Clarkston women’s refugee organization to celebrate 20 year anniversary
By Dena Mellick, Associate editor
A local organization that serves immigrant and refugee women in the Atlanta area is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a night of music and dancing.
The Refugee Women’s Network (RWN), headquartered in Clarkston, will celebrate 20 years with a fundraising event next Thursday, August 20, at The Solarium at Historic Scottish Rite from 6 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
Vice President of the Board for RWN, Zunera Mirza, said there will be food and drinks, belly dancing lessons, a bluegrass band, henna tattoo artists, and a silent auction.
Mirza explained that when refugees arrive in Atlanta, they’re placed in Clarkston, where refugee resettlement agencies are tasked with transitioning them to life in the United States.
“RWN, like most of the non-profits in Clarkston was created to fill a gap in the community,” Mirza said. “So we serve the refugees for life, not just for the few months that most of the resettlement agencies serve – it’s for however long the refugee women and immigrant women need us.”
RWN says The Department of Human Services (Office of Refugee and Resettlement) reports that Georgia resettles approximately 2,500 refugees annually. Barbara Ann Luttrell, president of the RWN board, said the organization has served more than 5,000 immigrant women survivors of war from more than 60 countries.
“’The New York Times’ just released an article talking about the refugee crisis around the world, and according to them, it’s the greatest refugee crisis since World War II,” Luttrell said. “So there’s an influx of refugee and immigrants all over the world, many of which come to Atlanta.”
“You get relocated somewhere, and let’s say you’re relocated to Atlanta. The Refugee Resettlement Organization will make sure you find a roof over your head, they’ll help get a job, and they will help you in those first three months when you arrive,” Luttrell said. “Keep in mind that when you arrive here, you have nothing. You’ve had to flee your country because of war and you’ve likely seen terrible atrocities. And so, once those three months are up, it’s kind of like, ‘where do I stand?’”
That’s where organizations like RWN come in, providing leadership and life skills training. It helps women navigate basic things in a new country like getting a driver’s license and a bank account. Once the women are a little more settled, RWN will help them establish credit and offer them small loans.
“The goal of all of those programs is to help these women become leaders in whatever capacity they want to be, whether it’s leaders in their home, or leaders in their community, or leaders in their jobs,” Luttrell said. “And our other primary goal is to help these women become financially independent and self-sufficient.”
Some of the women who have been helped by the RWN program will be at the August 20 event.
Tickets are $50 for advanced purchase and $55 at the door, according to the Facebook event page.
The speaker for the 20th anniversary event will be refugee and immigrant rights activist, Azadeh N.Shahshahani, former ACLU National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director and current President of the National Lawyers Guild.