Women Walking West is a group based in Butler County that removes educational, financial and social barriers facing foreign born adult women by creating mentoring opportunities and fiscal help for legal immigrants who are looking to improve their lives in America.
Dr. George Sehi founded the non-profit organization in 2015 to address the issue of legal immigrant women, who are not afforded the same educational or societal opportunities as their male counterparts.
“Their goals maybe getting a GED, a graduate degree or baccalaureate degree or any goals they may have,” he told the Journal-News. “If you take a look at the statistics there are 29,000 foreign born women who live in the tri-state area and those women have more than a high school diploma and less than a baccalaureate degree and their income is lower than the natives and the employment rate is higher. So there is really a need to get these women more education and land a good career.”
Sehi immigrated to the United States in 1975 from Iran to get an education and realized that women who have made here and are legal, have lacked the educational and job opportunities that men have so he founded Women Walking West.
The first order of business was to create a diverse board of directors who could craft a vision and sustainable business plan to help make the all-volunteer organization effective.
Dwight Packard, an attorney at Graydon, Head & Ritchey, serves as vice-chair for Women Walking West. He said there are two core services that the organization provides that helps women, who are here legally, reach their educational goals.
“We pair mentors from the community with our mentees who are typically foreign born women who are here pursuing their educational opportunities,” he said. “We try to pair them either with an academic mentor or somebody from an industry that they are interested in or that they are pursuing a degree in.”
Packard added that the organization also provides scholarships and grants to help defray the cost of getting an education.
“In general, the concept is that we want to make sure that women who are born elsewhere who may not be aware of all the opportunities available to them here in the U.S., that they have that information and resources to make the most of their lives in the U.S.,” he explained.
Sehi said that there are currently “close to 50 people who have been or are being served,” by the organization.
“I would say that one-third of those have received some type of scholarship or financial support,” he said. “The rest our getting support in the areas of learning English or dealing with challenges related to social, cultural or academic areas.”
MENTOR AND MENTEE
Zeinab Schwen owns her own pharmaceutical consulting company and has been in business for 29 years. She is on the board for Women Walking West and also serves as a mentor.
“I came to the United States from Egypt as a graduate student and I had problems assimilating and understanding the system as far as grants, scholarships and cultural aspects,” she said. “It was harder for a woman who comes from outside of the United States to assimilate.”
Schwen said she wants to give back after learning the ropes and has mentored two people sharing her knowledge of how to get an education.
“We are always here to mentor women on many different levels,” she said. “Some people need tutoring and some need just a first push to get through issues. There are just a lot of ways we can help.”
Nakisa Azari, 35, is a mother of two ages, 7 and 4. Her husband Saied, 43, came to the U.S. in 2002 and she arrived in 2008 - both from Iran. She said Women Walking West has changed her life.
“I applied last year for a scholarship in Early Childhood Education and they gave it to me to go to Sinclair University in Mason,” she said. “It is so hard to find a way for an education and we really need someone to help us to start. I had this dream to start my education for three years but I couldn’t start it until I met Dr. George Sehi.”
EMPOWERMENT FOR WOMEN AND SUSTAINABILITY
Sherry Taylor is the president and CEO of the Mason Deerfield Chamber and treasurer for the organization. She said having a volunteer staff that deals with helping legal women immigrants will help Women Walking West survive.
“Absolutely, I think that it is really important for the future of the organization and the credibility of the organization in order to move forward that people know we are dealing with women who are legal immigrants,” Taylor said. “I think one of the things that also makes this agency special is that this is a volunteer led initiative. That says a lot about the people involved in this and why this is really important to the future of our region.”
Shannon Isom CEO and president of the YWCA in Dayton, also sits on the board of the group and she sees a bright future for the organization because of its mission to empower women which mirrors the YWCA’s.
“I have always thought that the YWCA Dayton and YWCA Cincinnati as well as the YWCAs that we have across this state with the mission of empowering women and eliminating racism would be a great match with Women Walking West and so far it has been,” Isom said. “As our world and especially our nation continues to be more diverse, this is something that we will be not only be doing now, but 100 years from now. We will need all hands on deck.”