alliance Celebrates Cultural Pluralism, Empowerment for International Women’s Day

by Carolyn Bick

Zoey Ferenczy’s mother didn’t speak English when she and Ferenczy’s father fled Hungary for the United States in the late 1980s. But the family didn’t have a choice. It was either escape or face further persecution under the Communist regime that had spread throughout the Eastern Bloc.

Despite the language barrier, Ferenczy’s mother remained “unshakeable,” raising three children, while learning to teach preschoolers in the United States. Today, she remains Ferenczy’s inspiration, her level-headed and loving approach to the world and others providing the groundwork for Ferenczy’s own moral compass.

“She’s shaped how I view the world and how my responsibility is to help others because she’s shown me so many times how to do that,” Ferenczy said.

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Attendees listen to Mahlet Boyd speak during the 20th Annual Refugee Women’s Alliance International Women’s Day celebration. (Photo: Carolyn Beck)

Ferenczy’s story was similar to others shared at the 20th Annual Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWa) International Women’s Day Celebration at ReWa’s South Seattle headquarters on March 8, 2018. Ferenczy’s mother learned to teach American preschoolers with the organization when she first came to the U.S., and, today, Ferenczy is its Engagement Coordinator. The organization helps refugee and immigrant women like Ferenczy’s mother adapt to life in the U.S., and provides them with community support.

Communications Officer Wendi Lindquist said the existence of the center and International Women’s Day are intricately connected, calling the celebration “a perfect meeting of our very diverse cultural background, and our focus on women’s rights, helping women, and empowering women,” as well as a way to celebrate women, and, for a day, put aside the hardships they face in coming to the U.S.

“Women have different needs than men do, during a resettlement and integration process. So many services are available to men,” Lindquist continued. “So, working with women, we are actually helping the whole family.”

Lindquist said the organization serves people from more than 70 countries around the world, which translates into roughly 11,000 individuals per year. Though the organization’s founding mothers originally only offered a handful of services in one location, Lindquist said ReWa now offers 10 services in nine different locations. These services include childcare and senior services, English language and job training, as well as domestic violence intervention and citizenship help.

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Reukia Arero pours fresh coffee for a ceremony, during the Refugee Women’s Alliance’s 20th annual International Women’s Day celebration at the organization’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on March 8, 2018. (Carolyn Bick)

Women immigrants and refugees face different and often more difficult hurdles than men, when they come to the U.S., Lindquist said. Like Ferenczy’s mother, not only do they often lack English language skills, but they also do not have the trade skills that make many refugee and immigrant men more successful in the American workforce. These difficulties are compounded when one looks at statistics that show at least 70 percent of refugees are women and children. But it doesn’t have to be this hard.

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Reukia Arero lets attendees smell freshly roasted coffee beans, during the Refugee Women’s Alliance’s 20th annual International Women’s Day celebration at the organization’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on March 8, 2018. (Carolyn Bick)

“When women are given resources and opportunities and chances to gain skills and knowledge, they are going to go and do great things. And we see this from my colleagues, from the many women who have completed our programs, who have completed classes, gone on to find jobs, and are now doing amazing work in our community,” Lindquist said.


Featured image by Carolyn Bick

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