An evening with New Women New Yorkers

Written by Jahaida Hernández Jesurum


New Women New Yorkers Director Arielle Kandel welcomes young women immigrants to its first Meetup on November 12.

On Thursday, November 12, New Women New Yorkers held its first official Meetup for young women immigrants at a space in Hell’s Kitchen.

The guests, women immigrants ages 16 to 35, came from all corners of the world and had varied academic backgrounds. The one thing everyone had in common? They were present for a night of fun and networking, and to receive information on training, leadership, and educational resources and opportunities. Some of them were graduates and current participants of our LEAD Program, others had just come to learn about our work and community.

Once the session started and everyone grabbed a seat, we received a warm welcome and an informative introduction about the organization’s mission and programs by New Women New Yorkers’ founder and Director Arielle Kandel and LEAD Program Coordinator Mia Toftdahl Olesen.

Soon after, a micro-workshop about access to college and professional development began, led by guest speaker Robin Nurse, founder and president of 10 Steps Ahead Strategies. She talked about everything from submitting college applications to opportunities available for first generation immigrants, career development, and financial resources. When Nurse finished, the room lit up with eager faces, raising hands and igniting a barrage of questions. Some women had just started their college applications and were wondering about the process as well as scholarship opportunities. Others already had a degree from their home country and were considering graduate school. Everyone wanted to know where to go,what to do, and how to do it best — and we all got our answers.

After the end of the micro-workshop came the presentations of their final project by our LEAD graduates — first twin sisters Bassant and Tasnim from Egypt, and then friends Karma and Anjala from Nepal, who participated in the spring pilot series of LEAD, which ran in partnership with Atlas: DIY in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Bassant and Tasnim delivered a speech about girls and women in Egypt who are still victims of discrimination and oppression, who have no access to education, and whose opinions and desires are ignored. They ended their speech with a powerful message: “Never give up. Don’t lose your freedom because freedom is the oxygen of our souls … Be yourself and don’t let anyone control and treat you like a machine or animal.”

Bassant and Tasnim consider themselves lucky. Unlike the girls and women they spoke of, they have been able to pursue education and freedom thanks to a supportive father.

When I asked the sisters what they would say to girls like them, who might be hesitant about participating in a future LEAD series, they replied, almost in unison: “Just do it; it’s free, you will not regret it. We were scared and confused at first, and tonight we just gave our first public speech. It’s all so exciting!”

Karma and Anjala were up. They chose “Immigrants Identity” as the topic of their final project. Being immigrants themselves, they wanted to see how other immigrants in New York City were similar and different. They interviewed some of their friends in high school, and asked them personal questions, including, “Where are you from? What made you or your family move to the US? How long have you been living here in New York City? How is life different here, especially as an immigrant? What advice would you like to give to new arrivals?”

At the Meetup, Karma and Anjala presented their project in the form of a picture slide with photos of the faces of a few classmates, ages 16 to 20. In these photos, each student held a piece of paper with a personal quote expressing what being an immigrant means to them. Karma and Anjala shared brief anecdotes with each slide, and talked about where they see themselves in the future.

All four girls are relatively new to the US and live in New York City. They are currently in their senior year at an International High School (a high school for recent immigrants) in Manhattan. Enthusiastic and passionate about women’s rights, these young women are starting the college application process — and we can’t wait to see what they do.

The last part of the Meetup was dedicated to icebreakers and activities to help participants at the Meetup mingle and get to know each other — after all, this is what New Women New Yorkers is all about: creating a strong community of young women immigrants who can share their experiences and support each other.

We’ll hold our next Meetup in February 2016, and new LEAD Program series will start in the spring — don’t wait to find out more about the program and sign up here.

Want to help celebrate NWNY and what we’ve accomplished over the last year? Get your ticket to our End-of-Year Bash on December 4 now!

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