Building Hope in the City: Sisters of the Heart
Building Hope in the City’s “Sisters of the Heart” initiative enfolds female Arabic immigrants to the U.S. in supportive friendships with American women.
Opening Hearts to Arabic Immigrants
Two years ago, Cleveland resident Nadia Abuamsha, a native Arabic speaker and staffer at Building Hope in the City, began introducing Arabic immigrant women she had befriended to her American friends. Nadia knew how these women often feel isolated in their new homes in the U.S. Frequently they have little opportunity to practice English skills because they are at home raising their children.
Under Nadia’s leadership, Building Hope in the City, which has a vibrant refugee resettlement program, now sponsors the “Sisters of the Heart” initiative. It brings together American volunteers and Arabic women in large social gatherings and smaller discussion and care groups to foster friendships and provide support. The Sisters of the Heart meet at least once a month, often in a home, to discuss a topic such as friendship, child rearing, or goal setting. Volunteers recently began making “Ramadan visits” to those Arabic women who are Muslim in order to support and encourage them as they keep the fast and other Ramadan rituals. And smaller groups meet to talk about religious questions when they come up. In 2012, more than 55 Building Hope volunteers helped 65 Arabic-speaking women to learn English, obtain citizenship, get a driver’s license, and reach other goals necessary for living a full life in America.
These supportive friendships can be lifesavers to these Arabic women, some of whom have been abandoned by their husbands. American “sisters” step in to help these women work toward a GED (many come to America with a limited education), get their children into school, and find a job. Perhaps most importantly, says Building Hope’s program director Eileen Wilson, “These strong friendships that form across cultural lines transform [the Arabic women’s] lives so they can recognize they have value and they have worth.”