“REFUGEE WOMEN’S NETWORK BUILDS UPON WOMEN’S STRENGTHS, SKILLS, AND COURAGE,” RWN.
According to the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, “Georgia is one of the nation’s most populous states and becomes home to refugees in proportion to its size.” Every year, the state of Georgia welcomes 2,500-3,000 refugees. Most of these refugees and asylum-seekers are from Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Egypt.
Refugees Women Network (RWN) is a non-profit organization created by women, for women to serve refugee and immigrant families who have resettled in the state of Georgia. For 25 years, RWN has been the only organization in Georgia that specifically meets the needs of refugee women.
The Refugee Women’s Network (RWN)’s mission is to support women survivors of war, conflict, and displacement in overcoming cultural and systemic barriers to achieving healthy, self-sufficient, and fulfilling lives. Additionally, they guide women through specific programming that focuses on economic, social, civic, and entrepreneurial topics.
Economic empowerment: These programs help women start their own business, assist them with job placement, and empower them through job readiness workshops. As noted by the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, many refugees tend to work entry-level jobs in sectors with labor shortages.
This means often working in poultry processing, manufacturing, and warehouse jobs. Services in this program center around financial literacy, work readiness training, and networking opportunities. These services allow women to gain more opportunities in different sectors of work.
Chef’s Club: The unique program allows refugee women to use their love of cooking as a way to bring communities together. Refugee Women’s Network sees food as a common ground- a universal experience. Refugee women enjoy transmitting their deep knowledge of old recipes and cooking techniques. Through this club, they are able to build upon this knowledge and create cooking events that raise funds, provide exposure for women seeking to turn their love of food into a business, and provide a valuable cultural exchange.
Health Promotion: This program provides updated, accurate information, and resources to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This information is translated into 17 languages, and includes conversations on: Health Communication, domestic violence, Covid-19, flu vaccine, nutrition, mental health, chronic disease management, self care, women’s health, and vaccine education.
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Something that is often overlooked is the large gap of information in refugee communities regarding COVID-19 simply because information has not been made available in a specific language. RWN has shown their commitment to refugee women by making each health workshop language-specific. With more general health conversations, RWN helps, newcomers adjust to a new health care system, new food, and new physical health demands.
Civic engagement: RWN supports active citizens and residents to register or vote in Georgia. They also host conversations on the importance of civic engagement and social justice in their communities. RWN participates in the Georgia Immigrant Rights Association and partners with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, CivicGeorgia, and others to support legislation and policies that amplify the rights and voices of immigrants and refugees state-wide and nationally.
Social Adjustment These programs are aimed at social adjustments to help refugees assimilate into their new lives in the U.S. and to encourage self-reliance. Services under this program include: Needs Assessment, Work Plan, Development and Management, Integration and Emotional Counseling, Home Management, Emergency/Crisis Intervention, Health and Mental Health Services.
Leadership Training: Leadership training services are a top priority for Refugee Women’s Network, as this is the core for creating a sense of leadership among these women. This leadership oriented approach allows refugee women to improve the communities in which they live in, increase advocacy, and allow them to create allies across ethnicities towards community building. This approach has led to successful careers. Past graduates of the Leadership Program have gone on to establish their own nonprofits that serve refugee women.
Economic Empowerment: Economic empowerment is a very crucial program for refugees entering a new country. Services provided include a focus on employment, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Self-sufficiency through stable employment is a vital step that assists refugees with assimilating into a new country.
One important factor that stands out with an organization like RWN is their Hear their Stories section on their website. This section features different women’s experiences on their identity, search for community, and success from working with the Refugee Women’s Network. Many of these women fled out of internal conflict in their home country, but have been able to make Georgia a new sense of home.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a serious mental health problem among many refugee women, and in order to help alleviate the anxiety and tension of the pandemic, RWN created a hiking group. They collaborated with the Georgia Conservancy (GC), and focused their mission on facilitating health promotion, community integration, and environmental stewardship for a group of women survivors of war, conflict and displacement.
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This hiking program not only provides a healthy space for mental health, but it also promotes inclusion by reducing barriers to participation in outdoor activities for a community historically underrepresented in the outdoor sphere.
“Through this community-based program, participants build confidence and leadership, develop a sense of belonging, and establish positive relationships with peers, community members and with the natural spaces of their new Georgia home,” The Refugee Women’s Network.
Flor Chavez Barriga is an undergraduate student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA studying History and Sociology with a focus on research. She was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and grew up in Atlanta surrounded by the rich history of Martin Luther King’s legacy. She previously attended Freedom University where she was given the opportunity to achieve higher education, while also learning about collective action and human rights. Flor is passionate about the south’s reaction to immigration with its restrictive policies and infamous detention centers. She hopes to highlight the voices of communities in the south that have helped combat all the hurdles that continue making immigrant lives harder.