leaving the only country you’ve ever known and relocating thousands of miles
away. Imagine being unable to speak the language of your new homeland. Imagine
being unfamiliar with the customs.


This year,
Catholic Charities Indianapolis estimates it will serve 570 immigrants and
refugees, all of whom will need help getting accustomed to their new life.Mastora Bakhiet

Newcomer Program has opened its doors specifically to help students and their
families who arrived in the United States within the last 12 months and speak
little to no English. The employee who, perhaps, knows better than anyone what
they’re going through is Parent Involvement Educator Mastora Bakhiet, a refugee
born in Darfur.


“The moment
I met her, I knew she would be perfect,” said Jessica Feeser, English as a
Second Language coordinator for IPS. “She knows the experience of the families.
She’s all about bringing different faiths together, so I think she will be an
amazing asset to this district. I’m so excited about her.”


Displaced by
the conflict in Darfur, Bakhiet moved to Dublin, Ohio, in September 2004 with
her husband and three kids. Her husband, who was unable to find a job, moved
back to Darfur after just a few weeks. He returned to Indiana roughly four
months later. While her husband was away, Bakhiet remained in Ohio with the
kids, unable to speak English, unsure how to navigate her first snowy winter,
uncertain of what her kids were learning in school, and with no grasp of
America’s customs. After learning there were other people from the Darfur
region in Fort Wayne, she moved to Indiana with her family in 2005. There, they
made lasting connections with several kind-hearted Hoosiers, and they began to


“Fort Wayne
is a small city, but it’s really welcoming to immigrants. Elected officials,
and even other people, were open and supportive to us,” said Bakhiet. “They
would visit us in our homes; we would visit them. They even invited us to visit
them on Christmas Day; it was a great relationship between us and other


The family
later moved to Indianapolis so their children could attend MTI School of Knowledge, a private Islamic school.


Because Bakhiet’s
story is similar to the stories of those in the Newcomer Program, she is a
fierce advocate for Newcomer students and their families.


“I feel the
passion,” said Bakhiet. “When you come and have a challenge, there are people
here at the school willing to help you. That really gives me energy and incentive
to work more.”


instructors work on educating students on ESL, math, science, arts and social
studies, Bakhiet focuses on the broader picture to make families successful.


families need help learning English. Some have legal needs.


important to learn about the system, about the needs in the country, and how
you can be safe and how you can live an easy life, and not have any difficulty,”
said Bakhiet.


Many can
benefit from building relationships with the Indiana Department of Child
Services, which doesn’t always understand that disciplinary actions differ from
culture to culture.


“We need to
think about the culture. It affects how you do things and how we achieve our
goals,” Bakhiet added.


Bakhiet also
partners with organizations that teach families about fitness strategies that
are in alignment with cultural or religious practices, such as the Muslim
faith, which requires that women remain covered even during exercise. Valued
partners also teach the immigrant families about nutrition so they can
incorporate a variety of foods into their culture’s traditional menu. As
Bakhiet quickly found out, her kids began to lose their enthusiasm for their
parent’s traditional food.


“My first
dish was broccoli and chicken. My kids don’t like traditional food at home.
They were always absent from the dinner table,” recalled Bakhiet. “They really
loved the broccoli and chicken. They asked me to make it for them for lunch. We
found out we can learn to make healthy meals. That helps us maintain our health.
It also brought our kids to the table and let us sit together.”


knows that many of the lessons she learned will help our newest neighbors in
their transition. However, her work goes far beyond the Newcomer Program. In
2007, she founded the non-profit Darfur Women Network, the only women’s organization based
in the U.S. that is dedicated to helping both Darfuri refugees residing within
the U.S. and displaced women and girls living in camps overseas.


We are proud
to have Mastora Bakhiet in our community and our district!