Over 500 people recently attended the second annual gala for Women Walking West (W3), the organization founded by George Sehi, Ph.D., in 2015. The mission of the W3 organization is to remove educational barriers facing foreign-born adult women by creating learning communities where financial and educational support are available, and women can achieve their educational dreams. W3’s strategic plan is to remove barriers in language, social, cultural, academic, and financial areas.
Doctor Sehi and the board of directors welcomed a sellout throng of guests and dignitaries and talked about their attachment to W3.
“W3 provides a service that no one else provides in the community and promotes a diverse population,” said board member Sherry Taylor, president and CEO of the Mason Deerfield Chamber.
“GE provides a conduit for students and teachers in contact with the W3 program and helps recruiting mentors,” noted board member Casey Moran, vice president of operations at General Electric.
Board member Rick Casey, executive director at J.P. Morgan Chase, added that if his daughter were facing similar obstacles, he would want an organization like Women Walking West to assist her.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and First Lady of Cincinnati Dena Cranley were members of the host committee for the gala. Dena Cranley and Master of Ceremonies Norma Rashid, a longtime Cincinnati journalist, agreed that cultural barriers are the most difficult to overcome, and that is what W3’s mentoring program is all about.
“We believe that what has made America great, over the long-term, is immigration,” said Mayor Cranley. “The fastest growing regions and cities acclimate immigrants well. Women Walking West is a great way to roll out the welcome mat, that we want the American dream to be here in the Cincinnati area.”
Dr. Sehi presented the vision, mission and values of the organization and thanked the 100-plus volunteers who are so vital to the work of the organization. He was proud to report that W3 currently provides services to over 100 women from 38 different countries, a significant increase from the 35 women served a year after the organization was founded.
Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Hamilton County coroner, was the gala keynote speaker. She shared the story of her immigration experience from India to Cincinnati, a story told with much good humor, but humor based on confronting many of the same barriers faced by today’s W3 women. She also talked of her mother’s experience as a foreign-born woman in Jersey City who couldn’t speak English and had a young child to take care of.
“You learn quickly, but wouldn’t it have been great to have had an organization like this to help her and bring her along? Organizations like W3 help women overcome struggles, to be able to get a little bit of a boost and achieve so much more,” Sammarco said.
Two students pursuing their academic careers with the help of Women Walking West – Prekshya Nepal from Nepal, who majors in data science at Northern Kentucky University, and Judith Lompo from Burkina Faso, earning her CPA degree at Cincinnati State – expressed their gratitude for the economic assistance from W3, and praised their mentors for the support and valuable relationships they provided.
Over the last four years, Peg Elfers, a Women Walking West mentor, has helped Shaymaa Allahad, who immigrated from Syria with her family. “I offer Shaymaa compassion, empathy, insight and guidance when she asks for it,” Elfers said. She concluded the program by encouraging anyone with the strength to provide compassion, empathy and insight to join Women Walking West.