Multicultural fundraiser benefits refugees

The Refugee Women's Alliance (ReWA) held their 9th Annual Dinner Auction this month, raising an estimated $100,000 to help provide services to refugees and immigrants in Seattle.

Over 500 people showed up to show their support for the agency that has provided the community with services to the ethnically diverse people of Seattle for nearly 20 years.

People representing countries from all over the world were seen mingling in their Scottish kilts, Indonesian sarongs, Iranian chadors, and Japanese kimonos while sitting down for dinner together and biding against one another in a silent auction. Their focus was two-fold: raise money to help refugees and immigrants transplanting in Seattle and celebrate the friendship between the supporters of the agency and ReWA.

"The night was dedicated to raising funds for ReWA's various programs but the intent was also to cultivate and celebrate friendships between supporters and ReWA," said Someirah Amirfaiz, Executive Director of ReWA.

With more on the agenda than raising money, ReWA strove to create an environment where supporters and clients would feel welcome and thanked for their help.

"Although, in name, it is fundraising, really in spirit and intent it was friend raising," Amirfaiz said. "It's most importantly about honoring and celebrating our friends and stakeholders that have helped us. It's an enjoyable time for everybody. It has a family, homey feeling to it. ReWa's getting larger, but at the same time we are still very personal."

The sponsorship of 14 companies showed the dedication of the community to helping ReWA's mission and ReWA was intent on letting them know that they were grateful for the help. And with more money stored away for 2005, Amirfaiz hopes to create an expansion of services for ReWA clients.

"We look at it entirely in terms of what programs are in need of supplementation and allocate funds to those programs to make the services meaningful for our clients," Amirfaiz said.

At one point in the night, a dessert auction was held featuring icing-dripped, chocolate frosted cakes. In addition, the silent auction featured Galapagos sweaters, Laotian cushions, Japanese haoris and other paraphernalia from around the world.

The money raised will be set aside for ReWA's youth program, childcare, and service expansions for 2005. For example, the funds will allow the center's childcare facilities to help remove the financial barriers from refugees or immigrants who may not be able to afford them.

With one in every five people in Seattle born overseas, the importance of ReWA is of no contest to Seattle's politically minded citizens. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels attended the dinner to give a short speech thanking the public for their support of ReWA.

"ReWA is a very important agency in our community. It's a difficult transition to come here to a new culture and new land and ReWA provides services and support that makes the transition smoother," said Nickels. "I'm very pleased with what ReWA has done and I look forward to them providing years of great service to the community."

With nearly double the amount of people showing up this year as compared to last year, the dinner was deemed a huge success by the ReWA staff.

"In terms of people coming out and supporting our cause, it was a wonderful success. Everybody was impressed by the diversity and multiculturality of ReWA in terms of the clients and in terms of the staff," Amirfaiz said.

Guest speaker Albert Mensah from Ghana, Africa, highlighted the importance of organizations such as ReWA by sharing his personal story. Mensah saw a movie when he was eight years old that made him want to experience the 'wonderful opportunities' of America. Like many of his fellow immigrants, Mensah showed up in the United States with $10 and no luggage. Mensah is now living his own personal American dream as a successful inspirational speaker, traveling around Africa and America.

"Success is not the clothes you wear, the cars you drive, or the houses you build," said Mensah. "Success is when you can turn around and give a helping hand to somebody who needs it."

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