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She Makes Me Feel Like I Am Not a Refugee

This year, we piloted a Teen Women’s program for our young ladies from a variety of countries. The overall goal of the program was to empower refugee girls and young women as they navigate the challenges of adulthood and life in a new country. The program included workshops on topics like budgeting and finance, healthy relationships and sex education, and leadership and female equality in the workplace. The young women also enjoyed fun activities like Zumba, pumpkin carving and a holiday party. But, perhaps the most important part of the program was being matched with a mentor.

Zekra, whose family fled the war in Syria, was matched with mentor Sarah Silver Schwartz. They quickly became good friends. “Having a mentor means that you have a friend, and a helper. It’s like having someone just like your family,” Zekra explained.

For Sarah, being a mentor was an opportunity to welcome a newcomer and show her support for refugees.

“I became a mentor because I thought it would be great to get to know and spend time with someone new to our community. With our current political environment, it’s very important to me that I show support for refugees coming to our country, and I was happy and eager to help someone feel welcomed and most comfortable here.”

When Zekra and Sarah first met, they decided on a few goals Zekra wanted to accomplish during their time together. Zekra wanted to learn how to drive and learn how to play piano. Sarah helped Zekra study the driver’s manual and braved the BMV to get her learner’s permit. She also gave her a keyboard, so she could learn to play by watching YouTube videos. Sarah even took her to her first baseball game and her first dentist appointment. They’ve run errands, celebrated birthdays, and chatted over coffee about Zekra’s hopes for the future.

Sara says the best part of mentoring has been getting to know Zekra and her family. “Zekra is such a smart, hardworking, fun, kind-hearted, and grateful person and it’s been so wonderful to connect with her and help her accomplish things that she’s been eager to do.”

For Zekra, her friendship with Sarah has not only helped her accomplish goals like learning to drive, but given her back a sense of normalcy and a feeling of belonging.

“Not all Americans are the same. She made me feel like I am not a stranger. That I am just like her – not a refugee,” Zekra said.

Although the program came to a close with a holiday celebration in December, Zekra has no doubt her friendship with Sarah will live on. “I think our relationship will not end. This wasn’t just a commitment for the program. We will continue to stay friends.”

Sarah could not agree more. “Zekra and I will be lifelong friends! We already have plans to get together again next week.”

The Teen Women’s Program would not have been possible without our amazing volunteer mentors and the financial support of the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, a fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Thank you for believing in the power of mentoring, and for making friendships happen.