2017 International Women’s Day Luncheon: Global Stories of Inspiration

On March 8, 2017, nearly 400 people – including employees of 38 Greater Boston companies – joined clients and staff of the International Institute of New England (IINE), Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and WCVB news anchor Maria Stephanos to celebrate International Women’s Day.

This year, IINE observed the day by hosting a luncheon in the impressive Great Room at 60 State Street in downtown Boston to recognize the contributions and success of global women and to honor three extraordinary women: Boston Common Asset President and Founder Geeta Aiyer, WGBH Reporter, Creator/Host of “Otherhood” and Co-Host of “The World” Rupa Shenoy, and AARP Chief Medical Officer Charlotte Yeh, M.D.

Telling Their Stories

IINE was honored to have Boston Mayor Marty Walsh provide welcoming remarks, during which he spoke of the city’s increased focus on gender equality, diversity, and the wage gap. "I'm a labor guy. I stand for equal pay for equal work,” he said. “We're going to stand for women's health. We're also going to make sure that we celebrate the diversity of our city."

Maria Stephanos then moderated a panel discussion where the honorees shared inspiring personal stories about how their personal and professional lives were shaped by being an immigrant or the daughter of immigrants.

When asked how she would counter the argument that her parents should not have come to the U.S., Dr. Yeh, whose parents flew in from Pittsburgh for the event, responded: “My parents have demonstrated fearlessness, resiliency, compassion, and the drive to put education above all else. It is these characteristics and qualities as a child of refugees that I have emulated to become a doctor, a surgeon, a businesswoman, and the Chief Medical Officer of AARP.”

For many, the immigrant experience has left them feeling conflicted about their identities. “I have always felt like I’ve lived a hyphenated life,” said Geeta Aiyer, who was the second woman immigrant from India to attend Harvard Business School and has since built one of the largest woman-owned investment firms in Boston. “I strive to be the best Indian-mother, the best American-mother, and the best woman-entrepreneur.”

As a child of immigrant parents from India, Rupa Shenoy also has always felt as though she’s had a foot in two worlds. Through her podcast “Otherhood,” she elevates the conversation about what it means to be ‘other’ in this country. “My podcast was born out of my obsession to give a voice to first-generation immigrants, otherwise known as ‘new American’ citizens. Through storytelling, my voice is also heard,” she said during the discussion. She bonded with Geeta over the legend that somehow all immigrants from India come to the U.S. “with seven dollars in their pockets”.  

The conversation between these remarkable and talented women underscored how significant new Americans are to the vitality and renewal of our nation, and how strong women leaders in all their diversities strengthen our communities. “I made the choice to remain in the U.S. It was my ‘free will’ to become an American citizen,” said Geeta. “I feel a sense of loyalty and am motivated to contribute to this country in exceptional ways.”

The Discussion Isn’t Over

The International Institute of New England serves nearly 2,000 refugees and immigrants each year. The majority of those we serve fled nations where they were persecuted for religious and political beliefs, and even their gender. Many of these women protected their families as they fled war and violence in places like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other countries. They have overcome incredible odds to come to New England and they are determined to contribute to life in their new country. It is for this very reason that we must continue to support and provide critical services to vulnerable populations, especially women, not just on March 8th, but on every day of the year.

TripAdvisor Leads the Charge on Refugee Crisis

IINE-Boston partners with TripAdvisor to locally respond to the global humanitarian issue.

When the worldwide migrant and refugee crisis hit its peak in 2015, TripAdvisor’s CEO Steve Kaufer invited the company’s traveler community to support organizations that help refugees, and the company agreed to match their donations dollar for dollar.

In September of 2016, following the White House Summit on Refugees, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, committed to donate $5 million to organizations that support refugees. The company pledged to educate its employees about the global refugee crisis and emerged as a leader on this issue.

During IINE’s recent visit to TripAdvisor, employees assembled 150 hygiene kits for the Institute’s refugee, immigrant, and asylee clients in Lynn, MA to support workplace readiness.

During IINE’s recent visit to TripAdvisor, employees assembled 150 hygiene kits for the Institute’s refugee, immigrant, and asylee clients in Lynn, MA to support workplace readiness.

On November 9, 2016, IINE’s President and CEO Jeff Thielman, Refugee Resettlement and Employment Services Manager Ashley Wellbrock, and Community Services Case Specialist Rahmatullah Aka, participated in a “Fireside Chat” with TripAdvisor’s Human Resources team and other staff in their Needham office.

During the visit, Jeff and Ashley spoke about the Institute’s mission and work, and Rahmatullah, himself a refugee from Afghanistan, shared his personal journey with 150 TripAdvisor employees. In response, employees assembled and donated hygiene kits and interview preparation booklets and handouts to support workplace readiness.

Employees followed the November meeting by collecting 700 pounds of clothing and household items, and $750 worth of gift cards for distribution to IINE clients to cover basic needs such as food and transportation. In addition to in-kind support, the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation generously donated $30,000 to the Institute to help sustain services to new Americans.

As part of its commitment, TripAdvisor plans to continue hosting educational events about the refugee crisis for employees, area foundations, other corporations, and local communities. By developing a meaningful way for the company, its employees, and even its customers, to support refugee relief, TripAdvisor is setting the standard for how a company should engage in social responsibility.

“We wanted to do more than just support this cause with a donation,” said Tali Golan, Head of the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation who has visited refugee resettlement camps as part of her work. “We’re the largest online travel company in the world, and our customers span the globe. We are experiencing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. While we support a political solution to the crisis, we want to make a difference in a meaningful way and can do that globally as well as locally by supporting organizations like the International Institute of New England.”

Fostering Friendships over Food

IINE-Lowell and local community groups unite residents and newcomers at shared dinners.

On Jan. 24, 2017, Lowell community members and three newly- arrived Congolese families gathered for a meal at IINE-Lowell’s site office. The potluck meal was hosted by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

On Jan. 24, 2017, Lowell community members and three newly- arrived Congolese families gathered for a meal at IINE-Lowell’s site office. The potluck meal was hosted by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Khalil Abdo’s smile disguises the difficult journey that brought his family from Syria to Lowell, Massachusetts. In 2013, war and violence forced them to leave their homeland, and in 2016 they became some of the few Syrians granted resettlement in the U.S. When the family of seven arrived, Khalil knew little English and relied on interpreters to navigate his new surroundings. In Lowell he faced challenges as he adjusted to a new community, addressed urgent medical issues, and searched for employment. The first months for any refugee in the United States are challenging, yet can be eased by a warm welcome from new neighbors. Last summer, IINE-Lowell staff worked with community and faith groups to organize a series of welcome dinners for newly arrived refugees. Since the launch, 12 refugee families have participated in a welcome dinner, including the Abdo family who attended one hosted by IINE supporters in Andover, Mass.

Held in a local hall, the space was brightly decorated and an array of ethnic and traditional American foods was available for all to enjoy. The dynamic at each welcome dinner is slightly different. When a group of professors hosted Congolese families recently, the hosts and their guests spontaneously broke out in African dancing. At another dinner, the group discussed shared interests and cultural traditions. In Andover, Khalil and his wife and children practiced English and Arabic words with their new friends over chocolate cake.

Welcome dinners are easy to organize, and their impact is enduring. Through the relationships formed, refugees secure play dates for their children, learn about job opportunities, and get insights on the American healthcare system and culture. At the same time, families such as Khalil’s share the experience of their journey with their hosts. This gives American families an intimate perspective on the global refugee crisis. At the end of dinner in Andover, Khalil surprised the organizers by sharing that the evening was his sixth-month anniversary in the U.S. Smiling, he told the group, “This is the first night in the country where I only feel joy, only joy. Thank you.”

Many of these welcome dinners are hosted by Resettle Together volunteers, a growing network of community partners who help refugee families rebuild their lives in New England.  They also provide immediate and long-term support to refugees and immigrants on the road to self-sufficiency. If you’re interested in becoming a Resettle Together partner, contact Cheryl Hamilton at chamilton@iine.org.

Volunteer Spotlight

Thank you for your dedication and continued support of the Institute.

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Karen Márquez, IINE-Boston

On why she volunteers: “I am an ESOL volunteer and I assist the teachers with their lessons. I also have the opportunity to teach lessons myself and it is the most rewarding feeling in the world!”

 

Calley Milne, IINE-Manchester

Calley became a volunteer after reading a newspaper article about the Institute’s first resettled Syrian family. She has since been dedicated to helping them adjust to their new lives in Manchester.

 

Aneela Qureshi, IINE-Lowell

On why she volunteers: “I’m the daughter of two immigrant parents who came to this country from Pakistan with literally just theclothes on their back. By helping our friends at IINE, I am just paying it forward like so many folks did for my family.”

 

Elaine Schaffner, IINE-Manchester

Elaine is a volunteer from Manchester’s local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She has brought nearly 30 other volunteers to the Institute and has secured two storage units for in-kind donations!

 

Ursula Stone, IINE-Boston

On why she volunteers: “What motivated me to volunteer were my vivid memories of leaving my country, family, friends, and language behind to make a new life in aforeign place. If I can help make the transition for others easier, I’m glad to do so.”

 

Bill Watson, IINE-Lowell

For over six years, Bill has volunteered in nearly every facet of the English forEmployment Program. Currently, he leads the computer literacy, learner’s permit, and phonics classes.

Employee Highlight

Famoh Toure, Interpreting Program Coordinator

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A refugee himself, Famoh grew up in Guinea and immigrated to New Jersey in December of 2000. In June 2002, he moved to New Hampshire. He earned both a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Organizational Leadership and a master’s degree in International Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University. During graduate school, he became familiar with the Institute’s work through volunteering in case management and employment services at the IINE- Manchester site office. Famoh previously worked as a Case Manager for Community Bridges, a New Hampshire nonprofit that supports individuals with disabilities, and as a Project Coordinator at the Concord Development Center for Immigrants where he designed literacy programs.

As Interpreting Program Coordinator, Famoh recruits, screens, hires, and trains interpreters for IINE-Manchester’s new Interpreting Services Program, Pinpoint Translation. Pinpoint Translation is a joint partnership between IINE-Manchester and Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (DIIRI). Famoh acts as the Institute’s liaison with DIIRI, conducting client outreach, and engaging potential business partners who are interested in translation services. Famoh’s long-term engagement with New Hampshire’s refugee and immigrant community enabled him to contract and train 82 immigrant and refugee interpreters.

Famoh is glad to have found his way back to the Institute and is excited to build a team of professional interpreters and translators to support the growing foreign-born community in New Hampshire.

For more information about Interpreting and Translation Services, email Famoh at ftoure@iine.org.

An International Romance

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On Valentine’s Day, people across the world celebrate their love for each other by exchanging cards, candy, flowers, and heart-shaped gifts. While it appears Cupid is particularly busy shooting his love-laced arrows this time of year, we often forget that love doesn’t usually find its way on a Hallmark-sponsored holiday. In fact, many people stumble upon love at a time and place where it’s least expected. Some call this happenstance, others call it fate. The story of Carol and Herbert’s meeting is just that – a story of happenstance that brought two people from different worlds together.

It was March 29, 1962 when Carol arrived at Boston Logan Airport from Scotland. The 21-year-old came to the U.S. for a year-long contract to nanny for a local family after a classmate, who was already working as a nanny in Boston, wrote a letter urging her to come. It wasn’t long after her arrival that her friend introduced Carol to the International Institute of Boston (now International Institute of New England). During their days off, they attended events at the Institute, which was a social hub for the local immigrant and refugee community. It hosted events for locals and immigrants alike such as dances, games nights, and bus trips around the city.

On the rainy evening of June 24, the girls found themselves back at the Institute for dancing after a trip to Thompson Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands, was rained-out. The young women danced for a short time but decided to leave after receiving unwanted attention from several male guests. Making their way down the stairs from the third floor of the Institute, they found themselves among a group of party-goers on the next landing. Suddenly, a seemingly-confident young man strode over to the girls. “My name is Herbert Schuler,” he said, extending his hand to each, “my friends and I are having a party and would like you to join us.” After a whispered discussion, the girls decided to go with Herbert and his friends even though they were complete strangers. Later they discovered that the 33-year-old had emigrated from Germany six years prior to join his sister in the U.S., and despite his boisterous appearance, was actually quite shy.

After a low-key evening spent with their new German friends, the girls were escorted to the nearest T-station where everyone exchanged phone numbers. The young women agreed that Herbert resembled the young Lieutenant in the musical South Pacific and they both really liked him. A few days later, Carol was surprised to receive a call from Herbert who asked her out on a date. They had such a great time that their first date led to a second, and then a third. The chemistry between the two was undeniable, and when Herbert proposed marriage on their third date, Carol couldn’t refuse. The two became engaged in August of ‘62, and got married the following May.

Fifty-five years later, the couple has three children and four grandchildren whom they see often. Who knows if Cupid was flying around the Institute that night, but Carol told IINE staff that she believes not only are they fortunate to have found each other, but it was the best of luck to have met Herbert at the International Institute of New England all those years ago.

Have an 'international' love story? Share it in the comments section below!

Our Mission Continues

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President Trump’s executive order suspending the refugee resettlement program, placing an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and halting the issuance of visas to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, is an affront to our nation’s values and our Constitution. It is also a direct attack on the mission of the International Institute of New England.

The President is playing on fear. Because we work with people who have overcome so much to get here, we do not give in to fear. No executive order will stop the Institute from serving refugees and immigrants.

We are the largest refugee resettlement program in Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, and we know better than anyone that the people we serve from around the world come here seeking peace. Refugees and their families are our neighbors. They work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the cultural, economic, and civic life of New England and beyond.

The President’s order does not make America safe or great. Rather, it signals that the United States is retreating from its responsibility to lead as the world wrestles with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

The International Institute will continue to provide critical services to the more than 625 refugees currently in our care, and with your help, we will be ready to receive new refugees when the program restarts. Our skills training, English language, and job placement programs for refugees and immigrants will continue to thrive and grow as well. 

We urge our friends and neighbors to speak out against this action. We ask you to support us in any way you can.

We also ask you to learn more about us by reading about our work in The New York Times, CNN, public radio, The Boston Globe, and other outlets. To read full media stories, please visit the Institute's Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.

Thank you for your support of our clients and mission during this critical time.

Gratefully,

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Jeff Thielman
President and CEO  

Statement on Anticipated Executive Order on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

                   January 25, 2017

 


We are disappointed by reports of the President’s anticipated decision to suspend the United States refugee resettlement program for 120 days, to discontinue issuing visas to people from Syria and other predominately-Muslim countries, and to reduce the number of refugees who will enter the country from 110,000 to 50,000 this fiscal year.

Suspending a humanitarian program that serves vulnerable refugees fleeing war and violence does not make America great or safe.  Of all immigrants, refugees are the most vetted and the most in need of protection. We are particularly distressed that those who have suffered trauma and persecution, including children en route to the U.S., may not be able to join their families here.

The anticipated executive order signals that the U.S. Government is walking away from its responsibility to lead as the world wrestles with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. Refugees and their families are our neighbors, and just like you and me work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the cultural, economic, and civic life of New England and beyond.

It is important that people in Massachusetts and New Hampshire speak against this action not just because it is contrary to the founding values of this country, but because it will tangibly affect the economic prosperity of our region. As New England’s workforce ages, businesses will increasingly rely on new Americans to grow. Quite simply, the U.S. resettlement program helps American communities become better places to work and live.

The work of the International Institute of New England will not stop. We remain committed to welcoming and supporting newly-arrived refugees as soon as the suspension ends. In the meantime, we will continue to serve the refugee women, men, and children we have resettled during the past year and to offer skills training, English language instruction, and other programming to immigrants of all backgrounds. At this critical time for new Americans, we remain focused on helping them find stability and achieve success in our shared communities.

Jeff Thielman President and CEO

Jeff Thielman
President and CEO

 

Give the Gift of Selflessness

‘Tis the season for giving – or at least that’s what we have always been told this time of year. With endless displays of flashy new toys and gadgets, however, it’s almost impossible to ignore the materialism that accompanies the holidays. We rationalize each gift purchase as being “selfless”, while simultaneously dreaming about what delicately-wrapped treasures await us in exchange. If the holidays are a time of giving, why do we always expect something in return? 

This Thanksgiving, Make Room for Everyone at the Table

The election is over, ballots have been counted, and the results are in: This Thanksgiving, families may see a far bigger divide than who prefers dark meat over light meat. While Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to gather for a feast with your loved ones and even welcome new guests to the table, the sad truth is that many people may be crossing guests off their invitation list this year.  

ENGLISH LANGUAGE EDUCATION

ENGLISH LANGUAGE EDUCATION

Student Council Offers Adult English Students a Voice

At 5:45 on a Monday evening, the elevator at the International Institute of New England in downtown Boston carries a diverse group of foreign-born residents to their evening English classes. Each student has a unique story, but a shared goal: to more fully integrate into American society by learning English.