Many Afghan female-identifying women* arrived in New York City with their education and economic goals as part of their resettling journey. This past year in 2022, the IRC in NY’s Education & Learning (E&L) team designed a program for Afghan women. One of the goals Afghan women and girls shared with the IRC was navigating NYC with more confidence. Many women and girls had experienced interruptions in their education and wanted a fresh start, to learn and improve their English.
Community groups help foster peer-mentorship, empowerment, and friendship and provide the social setting for shared learning. With this in mind, the IRC in NY Education & Learning team developed a 3-tiered Community support group education program for Afghan Women. Over 40 women and girls participated in the dedicated Afghan Women and Girls program in 2022.
Tier 1 was Cultural Orientation, an orientation provided to recently arrived refugees during their first 90 days of being enrolled in case support. In the Afghan Women's community group orientation, the E&L team focused on tailoring topics to the shared needs expressed, providing a space for participating women to ask sensitive questions about women’s health, mental health, rights and responsibilities, and child protection laws. They also learned how to use transportation.
In Tier 2 ESOL classes, IRC in NY created a culturally responsive space for participants to learn together. Working on their English enabled them to access economic and educational opportunities and to especially advocate for themselves and their children.
One client participating in Tier 1 and 2 shares how:
Both classes were interesting for me. In the English classes, I learned how to speak and write. In the women’s class, I also learned a lot of things. The history of the US was my favorite, learning about civil rights and how the country changed. I learned about public transportation. I learned how to take the bus and the train. I learned how to pay attention to traffic lights. In the beginning, I did not know anything about it, but after participating in the class, I learned a lot.
Tier 3 was a Girls' group in the Students Success Coaching (SSC) program. This program ensures that youth (and their caregivers) set goals to promote academic progress, strong social-emotional skills, and knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of families in NYC public schools. In this program, Afghan girls developed strong coping skills for managing stress to help them navigate challenges faced in academics and social environments. They were connected and referred to after-school and summer enrichment programs. This mentoring support was vital for their academic growth and school readiness.
It was challenging for Afghan clients to commute to the city and participate in the program because of a lack of support from their spouses and other family members. Women who had children did not always have childcare. Some women were not fully literate and the Education & Learning team focused on adapting to clients’ various literacy levels to keep all students engaged and prepared.
The Afghan Women and Girls Group program had some key success. Some women in the group were finally able to take public transportation and mastered basic English phrases, which helped a lot.
In this safe space, the meetings provide a space for peer support. Women talked about their goals; they spoke about college and career paths they wanted to pursue, what they wanted for their children, and how they would support their children.
The Afghan Women and Girls program was a place of mutual friendship. It gave them time to take care of themselves. Alexandria, the Adult Education Coordinator leading the Tier 2 ESL cohort, shares “I am half-Afghan and I know it is prevalent in Afghan culture to lose the sense of self and make your identity all about family. Supporting Afghan women to create “me” time is important. The family will also benefit in the long run from this.” Learn more about Alexandria here!
LOOKING AHEAD in year two of the program...
The IRC in NY aims to bring the program closer to the clients. This also includes having a better idea about what they are interested in learning. In the previous cohort, there were conversations centered around civics and women’s health. Moving forward, the IRC in NY finds it would be helpful to also have other discussions about financial literacy or becoming financially independent as this would benefit women who work.