Originally Posted on November 17th, 2009
A wonderful group of community members and new friends attended Empowered Women International’s (EWI) kickoff event in Silver Spring, Maryland on November 7 at the house of EWI’s generous supporters, Synthia and George Dang. The guests welcomed EWI’s immigrant and refugee women artists to Montgomery County and embraced the expansion of the organization’s entrepreneurial programs and support services for artistically talented immigrant women.
Attendees included Maryland State Senator Jennie Forehand, Maryland State Delegate Susan Lee, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen, Mark Puryear, Suzan Jenkins CEO of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, as well as special friends and supporters including Merle and Steven Steiner, Tom Block, and Vera Vandendries .
Ten immigrant and refugee artist graduates of EWI’s entrepreneur center exhibited and sold one-of-a-kind art during the event and shared the stories of their personal journeys as newcomers, artists and entrepreneurs. Fatana Arifi, a talented American-Afghani artist, and her younger sister Fariba talked about their experience fleeing Afghanistan as refugees, first to Pakistan and then to the US. Fatana shared how difficult it was to find a community like EWI that nurtures the artist and the woman within and infuses career and business knowledge to help women participate in the community and the economy.
Even though Fatana has a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Kabul, Afghanistan and over 20 years experience exhibiting and teaching art across Afghanistan and Pakistan, she has been struggling ever since she left Afghanistan. She has encountered difficulties securing a job, promoting herself as a working artist and making ends meet. In addition, Fariba recently lost her job, which has added a new layer of stress for the whole family.
The sisters found new hope, guidance and an opportunity to earn income from their art through EWI’s micro-enterprise program. With the help of EWI’s talented staff and artists, the sisters design, produce and market their jewelry, fine art ornaments, note cards, prints and paintings.
EWI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that helps artistically talented immigrant and refugee women like Fatana and Fariba gain confidence, marketing experience and business skills, which helps them take their product to the market. EWI has established a strong record of empowering immigrant and refugee women in the Greater Washington area from culturally diverse backgrounds to become working artists, educators, community leaders and entrepreneurs.
Every year, Empowered Women International trains, presents and gives access to the market to more than 200 immigrant and refugee women. Artists teach and present art in schools and various community organizations.
In 2008, 235 immigrant women benefited from our services and more than 1,500 people participated in our culturally diverse arts programs. More than 120 volunteers donated 12,000 hours in service valued at $90,000.