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Our Lowell office is closed on Wednesday, July 17.

Author: Jeff Thielman

Spotlight Report: Resettle Together (April 2023)

Farewell to Dahvy Tran Pech, Former IINE Youth Program Manager

The International Institute of New England joins the many friends, family, and colleagues mourning the loss of Dahvy Tran Pech earlier this month.

In the two years that Dahvy served as IINE-Lowell’s youth program manager her impact was felt deeply by clients and staff. Sherry Spaulding, IINE-Lowell’s education manager says of Dahvy:

“She made a tremendous difference in the lives of many of our youth who were refugees from Iraq, Burma, Somalia, Congo and other countries. She was the type of selfless person who cared so much for others and was extremely empathetic to the challenges our refugee youth faced. She made them feel safe and special, and helped them build confidence and leadership skills.”

After her work with IINE, Dahvy served for five years as the Executive Director of Lowell’s Cambodian dance ensemble, the Angkor Dance Troupe, later joining its Board of Directors. She also served on the Boards of the Southeast Asian Water Festival, Lowell Cultural Council, Coalition for a Better Acre and Mill City Grows.

In 2018, IINE proudly named Dahvy to “The Lowell 100,” a list of honorees recognized for their  important contributions to the city’s refugee and immigrant communities, compiled for IINE-Lowell’s 100-year celebration.

IINE is grateful for Dahvy’s mentorship of our clients, and for all of her service and leadership. She will be profoundly missed.

Two Local Resettlement Agencies Address Biden’s Proposed Asylum Ban

Ascentria Care Alliance and the International Institute of New England are human services organizations that have been welcoming and serving immigrants in New England communities for over a century.

While our organizations understand the pressure that President Biden is under to address the influx of migrant families and individuals along the southern border, the United States has a proud tradition of being a safe haven for asylum seekers who are vulnerable members of society, fleeing war-torn countries and situations of extreme danger. It is our duty to provide them with a fair and just process to seek refuge in our country. An asylum transit ban is contrary to this country’s self-proclaimed status and long history as a beacon of liberty.

The Biden Administration’s proposed rule would ban people from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they do not apply for asylum in another country first or do not make an appointment with a Customs and Border office through a mobile application. This is completely contrary to our fundamental values of providing refuge and protection to those who are fleeing persecution, violence, or other threats to their lives.

Moreover, it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allows people seeking protection to apply for asylum regardless of the manner of entry, and it does not require people to apply for asylum elsewhere first.

Notwithstanding the humanitarian argument, there are other critical arguments to make in support of open asylum and immigrant welcome:

  • Economic benefit: Immigrants offer our struggling economy a critical source of much-needed labor across industries in the U.S., and in New England in particular. A glaring example is the healthcare systems in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that are crumbling due to staff shortages, putting patients at risk, and leaving thousands without care. A reduction in immigrants allowed to enter with work eligibility will exacerbate an already critical shortage. Ascentria and IINE have spent years developing partnerships and initiatives that address medical staff shortages in both states by creating a pathway for licensed medical professionals from other countries to be medically trained to work in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
  • Child protection: Under the proposed asylum transit ban, children will still be allowed entry into the U.S. if they arrive unaccompanied but will be turned away if they arrive with family members. This policy will exacerbate family separation at the border and will continue to put desperate children at unforgiveable risk.

We call on policymakers to recognize the importance of a fair and humane asylum system that allows people to seek protection and find safety from persecution. Says Angela Bovill, CEO and President of Ascentria, “Now is the time to work together in partnership with the Administration to create innovative solutions that address the challenges our nation faces at this crossroads. Working together we can find ways to ensure those seeking asylum in the United States can reunite with their families and pursue a path to citizenship; make available a critical source of much-needed labor in the U.S to fill jobs and make our entire economy stronger, and manage the influx of migrant families and individuals along the southern border.”

We stand with asylum seekers and will continue to advocate for their rights and protection. Ascentria and IINE will be offering a formal response to the Proposed Rules within the 30-day time period. We will also monitor and provide input as the “The Dream Act of 2023” moves forward with bipartisan co- sponsorship from Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Your voice also matters. Please submit a public comment or contact your legislators with stories of impact.

About Ascentria Care Alliance

 As one of the largest nonprofit, human service organizations in New England, Ascentria Care Alliance empowers people of all backgrounds to rise together and reach beyond life’s challenges. We use an innovative human-centered care model to help individuals and families move forward and thrive – physically, intellectually, socially, spiritually and economically.

With many locations throughout the region, Ascentria serves children, youth and families; persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness; refugees, including unaccompanied refugee minors; and older adults.

Through productive collaborations and partnerships, we create measurable, positive impact that enriches our communities. Inspired by our faith-based heritage and guided by compassion, courage and integrity, we envision a world in which everyone can realize their fullest potential and share with others in need.

About the International Institute of New England

 Founded in 1918, the International Institute of New England serves 5,000 refugees and immigrants each year In Massachusetts and New Hampshire with specialized services, assisted each new wave of refugees from all over the world, and served as a center of hospitality for many ethnic groups.

The Institute has also invested in the revitalization of local communities throughout New England by receiving, supporting, educating, training, and job placing an ambitious and diverse workforce. With continued partnership from community groups and philanthropists throughout New England, the Institute will continue this service for the next 100 years and beyond.

Statement of Gratitude to Our Regional Community Partners

The International Institute of New England has been welcoming newcomers and resettling refugees for 105 years. We are fortunate to work and partner with many exceptionally welcoming New England cities, including Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire, where our offices are located. In each city, we work with employers, community volunteers, non-profit and education partners, landlords, city staff and leadership, and other stakeholders to build an ecosystem of support for newly arriving refugees and immigrant populations.  

This work is hard. The refugees and immigrants we are serving are persecuted populations who have often been displaced many times before even arriving in our communities. They have risen above devastating circumstances, and their needs are high. Our communities are increasingly more and more expensive, and our talented staff is stretched thin trying to support the great need of a great many people.  

What makes our mission possible is the strength of our relationships – with clients and the community. We are eternally grateful for our community volunteers, our employer partners, our landlord partners, and our cities’ leaders—Mayor Michelle Wu in Boston, Mayor Sokhary Chau in Lowell, and Mayor Joyce Craig in Manchester. With them as partners, we work together with the challenges of city life to find the best solutions for receiving communities and incoming communities alike.  

Just yesterday, Manchester’s Mayor Craig reminded us of how important working together toward community well-being is to her administration. We are all working through housing challenges that have impacted refugees in the Manchester community. Safe and affordable housing is a cornerstone to our work, and we are grateful for both the private rental community and the city partnerships that allow us to strive toward that goal each day. 

It’s Hard and it’s Wonderful – Leading a Family Support Team

In January, IINE-Lowell hosted an event celebrating both our extraordinary clients and the community volunteers who help support them. One highlight was a speech by Jane Blumberg, a former elementary school teacher who coordinates one of IINE-Lowell’s volunteer Family Support Teams.

Like many volunteers, Jane’s group was compelled by news of the catastrophic fall of Kabul and chaotic evacuation of Afghan allies. “Our team originated out of First Parish in Concord,” Jane explains. “When we heard that 95,000 Afghan refugees would be arriving in the U.S., our Immigrant Justice Task Force started planning. By the time the Hakimi family arrived—Thanksgiving week of 2021—we had a robust team of about 50 people with an array of skills and a few with experience helping immigrants. But a lot of us had very little experience and no idea what to expect.”

The Hakimis, whom Jane describes as “fun and complex” are a family of twelve Afghan evacuees ranging in ages from six to seventy, including Mr. and Mrs. Hakimi’s seven children and their three teenage nephews, who now live in their own apartment. None spoke English when they arrived, so communication was a challenge, but Jane says her team was “lucky to have had interpreters who not only knew the language but could also provide us with cultural perspectives.”

Jane served as the team’s volunteer coordinator and notes that, as months went by, her team expanded to include people from other towns and faith communities. She enjoyed getting to know “all of these wonderful people whom I never would have met otherwise.” Describing their experience with the Hamiki family, she says:

“After 270 medical and dental appointments, many Emergency Room visits, parent-teacher conferences in three schools, driving tests, budget coaching, lessons in cutting hair, chronic apartment challenges, missteps and back pedals, bowling outings, picnics, homework support, delicious Afghan meals, endless cups of tea, dozens of COVID tests, laser surgery, root canals, tutoring, and on and on, the Hakimis are finding their way.”

And so are the volunteers supporting them.

“I am grateful, for their willingness to show understanding and forbearance when our team has made mistakes, fallen short or overstepped our bounds. There have been moments of hilarity and moments of tension and moments of despair. When there is no shared language, vastly different life experiences, and deep cultural differences, it’s sort of amazing that friendships still develop, even love. Those on both sides of the partnership grow and change and it’s hard and it’s wonderful.”

Jane’s team works in close partnership with Hakimi’s IINE case manager, Sarah McNeil. “She has overseen all the government paperwork, and signed up the family for refugee benefits, employment support, English classes, and legal advice,” Jane recounts. “In the early months, she and I texted and spoke on the phone, sometimes multiple times a day including weekends and evenings. We shared a deep desire to help, and we recognized how broad and prolonged the support would need to be.”

While Jane was herself being thanked and honored at IINE-Lowell’s appreciation event, she ended her remarks with thanks of her own.

“IINE has made it possible for us to have had this amazing opportunity to make a difference in one family’s journey adjusting and acclimating to their new home. For this, we are grateful. Thank you.”

Spotlight Report: Unaccompanied Children’s Program (January 2023)

The Spotlight Report is a quarterly report to bring you a deeper understanding of our work. This Spotlight Report on the Unaccompanied Children’s Program explores how IINE works to reunify hundreds of children a year—some as young as two years old—with their U.S.-based families across New England.

IINE Expands Programming to Serve Unaccompanied Children Arriving in New England and New York

BOSTON – Nov. 17, 2022 – The International Institute of New England (IINE) is expanding its program to aid unaccompanied children as they arrive in the United States through the U.S. asylum system following an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announcement expanding program eligibility to all minors being reunited with relatives or sponsors. IINE’s program expansion will allow the organization to double the number of children in its care. 

IINE’s Unaccompanied Children’s program helps connect mostly Central American children forced to migrate because of violence, poverty, and deprivation in home countries with relatives or family ties in the U.S. while providing intensive trauma care, case management services, and professional support. The IINE program serves more than 300 children annually and beginning this fall it will expand the number of children served, add deeper support, and expand the geographic reach of services. 

“IINE’s Unaccompanied Children’s program serves families throughout New England and is USCRI’s only provider in the region; a partnership that has existed for nearly a decade,” says program director Sofie Suter.  “The program’s growth will allow us to reach more families and help them thrive in their new environment by linking children to the support they need and families with tools to work towards growth and stability.” 

The program expansion, which will come into full effect by the end of 2023, will allow IINE to add a clinical level of care to support services and allow for three teams of dedicated and prepared case specialists and social workers to serve over 600 children in the New England and New York area each year. The goals of expansion are to: 

  • Meet the needs of unserved or underserved children apprehended and in federal care and requiring support services  
  • Support reunification of children with their U.S.-based families, prioritizing each child’s safety and preventing abuse, neglect, trafficking, and runaway crises 
  • Enable equitable access to education and resources that benefit reunified children with the goal of increasing literacy and adjustment to U.S. culture  
  • Increase family stabilization and trauma recovery supports     

For more than a decade, a steadily and rapidly increasing number of youth from the “Northern Triangle” region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced to cross the Mexico/U.S. border unaccompanied, to seek refuge from violence stemming from crime and violence, extreme poverty, and political instability. IINE has responded by helping to reunify children, some as young as two years old, with their U.S. based families, connect them with mental and physical health services, help them find an attorney to support their asylum process, and enroll them in public school and/or programs that prepare them for education or work. 

ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF NEW ENGLAND 

The mission of the International Institute of New England is to create opportunities for refugees and immigrants to succeed through resettlement, education, career advancement, and pathways to citizenship. Each year, IINE serves over 4,000 refugees and immigrants across our three sites in Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire.

IINE Honors Dr. Srikant M. Datar With the Prestigious Golden Door Award

BOSTON –November 1, 2022 – The International Institute of New England (IINE) announces Dr. Srikant M. Datar, dean of the Harvard Business School, as the recipient of the 41st Golden Door Award. 

 The Golden Door Award Gala, which will be held on Monday, May 15, 2023, at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, is IINE’s signature annual event honoring a leader born outside the United States who has made outstanding contributions to American society.   

“We thank Dr. Datar for accepting the 41st Golden Door Award and for the extraordinary contributions he has made to business and business education,” said Jeff Thielman, president and CEO of the International Institute of New England. “The Golden Door Award celebrates the influential impact immigrants and refugees have on American society and its advancement. Dr. Datar exemplifies this drive and endurance.”   

A native of India, Dr. Datar has served as the 11th dean of Harvard Business School (HBS) since January 2021. Joining the HBS faculty in 1996, Dr. Datar taught MBA and executive education courses and has held multiple leadership roles, including Senior Associate Dean for University Affairs. He is the co-author of leading cost accounting textbooks, has published research on topics ranging from data science to management, and brings a broad international perspective to his work. Before joining HBS, Dr. Datar held appointments at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University.  

A graduate with distinction from the University of Bombay, Dr. Datar received gold medals upon graduation from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India. A Chartered Accountant, he holds two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in business from Stanford University. 

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna and the 2022 Golden Door Award honoree, will chair this year’s host committee. “Srikant is an outstanding choice,” said Bancel, a former student of Dr. Datar. “He is a great teacher, an innovative thinker, and someone we all admire. He’s lived the immigrant story and is a role model for others. I am particularly inspired by the ways that he has sought to expand the reach and impact of Harvard Business School, including a recent decision to provide full-tuition MBA scholarships to the 10% of students with the greatest need.  He also has supported efforts to engage and educate entrepreneurs in mid-and low-income countries. Under his leadership, I believe the impact that Harvard Business School might have in the world is profound.” 

In receiving the Golden Door Award, Dr. Datar joins a distinguished list of past Golden Door recipients, including 2022 honoree Stéphane Bancel himself, Dr. Reshma Kewalramani, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Dr. Rafael Reif, Dr. Joseph Aoun, Justice Margaret Marshall, Yo-Yo Ma, An Wang, Stephen Mugar, I.M. Pei and more. 

Click here to learn more about IINE’s Golden Door Award. To purchase tickets or sponsor a table, please visit this page. All questions can be directed to Kelly Loftus Fleming, Director of Annual Giving and Engagement, at kfleming@iine.org. 

ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF NEW ENGLAND 

The mission of the International Institute of New England is to create opportunities for refugees and immigrants to succeed through resettlement, education, career advancement, and pathways to citizenship. Each year, IINE serves over 4,000 refugees and immigrants across our three sites in Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire. 

What Has the Resettlement Community Learned From the Afghan Evacuation?

By Alexandra Weber, Chief Advancement Officer and Senior Vice President at the International Institute of New England

The unanticipated urgent evacuation of 76,000 Afghans following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 created the need for a nationwide refugee resettlement response. After years of divestment in the federal refugee resettlement program by the Trump Administration and a shrinking of the number of arrivals from nearly 100,000 annually to just 15,000 in 2019, resettlement providers across the U.S., including the International Institute of New England (IINE), scrambled to prepare to support the huge wave of Afghan evacuees over four short months.

IINE reached out into Massachusetts and New Hampshire communities to find and secure housing, reestablish food and basic needs partnerships, reconnect with employers, and recruit over 300 volunteers to help prepare to receive Afghan arrivals. Through these efforts, we were able to provide urgent and critical resettlement services to 542 Afghan evacuees. As we approach the one-year anniversary of resettling our first Afghan family on October 13, 2021, we have reflected on the significant changes to the refugee resettlement program represented by the Afghan resettlement effort as well as an unprecedented global displacement crisis worldwide.

In 2015 under the Obama administration, IINE resettled 621 refugees. By 2020, our numbers had plummeted to 74 because of the federal shift of funding, resources, and commitment away from refugee resettlement. Last year, the Biden administration ushered in a renewed humanitarian commitment to refugee support, but because the federal refugee admissions program was so decimated, the administration had to establish alternative programming to meet the time-sensitive demand for services. These alternative channels, or complimentary pathways, offer new pipelines for vulnerable populations to gain access to protection in the U.S.

By the end of this fiscal year, the U.S. will have supported the resettlement of over 150,000 individuals through the traditional refugee admissions program and complimentary pathways like the Operations Allies Welcome program for Afghan evacuees and a new Department of Homeland Security program, Uniting for Ukraine, which provides temporary parole for Ukrainians with a private sponsor. IINE has been serving arrivals in each of these service channels. We have worked deeply with host communities to find new ways to identify housing and support for arriving populations, and we are piloting Resettle Together, an innovative approach to community sponsorship through which community groups formally contract with IINE and partner in providing resettlement services to arriving families over the course of their first year.

The introduction of alternative models of resettlement and pathways that complement the traditional admissions process is an important step in the evolution of the federal program to respond more effectively to the unprecedented 100 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes.

Our ability as a nation to provide a welcome and safe harbor to migrant populations pays incalculable economic and cultural dividends.  Yet our commitment cannot end at developing new pipelines for individuals and families. As we experienced resettling Afghan evacuees, we also need to invest in the unique support each resettling population needs when making the adjustment to U.S. life. To shed the effects of trauma and to capitalize on their new opportunity, newly resettled populations need organized, effective, and customized services. But as we are finding ways to rapidly expand services to meet humanitarian demand, we continue to seek investment in deeper ways to support each population’s unique needs.

Where We Belong: Welcoming Week at IINE

During the month of September, the nation celebrated “Welcoming Week” as part of an initiative by Welcoming America. 

“Welcoming Week” is an opportunity to celebrate new neighbors from all over the world and recognize the many ways they make our communities stronger. This year’s theme was centered around “belonging.”  

Anca and Igor, two members and leaders of the IINE’s staff, shared how as immigrants, they became part of their communities. Visit our social media pages to see who else joined the celebration!  

Celebrating Community Leadership: Anca’s story  

Immigrant leaders bring unique knowledge, empathy, multicultural experience, and much more to the companies, organizations, and communities they are a part. Read this short Q&A with Anca Moraru, IINE’s Chief Program Officer, an immigrant woman in a leadership position who has deeply impacted her community. 

Where are you from, and when did you arrive in the United States?  

I am from Brasov, Romania. I arrived in the United States in November 2003 as an au pair. My original plan was to stay in the US for only one year to then return to Romania. However, I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies. There, I met my now husband. It was clear at that time that I would build a new life here in the US. Soon after I graduated, in 2008, I started volunteering with the community services team at IINE. It was the beginning of a long journey that brought me to my current role as Chief Program Officer.  

What does it mean to you to be an immigrant woman in a leadership position? 

It is humbling as much as it is confidence-boosting. The challenging aspect of my journey as an immigrant woman is what made me appreciate my leadership position. It has shaped my perspective in a way that I use my position to pay it forward for our clients who come to the United States in much different circumstances. I am honored to be part of their resettlement journey if it means I can contribute to their success.  

Do you have a message of encouragement to all young girls who are immigrants or refugees in this country and leaders about leadership?   

Don’t expect the change, be the change. Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams, and don’t be discouraged by obstacles. Obstacles are what will help you become the best version of yourself.  

Celebrating Civic Engagement: Igor’s story  

Civic engagement is a major milestone for many immigrants and refugees. Read this short Q&A with Igor Souza, IINE’s Director of Digital Systems, a newly sworn-in U.S. citizen. 

Where are you from and when did you arrive in the United States? 

I’m from a small town in Minas Gerais, Brazil. I immigrated to the United States in 2000 when I was 9 years old. After moving around a bit, my family eventually settled on the Cape where I went to school. 

Under which circumstances did you arrive here in the United States? Has that impacted what it means to become a citizen? 

I came to the U.S. with my mother and sister on a tourist visa. Since I came as a minor, I gained status through DACA when it was passed by President Obama in 2012. Unfortunately, DACA has become a political football in the last few years. Given its ongoing instability, my wife and I decided to apply for my citizenship after getting married in 2017. 

I am incredibly grateful to have come to the United States as a child and to have benefitted from our high-quality public education system here in Massachusetts. That being said, as a minor, it was not my own decision to come to the United States, so being able to personally decide that I wanted to become a citizen was an important moment for me. 

What does it mean to you to have become a U.S. citizen? 

Becoming a U.S. Citizen means a lot of things to me. Despite the division of the past few years, I am proud to be an American and am personally grateful for the freedoms and opportunities we have available to us here. They aren’t universal and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  

Becoming a U.S. Citizen also brings a lot of peace of mind; as an immigrant without full legal protection, you are always looking over your shoulder, and that has been especially true in the political climate of the last few years. 

Being a U.S. Citizen is also exciting – I just got my passport and have a lot of destinations on my bucket list that I can now plan trips for! 

Are you planning to vote in any upcoming elections? If so, how does it feel to be able to do it? 

I am planning to vote in the upcoming midterm elections and in my local town elections. It feels empowering to finally get to vote, given that the outcomes of other people’s votes have had direct consequences on my life and on the lives of so many of my loved ones recently. 

International Day of Peace: A Message From IINE’s CEO

Dear Friends:

More than 40 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared September 21 as the International Day of Peace, a day in which nations commit to non-violence and cease-fire, and people throughout the world reflect on the steps they can take to create a more peaceful society.

At IINE, we’re reminded today that in this era of political polarization, when Afghans, Ukrainians, Venezuelans, Haitians, Congolese, Rohingyas, Hondurans, El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Syrians, and so many more people across the world are caught in brutal presentations of power, there are too few demonstrations of peace at the national and international level.  And yet in our daily work, we see people reaching a hand to another in comfort, or support, or welcome, making this demonstration at the community and at the personal level over and over again. 

On Martha’s Vineyard last week, Massachusetts community members embraced Venezuelan men, women, and children who suddenly appeared in their community when they could have just as easily turned these manipulated and disoriented people away, allowing their displacement and suffering to continue. Instead, they brought peace. In doing so they bring attention to the work that IINE performs every day: in welcoming and celebrating those fleeing war and displacement, and asking for nothing more than reception, we’re bringing peace.

We are grateful to those that make peacebuilding at every level a priority every day.

May we all enjoy a more peaceful future.

Sincerely, 

Jeff

A year after the fall of Kabul – Zahra’s story

On Sunday, August 15, 2021, the Taliban surrounded Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and retook control of the battered nation. Skeptical of promises of a peaceful transition of power, thousands fled the country, fearful of persecution for their support of U.S. efforts in their country.

600,000 Afghan nationals fled Afghanistan; 75,000 were evacuated to the United States.  The International Institute of New England (IINE), together with volunteers, and community partners mobilized to welcome and resettle 542 Afghan evacuees within five months. These individuals and families now call Massachusetts and New Hampshire home. One of these evacuees is Zahra Ahmadi.

A long journey to Massachusetts

“In 2021, everything transitioned very fast,” says Zahra when asked about her experience leaving Afghanistan. “In one day, I lost my country, my house, my job. Everything.”

Zahra was one of the thousands packed into cargo planes at Kabul Airport in the days of panicked evacuation following the Taliban’s resurgence. Originally from the Ghanzi Province, Zahra was in Herat working as a Protection Officer for the Danish Refugee Council, when she decided to move to Kabul to find a way to escape the country.

On August 18, 2021, Zahra reached the Kabul airport where she spent five sleepless nights awaiting a flight. Finally, on August 22, Zahra sat in a cargo plane alongside hundreds of fellow evacuees on a three-hour flight to a military base in Qatar. She was soon transferred to Germany and then, finally, Virginia. Through an old connection – an American professor Zahra collaborated with as a college student – she made her way to her new home, Massachusetts.

New beginnings

Traveling alone, Zahra knew no one in her new country. “I chose Massachusetts as my final destination because I wanted to further my education,” she explains. “I texted an old professor I knew in Afghanistan whom I helped to write a book about Afghan culture. She told me she could provide me with a scholarship and a place to live. So, I went.”

That’s when Zahra first got in contact with IINE.

After her first night in the United States, of which Zahra fondly remembers her freshly painted bedroom, rich meal, and much-needed privacy, she began a relationship with Farishta Shams, IINE-Lowell case manager.

“She came to visit my new home, asked me about my health situation, and offered support,” Zahra recalls. “She helped me with my social security card, work authorization, and other documents. I’m really happy I was one of her clients.”

In the following weeks, as Zahra explored New England with her host family while studying for English exams and university placements, the perfect work opportunity came along.

A bright future

Zahra’s experience working with internally displaced populations, her educational background in sociology, and her positive attitude helped her land a position as an Employment Specialist with the IINE, assisting other newly resettled immigrants in navigating the U.S. job market.

“It was my dream to work in a place where I can support refugees and immigrants like myself,” Zahra says. “It’s the perfect fit. I get to help other Afghans while growing my skillset for a future career as a social worker.”