Designing for Equity: Mones’ Story

Mones Esfandiari is a young woman who was born and raised in Afghanistan before relocating to the United States in 2016. Since an early age, Mones had a passion for art and hoped to incorporate it into her studies. Upon moving to the United States, Mones was determined to pursue her passion for the arts and enrolled at Todd Beamer High School in Seattle. While exploring the city, she became inspired to pursue a career in architecture, and her fascination with the city’s beautiful buildings fueled her ambition to design and construct buildings herself. Mones’ family background in engineering has also had a significant impact on her career path.

“When I was little, I always wanted to be an engineer and work on construction sites. When I came to Seattle, architecture was the first thing that came to my mind and since it was related to art and engineering, I decided to go for this field.”

Mones’ first contact with ReWA was in 2018 when she faced challenges with the English language and needed assistance with college and scholarship applications. During her high school years, she struggled with English, making it difficult for her to stay motivated. Despite her best efforts, she always felt inferior to other students, which affected her self-confidence and self-esteem. However, with the support of ReWA, she was able to gain access to help with essay writing and financial aid applications.

“Lucinda, Alicia, and Reza helped me a lot with my essays for scholarships, helped me to apply for financial aid, and meet with different professors in colleges and universities.”

ReWA also connected Mones with an architecture firm to gain insights into her field of interest. Through ReWA, Mones met with an architecture firm, SKL (Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects). Following her meeting with SKL, Mones was invited to participate in a competition aimed at designing something that would benefit the immigrant and refugee community. Impressed with her skills, SKL asked Mones to participate in a panel discussion to discuss the project she designed during the competition. Although Mones was initially stressed, the experience greatly impacted her life. Not only did it boost her self-confidence and morale, but it also provided her with valuable lessons on how to share ideas with others to improve society. Mones and her team won second place.

“This experience was really valuable for me and impacted my life not only for my future career but also helped me build confidence because I found myself in front of groups of professionals. Although I was stressing, it improved my self-confidence and gave me morale that I can improve in the future.”

Mones has shared a range of designs on her Instagram, TikTok, and website. One project that she is particularly proud of is a building design for a community in South Park, Seattle. Through research and site visits, Mones found that the neighborhood lacked access to fresh produce. Using the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, she designed a building that included a market, community kitchen, dining space, classroom, and affordable business office. This opportunity helped Mones understand how to use the environment to solve a design problem; Mones realized that every little piece of information is important and can turn into a transformative piece of work.

“As an architecture student, I want to incorporate all my ideas of art and combine them with design. Building and designing a place that people can enjoy and hope to visit one day.”

Before this project, Mones focused mostly on visual design without realizing how design impacts the community or whether the community needs the space. But she realized that design can be very powerful and affect people’s health and well-being. By making healthy design decisions, Mones can strive to become a successful architect and designer who cares about the environment and the health of the community while staying creative.

Mones reflected on her journey in architecture, thinking back to the doubts and fears she had faced when she was younger. She remembered feeling scared and uncertain about whether she could succeed in a field that was traditionally dominated by men. Mones felt compelled to share her story and encourage other young women to follow their passions, no matter the field.  Mones wants other women to know that their backgrounds and cultures are unique and valuable, and that their opinions and styles are what makes their work truly amazing.

With a sense of optimism and enthusiasm, Mones wants to remind women:

“I want to encourage all women to do something that they’re passionate about and believe that their design or work will be worth remembering someday.”

You can follow Mones on her social media profiles below:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mones_esf/?hl=en

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@mones_esf

Website: https://direct.me/mones_esf

@mones_esf P3. adding detail is the final part and my favorite✨ #asthectic #digitaldrawing #asmrdrawing #interiorsketch #architecture #floorplandrawing ♬ House music(256554) – TimTaj

ESL online: bridging the digital divide

ReWA’s ESL Coordinator, Yuliya Matyushkina, doesn’t usually make house-calls, but last week she did. Wearing a face mask and social distancing, she visited several adult English learners to help them learn to use a laptop for English classes.

ReWA’s six classrooms in Seattle, Kent and SeaTac, reach over 200 students each year. English learners come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Syria, among others.

Since the COVID outbreak, ReWA English teachers have created a distance-learning curriculum and integrated technology into instruction.

 “The challenge with online learning is that many of our students are not tech savvy. So, when classes were suspended for the COVID-19 outbreak, we had to get creative–not only with English lessons but making sure they are informed about the pandemic so they can keep their families safe.””

According to a 2018 study, 21% of low-income households in Seattle have no internet access.

ReWA’s English teachers report that while students’ tech skills vary, some are connecting with teachers on apps like Viber, WhatsApp, or make regular calls or text. “For some students getting ESL lessons is a way to have a routine during the day,” ESL teacher, Karin Kaups said.

ESL teacher's finger pointing to mailed homework packet
When ESL classes were cancelled in March, teachers sent homework packets by mail.

But many English students lack laptops or wifi access, and those with school-age children have extra challenges at home. “It’s hard to engage families when their kids are struggling with online education, too,” Yuliya said.

But with recent donation of laptops for the ESL students, Yuliya is making home visits to provide hands-on instruction on how to use the computer and access online learning resources—not just about English, but about Covid-19 health information, job resources, applying for unemployment, finding food banks, and learning how to video conference.

Kaups observed, “When I talk to a student on video chat at home, we realize shared hobbies, like gardening. And that opens the door to meaningful, authentic conversations, which is where the best language learning happens. Also, when I introduce a new vocabulary word, like ‘fork’, it’s easy to just grab one in the kitchen to show.”

With a return to some in-person services this summer, English classes will likely remain a hybrid of YouTube videos, homework packets arriving by mail, and weekly check-ins by phone with their teacher.