The IRC in NJ continues to serve the Afghan community across all departments. Women in Action (WIA) is a career development program embedded in the IRC in NJ’s Refugee Career Pathways program. The goal of WIA is to help participants identify personal and career goals in a supportive environment, embrace an active role in building family economic self-sufficiency, and increase connections with a wider community.  

Tailoring a Career Program 

It’s not the first time the IRC in NJ offered the Women in Action program. In 2017, the WIA cohort for Syrian women was well-received by the community. That cohort was led by Veronicah, our Economic Empowerment manager. Maryam and Maria met with Veronicah to prepare for this year’s WIA program. One piece of advice Veronicah shared based on earlier cohorts is the importance of building a natural bond of trust through language, culture, and sisterhood.  

Veronicah’s advice laid the foundation for this year’s WIA cohort, which ran from April through July. This summer, WIA engaged 5* participants in hands-on experiential learning activities, participant-led discussions, field trips, and guest speakers. The program focused on building participants' knowledge and confidence to seek employment and follow their chosen career paths. Course topics included: Introduction and Orientation, Goal Setting, Health and Wellness, Community Engagement: Trip to Josephine’s Place, Working in America, Family Finance, Community Engagement Trip, and Graduation. 

Facilitators Maryam and Maria are so proud of this year’s WIA cohort. They attribute program success to participants’ enthusiasm as well as the program’s open structure. Together, participants agreed to ensure each other's confidentiality, to honor that sharing is a choice and that all ideas/beliefs will be respected. This was key to making the space welcoming.  

Maryam shares: “Building a cultural connection is very important. The women found the group space to be comfortable and confidential. They felt very close to both of us. This program helped them build the confidence to navigate their career pathway” 

Maryam and Maria brought cookies and tea to the sessions, which began their tea break tradition. Participants even added their personal touch and brought cookies and chai. Maria shares: “We bonded and had very fun and long sessions. We would stay chatting past 5. The time flew by! We shared tears and stories.” 

Session 4 focused on goal setting. Participants talked about themselves and their families. They were asked: What barriers are getting in the way of your goals? What career would you like? What does economic security mean to you? They were given the option to write their responses either in English or in their language.  

Maria shares insight: “In addition to active dialogue, it was important for students to workshop their responses. When we put them on the board for all to see, that’s when we organized them into smaller goals. It was helpful for them to visually see their goals. For these ladies, it's important to have another avenue for learning English. That’s why they were also encouraged to practice their English in class. Afterward, we saw a big change, because we could dive into the actions/steps necessary to achieve their goals.” 

Women in Action Discussion Board. IRC in NJ
Women in Action Discussion Board.
Photo: IRC in NJ

The IRC in NJ’s Health & Wellness team also stopped by for a Wellness session. The Health and Wellness Coordinator, Hannah, assisted Maryam with a meditation activity. Participants discussed ways they navigate a busy day and stay grounded during challenging moments. Together they shared their favorite coping mechanisms and meditation techniques. 

Community Engagement Events 

As one of WIA’s community engagement events, participants visited the Elizabeth Library. They signed up for library cards and learned about the resources and ESL courses available to them. A participant opened up about her experience adapting to the US so far and connecting with her daughter.  

Maryam shares “When we came back from the library, she told us the news of this job interview and asked how she can prepare for her interview. I encouraged her to practice and offered a one-on-one mock interview with me under the IRC in NJ’s Refugee Career Pathways program. She was so happy to hear she would get that support!” During week 6 of the program, she was offered the role and started her job!  

Participants also visited Josephine’s Place, a storefront, drop-in space dedicated to women; this collective space facilitates the empowerment of women through educational and recreational activities. One participant signed up and registered for sewing and make-up classes. 

Continuing the Connection 

The WIA program may have ended but the connections are long lasting.  

Maryam reflects: “There’s been a great change from the first session to now. Participants share how they feel more confident and gained lots of knowledge to build from. We tried a lot to build a bond with them. That’s why in a female space with confidentiality as a rule. We celebrated Eid in Ramadan. We celebrated, we had henna, they really liked it. It was a creative building to make this happen. They feel at home.”  

Participants are excited to spend more time together. There are lots of opportunities for them to join different programs and workshops across IRC’s departments. The support of the Refugee Career Pathways program is extensive career readiness courses and bridge training certification support.  

Coming up in the fall, the IRC in NJ will collaborate with Welcome Home to expand the model of the Women in Action program to serve 22 Afghan refugee women. This program will be based in Jersey City, will focus on career development, and run in 2-3 cohorts. The IRC in NJ hopes to bring more impactful, gender-tailored, and community-based programming to more clients!  

*5 participants joined, with one leaving in the interim due to a job placement that arose from the WIA program

WIA is funded by the Career Pathways for Afghans in New Jersey grant. Learn more about Maryam and Maria, our WIA Facilitators, and check out their bios below!

Maria Rawalpindiwala joined the IRC in NJ in March 2023. She previously volunteered with Braven at Rutgers, a non-profit working with student cohorts to empower them with SMART career paths and tools to land a good first job. She currently volunteers with Caring Contact - a listening community- as a trained listener to take crisis calls with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Back home in Pakistan, she interned with the Aga Khan Rural Support (AKRPS) Program in Chitral to train women in' how to manage poultry'. Her experience with AKRPS left an indelible mark which made her circle back to find meaningful work with refugees and women in particular. She lived in three countries which broadened her appreciation of cultural diversity. At IRC, Maria works as a Career Development Specialist.

Maryam Kardoush was a teacher and Enrichment program Site manager at Randolph Public School in Morris County, a teacher at the United Nations International School in Manhattan, NY, and a Translator at Peace Corp in Greece for Afghan and Iranian refugees. She was a tutor and teaching assistant at Eastern Mediterranean University in North Cyprus for 3 years. In Iran, Maryam worked as a director for a non-profit organization, Tehran Kids, supporting children of low-income families including Afghan families; helping them access health care and education for 10 years. Maryam joined the IRC in August 2021 to support Afghans during the Operation Allies Welcome evacuation period. In March 2022, she also supported Afghan refugees at the National Conference Centre (NCC) in Leesburg, Virginia for the 2nd phase of Operation Allies Welcome. Maryam joined the IRC in NJ in February 2023 as a Career Development Specialist. She shares how these professional experiences have shaped her understanding of resettlement and the role of cultural and linguistic connections in strengthening service delivery.