The mission of Asylee Women Enterprise is to help women seeking asylum to rebuild their lives and their spirits. Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE) provides transitional housing, companionship and community to women seeking asylum by offering a safe and nurturing home, opportunities to connect with women in the larger community and each other.
There are three main components to the project.
1) Housing: Housing is provided by one of the communities or an individual family. For many of the women this will be the first time since they have arrived in the United States that they will have a bed to sleep in and a place where they know they can stay without fear of being abused or thrown out. Housing is a critical step in their healing process. They are free to cook, sleep and "just relax". Their basic needs (food, toiletries, and shelter) are met by the housing provider.
2) Co-Op: The Co-Op provides a social and employment component. The women meet Monday-Friday to sew, bead and knit items to sell. This part of the program has proven to be extremely important for the women. While the women are in the United States legally they do not have a work permit and therefore cannot work legally. Some of the women do find work cleaning houses or childcare but are often too afraid to work illegally in case it would harm their asylum application. Money earned by the co-op is given as a stipend to the women who participated.
The Co-Op offers women seeking asylum a place to go everyday and be productive. Back in their home country these women were nurses, teachers, accountants, students, and mothers. They worked and they need a sense of normalcy here in the United States to help them through the long and lonely process of asylum.
3) Companionship/Community: The process of seeking asylum is very long and lonely. The average time from arrival in the United States to asylum adjudication is 2.5 years. During this time there will be many visits to an attorney and in some cases a doctor to verify the torture and rapes. These visits are extremely difficult emotionally for the women. We provide a companion to drive the women to these appointments and then be with them afterward. Often it is just the need for a shoulder to cry on or a word of encouragement.
Community/Companionship also includes a program that will match volunteer companions with asylee women for social networking as well. Together they can visit a local museum, coffee shop or park. These interactions will help the women begin to build their own community here in Baltimore. As we all know, networking is key to employment and social fulfillment.