Helping Asylum-Seekers Rebuild Their Lives

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Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE) helps asylum-seekers and other forced migrants as they navigate the immigration legal process, begin to heal from past trauma, and rebuild their lives in Baltimore.

AWE is the only program of its kind that primarily serves asylum seekers with wraparound services—include English as a Second Language, job readiness, computer classes, parenting skills classes, and wellness activities—under one roof. AWE’s model focuses on the importance of companionship and community, where asylum-seekers offer mutual support to one another in a safe and supportive environment.

The organization began in January 2011 as a collaboration of Catholic sisters from eight Catholic women’s religious communities in Baltimore, working together to provide housing and other services to women seeking asylum. While AWE maintains close relationships with the founding communities, it is a secular organization open to all forced migrants.

IVC is honored to support AWE and its mission.

Volunteer Spotlight

Ignatian Volunteers Jan Allen and Chris Tucker work with the staff to provide the women and children at Asylee whatever support they need. Here, in their own words, they convey the power of connection and service experienced across the country by members of the IVC corps.

Jan Allen
Five years ago, shortly after retiring from a thirty-plus-year career in higher education, AWE—a still-nascent non-profit—and I found each other, and I at least have never been the same since.

‘AWE didn’t yet have an English program for learners of other languages, but I wasn’t daunted by establishing and teaching in one, because I had spent the previous decades in English language, literature, and ESOL departments at home and abroad.

‘Professionally, the amazing learners at AWE have nudged a curriculum developed for them into flexible, gleeful strategies, turning the traditional student-teacher relationship upside down.

‘I am by far the principal learner here, transformed daily by the awesome resiliency of the human spirit that our asylum seekers so willingly share with me.

Chris Tucker
Coming from a long professional career working overseas, having experienced many vibrant cultures, wonderful hospitality and friendships, I began to volunteer at AWE from a desire to welcome others to this country.

Like most IVC volunteers, I wasn’t sure what the experience would look like or how it might evolve but I felt that service was an important part of my faith and that the experience would unfold as it should. People who come to AWE have had their lives uprooted – often overnight—by violence, fear for their lives and persecution. Most come alone. Many are single parents with small children.

What we have done is to put in place many wonderful programs that provide for their basic needs until they can provide for themselves. The struggle to make the transition to a new life is hard. The journey to get there may take years. Yet we see every day that these programs work. They make a difference largely because of the support of a community to journey with them.

One of the biggest surprises has been the moments of joy. As a community we often celebrate. This could be the birth of a baby, completing a training course, receiving a work permit, getting a job, having a birthday or just gathering for lunch after a morning of classes. During these times, we laugh, sing, dance, share food and just enjoy being in each other’s company. In these moments, we are not volunteers, program participants or staff. We are a community, a family….

When I began to volunteer, I often wondered how it is possible for people to overcome the tremendously difficult circumstances that bring them here. Now I know it is because they, we, all of us are not alone. We are all loved. That is what this journey is about.

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