On April 6, 2015, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA)‘s Executive Director Mahnaz Kourourian Eshetu sent a letter of support (pdf) to the Seattle Park Board of Commissioners. The text of the letter is reproduced below.
Empowering families * Strengthening Communities
4008 Martin Luther King Jr Way South, Seattle, WA 98108
April 6, 2015
To the Seattle Park Board of Commissioners:
The Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) is a multi-ethnic organization that supports refugee and immigrants in the Seattle area. We serve clients across generations, from young children to seniors, helping them integrate and achieve self-sufficiency in their adopted home. Ensuring our clients’ access to resources that promote their health and wellbeing is a top priority for ReWA, and we believe that the Cheasty Trails and Bike Park pilot project will empower local refugees and immigrants by affording them new opportunities for outdoor recreation and civic engagement.
ReWA clients already benefit from access to the Cheasty forest through a longstanding partnership the ReWA Youth Program has with the Friends of Cheasty Greenspace/MtView. Over the last five years the Friends of Cheasty have introduced more than a hundred refugee and immigrant youth in South Seattle to the joys of outdoor recreation, conservation, and stewardship. Like other ReWA clients, ReWA youth hail from all over the world, and many come from conflict zones in Africa and Asia. They have experienced war, poverty, and disruptions in their education. Resettlement in the Seattle area presents new challenges, challenges such as learning a new language/culture, navigating a new education system, and confronting life in the inner city. The Friends of Cheasty have played a crucial role in easing this transition, offering ReWA youth a variety of environmental education, recreation, and advocacy programs and have helped lift the barriers that refugee and immigrants often face when accessing the outdoors.
ReWA envisions similar opportunities for its other clients, especially the parents enrolled in our Parent Education classes and the seniors enrolled in our Senior Nutrition and Wellness Program. The Cheasty Trails and Bike Park pilot project could instill in our clients a greater sense of place and belonging while exposing them to healthy activities like hiking, biking, and meditating. We have noted a lasting impact on the youth who have participated in the programs that the Friends of Cheasty have designed and led for us. These education and recreation programs have given youth more confidence to take healthy risks. They have also helped to reduce stress and anger and have equipped youth with tools to strengthen concentration.
We believe that expanded access to the Cheasty forest through the Cheasty Trails and Bike Park pilot project can bring these benefits to more refugees and immigrants in the area. We encourage the Board to ensure that underserved populations like our clients have access to outdoor space. Implementing an expanded system of trails and graduated loops that allow beginners to ease into the culture of outdoor recreation is an excellent way to include and empower Seattle’s refugees and immigrants in the region’s future.
Mahnaz Kourourian Eshetu