Afghan women refugees find their voice

Our “Circle of Care” is assisting two Afghan families (two men, two women, and three children under the age of three) in Western Massachusetts. The women are home with the children all the time while the husbands are working.

Over the last year, we had noticed a wonderful skill they had: creating beautiful henna designs on their hands, and those of the circle members. 

Henna is a plant-based dye, used in colored inks and delicately applied to various body parts in beautiful patterns.  It’s used during celebrations of special occasions and gatherings, and is meant to bring good luck and happiness. 

We asked the women if they would be interested in holding a ‘Henna Tea Party’, with neighborhood residents invited to get a henna design and make a donation. 

Initially they were very nervous about this, unsure about what they were getting into, how it would work  and how they would feel.  But they have a spontaneous, creative and resilient spark in them – and they agreed. As the planning started, they became more and more excited and involved. 

The “Henna Tea Party” took place at the end of December. Neighborhood residents were invited to participate and asked for a donation. 

On the day of the party, we all created an atmosphere of celebration and Afghan culture, with appropriate decorations, music, tea, and snacks. More than thirty people came, each scheduled for a henna design every 15 minutes.  And we heard from many more who couldn’t come but donated anyway.   

Afterward, the women said they totally enjoyed themselves.  They liked being able to talk to each person during the time they were in front of each other. 

“I was tired but also felt very happy.”

“I  liked my work and felt good.”

“I was happy that they were happy and it was the best feeling I had since I came to the US.”

This event served several purposes.  It educated and exposed the local community to the Afghan families and Afghan culture.  Everyone had fun and helped raise money to support these families.  The women had a chance to share their gifts and talents, and interact with the local community.   And most importantly, they had a sense of accomplishment, of doing something meaningful on their own.

henna drawing on hands


We work to help refugees find and learn tools to address cultural acclimation and emotional wellness, while ensuring that they retain their traditional core values in this new environment. Through mutual support, practical teachings, and listening-centered focusing approaches, we provide safe spaces for them to thrive.


Pat Omidian
Melinda Darer
Center for International Education @UMass (in partnership)
Catholic Charities of Springfield (in partnership)

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