After kabul evacuation, “Abdul” restarts his career

Photos from Creative Commons

When Abdul (name changed) came to the U.S. early in 2022, he started working in the first job he could find: delivery driver. It was a far cry from his professional career in Afghanistan where he was an environmental and construction engineer for many years.

Professional engineers can break into the local job market through professional re-training to be construction schedulers.

ReWA director of Family Support programs, Gizachew Manahle said the Day 1 housing program supports immigrant and refugees who are un- or under-employed and on the verge of homelessness.

“For many immigrants who have higher education and worked professionally, moving to the U.S. often means ‘starting over’. They end up in a survival job which puts them at high risk of losing housing. Also, when a person’s education and training aren’t put to use, it can be very demoralizing. And, their new community isn’t benefiting from their skills either.”

In his new job Abdul worked long hours every day, rarely saw his six children. Even with food stamps, he could barely earn enough to cover rent. He came to ReWA for help. ReWA’s Day 1 program provides case management support and short-term rent and tuition assistance to help them achieve economic and housing stability.

A teacher’s assistant is the first step in becoming an accredited teacher.

Abdul met with his career coach and made a career plan. He learned that with his engineering expertise, he could finish a six-month certification course and start work as a construction scheduler—a well-paid professional position that would return him to the career he had dedicated much of his life to.

But the training was full time. With tuition and rental assistance from ReWA’s day 1 program Abdul was able to focus on his studies, and invest in his future for his family.

When Abdul finished his certification, his career coach helped he update his resume, create a LinkedIn profile, and attend some job networking events. Within a month of finishing his certification Abdul was hired as a construction scheduler and earning a salary that would support his family.

Because the program uses a whole-family approach, his Day 1 case manager helped Abdul identify meant to pay utility bills while also enrolling in his wife in English classes and assisting her with a survival job search.

Manahle said the Day 1 program has helped over 161 families to remove major barriers to housing stability. He said this is done by addressing issues in housing, employment and social emotional wellbeing. Day1 participants  end up in jobs ranging from logistics coordinator, truck driver, preschool teacher, medical assistant, quality assurance associate, research coordinator, constructions scheduler, drafter, phlebotomist, IT assistant and a car mechanic.

Many local colleges offer short-term training programs, such as phlebotomists, to jump start a career in health care.


Yana Dareva-Morrison, ReWA Career Coach and Business Developer, who works closely with Day 1 participants, said, “When people come to us, we aim to create a trusting relationship so they can get guidance and clarity about their career path. This helps them navigate the U.S. job market—from the initial job search, to the interview, and finally the salary negotiation stage—we help them step confidently into that process.”

If you want to learn more email Day 1 case manager, Mohammed Beena at mohammad@rewa.org.

Property owners step up to house Afghan families

Five women stand in front of apartment building
ReWA partnered with Low Income Housing Institute to house refugees.

Finding a home for a recently arrived refugee is tough. Most have no rental or credit history and few have yet to find a job. To find them housing takes a landlord who is willing to adjust their application process for refugees. So, when ReWA was asked in February to find permanent housing for fifty Afghan families within 3 months, it was a challenge.

Washington state was one of the top five destinations for the 79,000 Afghan refugees arriving in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Driven by Gov. Inslee’s commitment that Washington be a welcoming state, by early 2022, some 3,000 Afghans had arrived in the state. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) sprang into action, securing temporary hotel space in Tukwila and across the south Sound.

DSHS then contracted with several community-based organizations, including ReWA, to find housing for this unprecedented influx of refugees.

ReWA senior program director, Crisann Brooks, said it’s been difficult to find property owners willing to accept tenants without rental or credit history. “Some landlords experienced financial hardship due to the eviction moratorium, so they are leery of loosening rental requirements for new tenants.”

To overcome these barriers, ReWA reached out to partners, old and new.

Existing partners—and new ones

ReWA’s executive director, Mahnaz Eshetu recalls, “Not long after the evacuations started from Afghanistan, I reached out to our partner, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), to see if we could work together to provide housing.” Within a few days she said LIHI had pledged 22 units to ReWA in their newly-opened George Fleming apartments, located in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood.

By April, ReWA had partnered with other apartment complexes in south Seattle and the South King County region who agreed to loosen rental requirements and accept a “pledge letter”, guaranteeing six months of rental payments. Among these partners was Willow Crossing, an affordable housing corporation with properties in Seattle, Alaska and Montana.

Alexa Humann is the property manager of Willow Crossing in Othello. She said they serve many low-income tenants and others in need of housing. “We work with people in transition. That is what our housing is for.”

Brooks said, “Willow Crossing was absolutely fantastic. They took pledge letters, accepted abbreviated applications, and worked to house many families. They were very welcoming and easy to work with—they are the best.”

Humann said Willow Crossing is grateful to be able to assist people who are in need of housing. “We are used to working with clients who are still learning English, so we rely on Google Translate to communicate with tenants.”

entrance to willow crossing apartment building shows planters and modern grey facade
Willow Crossing is affordable housing corporation that worked with ReWA to house refugees.

By May 31, ReWA housed 50 Afghan families in three different affordable housing complexes: George Fleming, Willow Crossing and Creston Point. Brooks said, “Now that they have been resettled, we can focus on providing other services: English classes, job search, early learning pre-school, citizenship classes and immigration legal services, as well as providing access to domestic violence support, counseling, and after-school programs for youth.”

At a gathering of ReWA staff who helped find resettle families and find the housing, Brooks pointed out that accomplishing this task was no small feat—it took long hours and many people to support these families, who have already sacrificed so much as U.S. allies.

ReWA housing case managers gather to celebrate finding homes for 50 Afghan families.
ReWA housing case managers gather to celebrate finding homes for 50 Afghan families.

Brooks added, “There were so many partners that worked diligently to make this happen. It takes all of us pulling together in partnership to resettle our newcomers and to help each family or individual feel welcome, safe and secure. It is an honor to be a part of this wonderfully successful collaboration.”

New Life Skills curriculum

“Life Skills” help refugees navigate a new culture

For most Americans, paying their utility bill online is pretty routine.

But what if you are a refugee who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have a bank account, and has never used a computer?

Daily life can be overwhelming. 

To help manage these tasks, ReWA developed the Life Skills curriculum , which covers everything from what is culturally appropriate “small talk” with your neighbor, to making a doctor’s appointment, to paying bills online. The purpose of the curriculum is to help newcomers to the U.S. learn the complex systems many people who grew up here take for granted.

ReWA staff collaborated to create a curriculum for refugees in the Puget Sound, but it is applicable across the country.

An idea long overdue

This project brought together the collective experience of ReWA English teachers and case managers—many of whom moved to the U.S. from other countries. ReWA’s ESL Coordinator, Yuliya Matyushkina, described how ReWA developed the curriculum.

“We gathered together several case managers—many of whom came to the U.S. as refugees themselves—and English teachers and together we brainstormed a list of topics. Then we divided into teams to write and edit and we ended up with nine lesson modules.”  

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication. The lessons are offered in two levels: Beginner and Low Intermediate, so can be used in a classroom that has students of different levels.

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication.

Many of ReWA’s case managers came to the U.S. as immigrants and refugees. Now they use their wealth of knowledge to help others.

In the classroom

One ReWA ESL teacher, Inga Link, said, “It’s easy to use—and a lot of classroom conversations grow out of the lessons. Just the other day, I taught from the financial literacy module.” She said students brought in the mail they received from their bank so they could learn the difference between bank statements and bank notices. “Other students asked about identify theft and how they can keep themselves safe.”   

ReWA is offering limited in-person classroom where students learn from the new Life Skills curriculum.

ReWA program manager, Gizachew Manahle, said the curriculum was funded by the Washington State Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Manahle himself emigrated from Ethiopia years before and is glad ReWA can offer this resource to their clients, as well as the wider community.

“I wish I had this curriculum when I came here. The systems in the US are very complex, even for the people born here. With this life skills curriculum new arrivals can learn to respond to everyday challenges. And with greater cultural and economic integration, they develop a greater sense of community”.

With the influx of 3,000 Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

With the influx of 3,000 Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

Manahle said, “So far, we have shared the curriculum with dozens of other organizations and colleges across the state, and we hope it will be used nation-wide.”

The Life Skills Curriculum is available online for free download.

Making a “Brave Commitment” to fully fund organizations serving youth

ReWA youth explore Seattle Center.

Three years ago, several nonprofit organizations serving youth and families in King County faced a funding crisis.

Much has been written about COVID-19’s impact on the non-profit sector. But even before the pandemic, 64,000 youth in King County lived in poverty. They were more likely to experience higher rates of poor health outcomes, violence, and incarceration. Several agencies serving youth closed and others merged to share costs.

These organizations were crucial to King County’s plan to ensure the next generation can thrive. They provided after-school programs, mental and physical health services, and violence prevention programs.

When faced with this funding crisis, leadership at these organizations realized they had to come together and find a sector-wide solution.

If nothing changes, society at large will pay the price when the next generation of youth is poorer, sicker, and in jail.

Eventually this group became known as Brave Commitments. Read a summary of our Call to Action here.

Youth explore careers on a visit to Ballard Machine Works.

They identified chronic under-funding of government contracts as the key reason organizations were on shaky ground. Staff struggled to survive on poverty wages, and leadership suffered high rates of burnout. Plus, there was—and still remains— little government funding to invest in infrastructure, training, or innovation. If nothing changes, society at large will pay the price when our youth are poorer, sicker, and in jail.  

At our October meeting, Brave Commitments decided to focus our efforts on a three-pronged strategy:

First, to advocate directly with funders to only issue contracts that pay the full cost of services. Most people don’t realize that contracts with the state, counties, and cities often only cover 80% of the cost of providing services. The non-profit organizations working under these contracts are expected to fundraise to cover the difference—which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. As one of my colleagues at Brave Commitments remarked, “When Sound Transit is awarded a contract, no one asks them to fundraise 20% of the cost to build a public transit system. Why are human services agencies expected to do so?”

I call on government funders to consider appropriately funding contracts as an equity issue.

Second, following the lead of colleagues in New Your City, we are exploring creating an RFP (Request for Proposal) rating tool that will analyze funding opportunities as they are announced. This tool will be used to assess whether a proposed government contract is adequately funded, and if the outcomes and requirements are reasonable. Having this analysis completed prior to the application due date will help organizations—especially smaller ones—make a good decision about whether to apply, saving staff time and avoiding contracts that are not set up for success. It will also open a dialogue between organizations and government funders about the specific issues and challenges associated with a particular proposal. I call on government funders to consider appropriately funding contracts as an equity issue.

In short, I want justice for my staff.

Third, Brave Commitments is creating a vision of a system centered on the youth and families we serve, grounded in equity. Most of the agencies sitting at the Brave Commitments table are White-led organizations. We all agreed that the leaders of these agencies must commit to undergoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training with two goals at the forefront: 1) to dismantle their own biases about “who is qualified to lead and why”, and 2) to identify aspiring leaders of color.

Elementary students at Woodland Park Zoo.

I hope this process will bring in more BIPOC (Black Indigenous Persons of Color) voices to Brave Commitments, adding a depth and diversity of experience. Our vision of a healthy, non-profit sector must start with us doing the work in our own organizations.

Now is the time to create a youth and family services system read for a post-pandemic world.

A few years ago, philanthropist Peter Buffet called attention to the so-called Charitable Industrial Complex, describing philanthropy as a form of “conscience laundering” because it seemed to tolerate vast inequalities in society. He said, “The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”

As I write this, there are efforts within King County and City of Seattle to address pay equity among subcontractors. Whether this is picked up by the new Mayor remains to be seen.

I call on all city, county, and state agencies to fully fund non-profit organizations providing services to families and youth. Now is the time to recreate a youth and family services system ready for a post-pandemic world. This means investing in our staff and creating a robust infrastructure—founded on principles of equity—that we can be proud of for generations to come.

“A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”

Keeping youth engaged through screens can be tough. But during a recent youth program webinar in which themes touched on being authentic, accountable and showing up for oneself — cameras were switched on and the chat box lit up.

“The students were eager to join in—it was a real conversation, not just answering when called on,” said youth instructor, Seth Walker.

A screen shot from AAMA’s webinar, summer 2021 where Ajala Wilson leads discussion.

The speakers who inspired this were from Seattle Public School’s African American Male Achievement (AAMA) program, which aims to “connect more Black male students across the district to share experiences, participate in affirming curriculum that addresses stereotypes and focuses on their cultural identity, and elevate their voice.”

Unfortunately black students often face obstacles like discrimination and racism in schools. Research has shown this manifests in a variety of ways: from misdiagnosis of learning disabilities, or teachers or counselors who fail to challenge students or to assign them to advanced classes, or hand out unjust disciplinary actions, which can have far-reaching consequences.

ReWA’s youth program manager, Kimberly Lee, said, “Refugee or immigrant youth not born in this country, or whose families come from diverse cultural backgrounds, may unfortunately face similar obstacles in school due to their bi-cultural experience.”

“Refugee or immigrant youth not born in this country, or whose families come from diverse cultural backgrounds, may unfortunately face similar obstacles in school due to their bi-cultural experience.”

– Kimberly Lee, Youth program manager

Ajala Wilson-Daraja is a 19-year-old Eastern Washington University student who is interning with Seattle Public Schools with the AAMA program. He said he recently led a discussion on racial equity at a teachers’ conference in Eastern Washington, so he was eager to engage with ReWA youth.

First, Ajala outlined some principles of success:

  • A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” This means, speak up and ask for what you need.
  • “The lazy hustler won’t get bread.” To reap the rewards, you have to work hard.
  • “Your network is our net-worth.” The people around you –friends, family, teachers and mentors–can influence your success at school and in life.
  • “Be patient with yourself.” We all go through communication challenges, be confident in yourself.
  • “You are the One of One.” This means, there is only one version of you. We all live Life in our own unique way–and that is as it should be.
William King, AAMA facilitator, led youth through a workshop online last summer where they discussed overcoming obstacles.

During the virtual discussion, some students admitted that they get teased for their level of English, or sometimes for having an accent.

Lee responded, “You might be afraid to speak up in class but the more you speak out, the more confident you grow. After a while you won’t even notice the hecklers anymore. Use your personal power to build your confidence instead of adding fuel to the wrong fire.”

Lee said ReWA’s Youth program worked with AAMA to foster cultural awareness in curriculum planning and classroom engagement in order to promote systemic change in our communities one conversation at a time. Lee said, “It’s important to honor experiences of Black and East African students and provide forums where students could speak out about their experiences, and learn how to navigate U.S. cultural norms.” Lee added, “Despite the inevitable obstacles in life, if youth are committed to positive personal development, gaining confidence and a deep commitment to self-knowledge and self-worth, they can achieve whatever they put their minds to. We are all about expanding the vision of our youth to dream big and believe they can live those dreams!”

“I learn so much things…. how I can change my life, and if I want to know myself I have to talk with myself. And if I know myself, it is easy to change.”

ReWA youth

[box]ReWA’s Youth program engages youth with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) projects as well as workshops in leadership and storytelling.[/box]