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Thanks to Donors, Refugee Women Push Forward in Sacramento

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With the support of donors who responded to the IRC’s emergency appeal, the IRC in Sacramento is expanding its workshops for refugee women, offering a special session this summer that runs more frequently and has a specific focus on economic empowerment.  

The workshops will piggyback on the success of more general workshops aimed at women the office started back in December, and run twice weekly instead of just once a month. The participants are passionate about learning and building new careers in the United States. Two of the participants, Razia and Shamisa, both from Afghanistan, shared their stories with us. 


Razia came to Sacramento with husband and son in January of this year. As a child Razia moved from her home country of Afghanistan to Iran, where she entered school. Her class read a story about a powerful girl who worked hard and achieved great things. Razia dreamt of being like this girl. But less than a month after beginning her education, the Iranian government instituted a law saying immigrants were no longer allowed to enroll in school. Razia was devastated. Committed to learning, she dove head first into self-instruction, deteremined the changes wouldn’t hold her back.

Looking back recently, she said, “Without knowledge, life is scary, you don’t know anything. But with knowledge you become confident and free.”

For fun, Razia would teach her brother and sister, and before long a couple of neighborhood children joined the lessons. Word spread and parents from across town were knocking on her parents’ door requesting that Razia also teach their children. Eventually, twenty children were crammed into their small home with nine year old instructor Razia teaching them everything she knew. “I didn’t know that much myself, but I would teach them the little I did know, and through teaching I would learn more.” Razia’s mother insisted the classes move because it was too much stress on their small apartment. The community united and rented a small shed and garden space, where the class expanded to nearly 80 students. The police tried to shutdown the makeshift school, but Razia resisted and she and the students would meet after dark in secret. 

Razia returned to Afghanistan to marry, began studying medicine at university, where she discovered her passion for healthcare and human anatomy. When she talks about these topics, her face lights up in excitement. But despite the opportunity to learn life in Afghanistan was dangerous due to her husbands’ work with the U.S. government. When offered the opportunity to start a new safer life in the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa program, Razia and her family could not refuse.

Now, Razia is continuing to pursue her dreams. “I want to finish my education. I love teaching, but I want to teach medicine at a university. And I know it is very difficult, but I would love to be a doctor.” When we asked her why she wanted to pursue this vocation she smiled, “I LOVE IT. I want to help my people, to help all people.” Razi believes programming aimed specifically at women is crucial. “Because women have the power and potential to learn, but they need a little push and support. Women are mothers too, and when they are educated, they can help their children and families grow as well.”

Through the summer’s economic empowerment workshops, Razia will be connected with resources to develop skills in the medical field, pursue entry-level employment, and continue her education. Razia has also expressed interest in the leadership track where she will serve as a mentor and teacher to her peers. With a lot of courage and little support, Razia has transformed from a young girl reading a story about a powerful girl in Iran to a courageous strong woman herself. We can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish next.


Shamsia came to Sacramento with her husband and daughter in October 2016. Her energy and bright smile stood out in our existing women’s workshops, and she’ll join the economic empowerment

workshops this as a participant as well as a student leader. “Women need to learn,” she said. “When you are uneducated you can do nothing, but when you have information you can be successful.” This experience will help prepare Shamsia for her future career as a scoail worker. “[I’d like to be a social worker] because I like to help others. From childhood until now, I’ve thought I have to help others.” In man ways, she says, she feels the IRC has already provided her a path towards success, but thinks volunteering with the IRC will help her eventually guide others in her community.

We look forward to welcoming Razi and Shamsia this summer, along with all of our refugee women in Sacramento. Thank you to IRC donors across the country who helped make this programming possible.

For more information on this program contact Katie.Freehling [at] Rescue.org. To volunteer, contact Hannah.Messick [at] Rescue.org.