To date, Westminster Communities of Florida’s special program to employ refugees, in partnership with Lutheran Services Florida, has brought more than 40 new team members to our organization. The program began in 2021, supporting refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine along with their families and children. In total, we have arranged housing for more than 100 people, and residents and team members have embraced them as members of the Westminster family.
This Women’s History Month, we are pleased to highlight the contributions of women to organizations like ours from all around the world. We spoke with Venus Raoufi and Lesia Yarova, two of the more than 100 people supported by the refugee program and new team members at Westminster Point Pleasant, about their experience and observations about equality in the workplace.
Venus Raoufi, Maintenance Assistant, Westminster Point Pleasant, and former law student in Afghanistan
Before the fall of Kabul, Venus Raoufi was studying to become a law student, and said that it was difficult to be a woman working and studying in Afghanistan. “You had to deal with… those who did not want women to study. Not just me, but all women who studied in Afghanistan were very worried about their lives,” she said.
When the Taliban stormed into Kabul, she and her family fled to Tampa Bay. Her brother , Noman, was a translator for U.S. and NATO armed forces.
After days of waiting and fighting for a spot on a U.S. military plane, then arriving in Virginia, – the Raoufi family was placed with Lutheran Services Florida, a resettlement agency in Tampa. The Raoufi family was the first family to be resettled by Westminster Communities of Florida, and she and her family of five siblings and their parents now work for Westminster Point Pleasant and Westminster Manor in Bradenton.
Venus said the residents and team members at Westminster Point Pleasant have helped her and her family get accustomed. “They gave us housing, work, and also provide us with ESOL classes, which is a really effective way for us to improve our lives and start a new life here,” Venus said.
Venus set aside studying law and began studying computer engineering at State College of Florida in hopes of becoming a computer programmer. “I would like to work producing video games,” Venus said.
As someone who fled her home country from persecution, Venus is acutely aware of how important the equal rights of men and women are. “It is so important that women and men should be treated equally, because if they are treated equally, they can work together and think about their future without any worrying,” she said. “You can also see the importance of education. Most people here are educated. In my country, most people are not educated. This difference is really big, because people who are not educated do not know about equality, they do not know how to treat people fairly and do not know the importance of education.”
“One of the problems in Afghanistan now is that no one raised their voices to gain their rights, and the Taliban can impose their rules on them,” Venus said. “If people in Afghanistan were educated, I think they would raise their voice to try to gain their rights.”
Lesia Yarova, Westminster Point Pleasant Housekeeper, formerly a television makeup artist in Ukraine
In Ukraine, before the war, Lesia was working as a television makeup artist in Kiev, her profession for more than 20 years. She and her son, Timofey, 9, fled the invasion along with millions of Ukrainians, and relocated to Bradenton thanks to Westminster’s partnership with Lutheran Services Florida.
Lesia said that before the war, in Ukraine men and women had the same rights. Being in the United States has shown her that there are still differences, and that there is still room for more equitable treatment in both countries. “One difference I see here is that men do not give flowers to women on March 8 [International Women’s Day], as is customary in Ukraine,” Lesia said. “They do that here on Valentine’s Day instead.”
Speaking with the aid of a translation app on her phone, Lesia said that the war has been nothing short of a tragedy for her home country. “Of course, for us all, it was a tragedy what happened in our country. I still want to cry, because our children saw and felt it for themselves, too,” said Lesia, looking somber.
Working at Westminster has been very different from working in television, but Lesia is grateful to team members and residents for helping her through it. “The work [as a housekeeper] is not easy, and this is very new to me. But I’m a new person in this country and I have found people very welcoming,” she said. “The people who work next to me play a huge role. They are very friendly and kind, as well as the residents here, they are also very nice.”
For Lesia, the hardest challenge is learning English. “Not speaking the language is very difficult, maybe the most difficult thing,” Lesia said. “Another challenge was to find housing, because it is very difficult here, it turns out, to find housing, especially if you do not have enough money for the first and last month’s payments.”
Lutheran Services Florida has been a tremendous aid to Lesia and her family, because the agency has someone who is Ukrainian and speaks their language, and can assist them with the American system of documentation and paperwork.
She hopes that the end of the war will allow them to return to their homes one day and go back to her profession. “For now, I am very appreciative for having a job and having housing, and for the support of Westminster,” she said.
Lesia noted that in some ways men and women are more equal in the United States than she had found in Ukraine. “For example, at my age, in Ukraine it would have already been difficult for me to find a job,” she said. “I really like that it is more equal here.”