Why Americans should support refugee moms
By: Shereen Gomaa
Earlier this month, millions of mothers across the country received jewelry, cards and flowers. They ate lavish brunches. They took walks and family photos and enjoyed the changing weather. But I hope that as we continue to celebrate the mothers in our lives, even after Mother’s Day, we also take a moment to consider how we can sustainably support the ones who need our help.
Mona Agha escaped the violence in Syria and came to the U.S. with her husband and child as refugees in 2016. In Damascus, she had worked as a computer specialist in the prime minister’s office. But in the U.S., the language barrier made finding work difficult, even with her professional training. Because her husband suffers from health issues, she is the primary earner in her family.
Today, Mona is one of a cadre of refugee women that work as a team in the nonprofit catering company, Delicious by Shereen, which specializes in Middle Eastern dishes. All of the women I work with are mothers resettled by World Relief Triad, and all of them rely on the money they earn to keep their families fed and clothed.
I don’t just work with these women because I want them to be able to afford their utilities. I want to give them the feeling that, despite all they have gone through, they don’t have to worry again. I want them to know that they can have stable jobs and can be a vital part of a new community. I want them to know they have a future here in America.
This mission is personally important to me. I moved to the U.S. from Egypt in 2002 for my husband’s college degree program. Although I was not a refugee and am now a U.S. citizen, I know what it’s like to feel like a stranger in an unfamiliar country. I understand the fear that comes with starting over.
That’s one of the reasons I started Delicious by Shereen. Food has always brought people and cultures together – in times of war and in times of peace. And when we come together with people who are different from us, we find that we are not really strangers after all. The restaurant industry plays an important role in encouraging us to reach across barriers and facilitate community integration.
I have also found that food can be a start to helping dispel misconceptions about our differences. Some people form opinions about the Muslim community, for example, from what they see in the media. They don’t realize that Islam is a religion grounded in love, not hatred. But when our company caters or hosts a cooking class for a group of people who have not had a great deal of exposure to Middle Eastern culture, they see something different from what plays on the news. They see kind, hard-working women who care about what they do.
Nada Alasad, another refugee who works with me, is a mother of five. She fled Syria with her husband and children five years ago during the country’s civil war, and in 2016, they were granted asylum in the U.S. In Syria, she had to worry about her children’s survival. In the U.S., they were safe – but she did have to worry about making a living, especially since her husband has significant health issues.
Nada and her husband were welcomed to the country by generous World Relief staff and volunteers, who helped get them settled in an apartment and connected them with resources in the Winston-Salem area. After I met Nada through friends in the Muslim community, I asked her if she would like to work with us. Like all of the women I work with, she cooks from the heart. It’s a part of her culture and her identity. And when people cook with love, you can taste it in the food.
While I have been fortunate to work with many great women since I started Delicious in 2016, there are still so many more who require help and support. There are thousands of refugee women who need jobs that will help them support their children. These women need financial independence as they navigate their new lives in America.
It is especially important for them to find work because many of their husbands have had to settle for part-time jobs or jobs that pay low wages. In many predominantly Muslim countries, women actually make up a significant portion of the workforce, and they are no strangers to hard work. One of the best ways for them to integrate into life in America is by becoming productive members of a community.
Many incredible people, religious organizations, and other nonprofits are doing important and meaningful work by collecting donations, finding housing, stocking kitchens and providing cultural orientation for refugees. What we need now are more employers willing to hire refugees – especially women; we need to give them a hand up, not just a handout. As we celebrate our own mothers throughout the rest of the year, I hope it inspires us to ask how we can support mothers we may not have met yet.
Employers who are interested in hiring refugees can contact World Relief to connect with their local office.
Shereen Gomaa is the founder of Delicious by Shereen, a nonprofit catering company founded to help employ refugee women in Winston-Salem.