World Relief Sacramento wishes to feature our Women’s Programs – a set of services offered to new female refugees from Afghanistan. The Women’s Programs are dedicated to empowering their clients through education, as well as integration with the Sacramento community.
In 2019, a group of Afghan women started meeting in a Sacramento apartment. Converted by World Relief into a community center, the apartment was a place for the women – all of them refugees – to make friends with others who’d experienced persecution in war-torn Afghanistan. To relax, the women cooked meals, made art and shared their stories. However, as they got to know one another, they realized: As new arrivals in the U.S., they faced similar barriers. Whether it was learning English, adapting to technology or integrating with American culture, there were few to no programs that catered to their unique needs.
The women discussed their concerns with World Relief staffer Krislyn Adkinson. In response, Krislyn and other members of our Education Department brainstormed ways we could help. The solution: our Women’s Programs. The women in the apartment became our first clients.
The Women’s Programs are designed specifically with our clients in mind. As Krislyn explains: “[Back in Afghanistan], many of these women never got any education, or only went to school for three or four years. Whether due to cultural reasons, their gender or because of poverty…The community colleges around here, or other adult education classes, assume the student has already had years of basic schooling. Many of [the women] aren’t ready for that, so we meet them [where they are].”
The popularity of the Women’s Programs is a testament to the need for it. Krislyn and her department are now in their fifth year running the programs. Since 2019, they’ve trained over 200 Afghan women, ranging from young mothers to elderly matriarchs. Their current cohort alone has another 100 clients enrolled. Many more sit on the waitlist.
“Our mission is to empower the women,” Krislyn says. “To combat their isolation, to transition them into self-sufficiency and to give them a confidence boost.” To achieve this, the Women’s Programs host virtual classes to teach the most important topics: English as a Second Language (ESL), U.S. laws and women’s rights, basic math and financial management, food and water safety, vehicle safety, technology use, and how to handle common situations like calling 9-1-1, requesting a translator or enrolling their child in school. There’s also a Driver’s Education program, where clients prepare for their driver’s permit and receive free behind-the-wheels training. Throughout all this, the women are taught directly by multilingual Afghan caseworkers, who then translate for English-speaking staff like Krislyn.
“Our mission is to empower the women…To combat their isolation, to transition them into self-sufficiency and to give them a confidence boost.”Krislyn Adkinson, Women’s Programs coordinator
Zohra Obaidy is one such caseworker. As a former refugee, she understands what kinds of barriers her students face. At the same time, she’s in the perfect position to help: Zohra is fluent in both Pashto and Dari – the two official languages of Afghanistan – as well as English. She’s seen firsthand how the Women’s Programs empower a person.
“[My clients start as] high-need, rural women,” Zohra explains. “Some are married and have eight or nine children to take care of…I remember, one client covered her face not just in front of men, but also other women. Another client had never touched a phone or computer before [the class]. She said, ‘This is my first phone in my life.’”
Even the most basic knowledge the women gain can transform their life. Zohra gives one example with a client (kept anonymous for privacy): “[At first], she didn’t have the courage to make a doctor’s appointment by herself. Then, later, she told me, not only did she make an appointment, but then the translator [they brought in] wasn’t translating properly. She remembered what she learned in class, and told him, ‘No, this is not what I said.’ She corrected him and advocated for herself.”
Hannah Pierce, an administrative coordinator, reports the same. Though she doesn’t speak Pashto or Dari, she’s also noticed how the women transform. “We had one woman start off not knowing how to count money,” Hannah says. “When she went to the grocery store, she’d put the money on the counter and wait for the cashier to count for her…But after, she knew how to ask for help, and how to count on her own.”
Hannah and Krislyn also note the women’s dedication to their own growth. They’ve both seen clients go to extraordinary lengths to attend class. In one instance, a woman’s daughter fell sick. She chose to log into class from the hospital parking lot. Other women have shown up just a few days after giving birth – even though Afghan culture encourages them to take 40 days of rest.
“We’re like, ‘No, stay home!’” Hannah says. “But they want to learn. It’s amazing…they don’t want to miss class for anything.”