A couple years ago, Women of the World rebranded one of our three programs, changing the name from the Practical English Program to Community Development. We did not do this because we hired a consultant or because we stopped prioritizing practical English classes for the forcibly displaced women we serve, instead, we changed the name because our free, volunteer-led Practical English courses were the epicenter around which a safe space was developing for women. We started to see more new women come in for our classes and stay to chat with women from different countries or to ask about our other programs. Women of the World became the only place where some of our women felt safe and equal to others around them, our small office was an oasis for refreshing their dignity and sense of self.
There was a lot of happenstance in discovering the Women of the World recipe for developing community. We knew it would require women to share the similarities in their stories, but didn’t realize that their equality in struggling through language learning would be the venue. We wanted the community to involve women here seeking a better life as well as those born here, but didn’t realize that mentors and teachers would month after month beat a path to our door to make all of us a part of their family. We hoped that a social network would give them support in the hardest time, but instead, we have been awestruck with how they have lifted one another up to each become more self-reliant and self-aware.
Each December, individual achievements on the path to self-reliance are recognized in another event that furthers the scope of our community development – the Annual Celebration of Women’s Success. This is our 10th annual awards ceremony and it still manages to leave me speechless. First, we purposefully crowd everyone together, you have to sit at the same table or shoulder to shoulder with someone you don’t know, someone whose life experiences are much different from yours. Next, we present the awards and ask each awardee to say something about their accomplishments. And finally, we share a meal. A simple program that contains within it the opportunity for us to realize an important milestone in developing community… sharing in the successes of the new members of our community and breaking bread in this celebration.
This year was the first full year of our new Intensive English Class and the benefits of this class showed through in the speeches given by women that had started the year with no abilities in English. They all talked about their struggles in the past and their hopes for their future with their new skill. All of the women that received recognition have shown amazing persistence in the face of extraordinary odds, they have befriended women from the community willing to mentor them that have furthered their goals, and they have achieved significant milestones that will ensure not only their success, but the successes of their children.
Every year, Women of the World works with incredibly resilient, determined women who hold themselves to a high standard in their work ethic and goal setting. It is an honor to celebrate their accomplishments at the end of each year, so that their community can stand in support of their persistence and achievements.
Below are a brief sample of their stories:
Aime has been working hard on learning English, and recently she was paired with a mentor to help her practice through WoW’s mentorship program. This year she also got a job, a goal that