Positive Space: Helping immigrant women adapt in America

27 Jan 2022 11:20 AM | Lea-Ann W. Berst (Administrator)

Shared from American Airlines Flight Service magazine:

Emily VanVleck flight attendant

When the government withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan last year, it led to thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban rule and relocating to other nations, including the U.S. For LGA-based flight attendant Emily VanVleck, who was furloughed in 2020 and then took an EVLOA to return to college, it presented an opportunity to help some of the displaced Afghan women.
Majoring in international studies, with a double minor in public policy and human rights, she had just wrapped up an internship with the National Federation of Business and Professional Women – New York City (NFBPWC/NYC). To celebrate, she and fellow interns had their first in-person meeting with their chapter president in Central Park. A discussion about the plight of the refugees ensued, and the
Afghan Women Project was born.

"We realized there are no resources meant to help business and professional migrant women who arrive in the U.S., and we sought to fill that void," she said.

Emily VanVleck in black shirt

Flight attendant Emily VanVleck (in black shirt) and members of the Afghan Women Project collect donations of winter clothes and head coverings.

After getting to know some of the women, Emily found their stories inspirational. She said there are many professionals among them (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.) and many who were in college when the Taliban took over. Part of the project's mission is to provide them with the tools to pursue their dreams in America. The project created a guidebook on shortening the acclimation process, offering a mentoring program, using its advocacy platform to solve resettlement issues, and finding resources to ease the transition. As a founding member, Emily has played a central role.

"I have worked to develop the project and create relationships with various agencies working with the displaced Afghans," she said. "I conducted interviews with women … to gather information for our guidebook. I also ran point for the winter clothing drive, heading meetings with the various collaborating organizations."

She said the winter clothing drive was an enormous success. With assistance from the Interfaith Center of New York and other community organizations, they gathered over 40 boxes of new and gently used clothing for the families and raised over $10,000.

The group also initiated a program called Zoom Pals to help the Afghan women practice their English skills and make friends. Emily keeps in touch with some of them via text messaging, and she was elated when one young woman texted that she was her first friend in America.

"I have worked tirelessly on this project since August, spending every moment of my free time moving it forward," said Emily, who graduates in May. "Hearing that I was someone's first friend in America gave me inexplicable joy and assured me that this project is working and already affecting people." 

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