The class takes a break during one of the first lessons.
Photo: Elena Robles/IRC

It’s 12:30 pm on Thursday, March 10th and 13 women have just finished discussing their dreams for the future. With the use of today’s vocabulary words and a little assistance from the office’s interns and their classmates, each woman describes her five-year goal.

“I want to become a nurse in the future,” says Atya Nawrozi, 23-year-old mother of two, “I want to improve my English and finish my education. I want to work and help other people who are like me.”

Atya Nawrozi moved to Maryland from Afghanistan on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) as her husband’s work for the United States government put himself and his family in danger from the Taliban. She and her classmates have spent this week studying common English phrases, American resumes, and education options as part of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring’s first Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) Cohort of 2020.

Over the course of three weeks, these vocational ESOL classes at the IRC will cover a variety of topics from conducting a job interview to obtaining a library card. Led by instructor Elena Robles, with the help of coordinator Neisha Washington and one or two exceptional interns, the classes serve the needs of refugee women with children, a population that faces multiple barriers to financial self-sufficiency and social integration during the refugee resettlement process.

“I’m a new and young mother in the US. I have to be very patient. . . it’s very hard for me to navigate the area,” says Nawrozi. “My education is very difficult because I want to continue but I have a baby and childcare is very expensive.”

Many refugee mothers face barriers to financial self-sufficiency and social integration because they do not possess high levels of English proficiency, a key ingredient for upward wage and social mobility in the United States. Young mothers who want to attend English classes require childcare. And childcare requires money if you don’t have other family members to lean on. All these resources are in short supply for newly arrived refugees.

The IRC’s Women’s Empowerment Program is designed to address the needs of refugee mothers. The program has a child watch component which allows mothers to bring their children to class and leave them with an on-site childcare provider. Participants are offered public transportation trainings, transportation stipends and assistance in applying to Maryland’s Child Care Voucher program as they participate in the class. At the end of the three weeks, and 18 focused hours of instruction, the women will have all the tools they need to enroll in local English classes and begin the path to achieving their five-year goals.

“I want to learn more English and culture,” concludes Ms. Nawrozi. “I really want to go to school. The more I know, the better prepared for the future I am.”

The work that IRC staff do is essential in providing wholistic services to clients like Nawrozi, whose dreams are harder to achieve without resources dedicated to providing equitable outcomes for refugee women during the resettlement process. Nawrozi’s circumstances are difficult, but not insurmountable. You can help women like Nawrozi achieve their goals by donating to the IRC in Silver Spring.