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New to America, migrant women find work and are welcomed in the kitchen of the University of New Haven

WEST HAVEN – Hala Ghali, who learned to make baklava so well in her native Syria, too he's making pudding now.

American desserts like chocolate pudding and bread pudding may be new to Ghali, a refugee who now works for Sodexo at the University of New Haven. But doing so is one of the ways you are contributing to your new home.

Ghali recently joined three other women who came to this country under duress, all Havenly Treats fellows, who have been supporting refugee and immigrant women to become active and self-reliant members of their communities since 2018.

“It's a very good job here and I like it a lot. Juan is a very good boss, ”said Ghali, with translation help from Havenly Treats co-founder and CEO Caterina Passoni.

"I am really happy with Havenly and I really appreciate the organization," he said. “They helped me a lot. They gave me a certificate and they found me a suitable and decent job. I really love my job here. I don't want to quit. "

Juan Sebastián Greene Domínguez is Sodexo's general manager at UNH and has helped women not only bake American desserts, including cookies and brownies, but also feel safe and comfortable in their new country.

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“They came to the university to offer their desserts and baklavas and others… for the university to buy them. program, ”Greene Dominguez said.

Instead of buying the baklava, Greene Dominguez hired Ghali, who came to the United States in 2016 and started working for Sodexo in November 2019." His English was very limited, so we were holding hands with her in every way. "He said." It was all new to all of us. "

As Ghali learned English and became more comfortable, Ghali became in "the ambassador of the program c on us, "helping the other women as they came on board, Greene Domínguez said.

" Now we have four of them working for us, "he said. “They are not in a hurry. Not just about [learning] how to bake, but how they can become better citizens. I believe that we have achieved all the objectives. ”

Women are more comfortable in the kitchen than interacting with students and staff, such as on the grill, Greene Dominguez said, in large part due to their lack of fluency in English. That is why they specialize in desserts.

“Now they are making bread pudding one week and baklava the following week. We are also mixing customs, ”he said.

"I really can't talk to them much," Ghali said. “I work in the back of the kitchen, not in the front right now.”

While UNH is a starting point, "the idea is that they can go to work elsewhere," Greene Dominguez said. "We would like to prepare them to go wherever they want."

The program is also good for others at Sodexo and UNH, he said. “What we have learned is to appreciate women in all aspects of life. … We have not been exposed to different nationalities and accents, so it has been very good for the administration. "

Camila Guiza-Chávez directs the six-month scholarship that helps women set the course for a career, whether they are refugees, migrants with special visas, new citizens, or migrants who entered the United States without permission.

“A central goal of our program is to enable our women to access the next long-term opportunity after the scholarship, "he said.

He said that the program" is going very well, especially since we have just seen so much commitment from Juan Domínguez and UNH to create a more inclusive environment. "Ghali now has" a real role with Sodexo at UNH as an ambassador, "said Guiza-Chávez." She has helped train women who started after her. "

Nieda Abbas, head chef, trainer and co-founder of Havenly Treats, said than with Sodexo in UNH, "We found a job site that is very appropriate." She said that not only are wages good, but it is a place where women find respect and security.

“We work with women in their 40s, mainly, and the opportunities for them are very, very limited in the United States. Many of the women have hijab and I am very happy that the university accepts it and works with them if they wear a veil. "He said that Greene Domínguez" listens to them and not only uses them, but also takes care of them. "

Passoni said that, while in the middle of a pandemic, "it's difficult to be in the food business and being a non-profit organization right now.… We have been able to continue our work, which is wonderful.

He said that of the six most recent graduates, five "have jobs or educational programs they are entering.… For them it is the first work experience of their life defending themselves".

Passoni said UNH women, who are Syrian and Sudanese, are paid $ 20 an hour. “The University of New Haven and Juan specifically are very supportive of our mission,” he said.

He said Ghali “really wants to start her own bakery someday, so she's making her own treats at the bakery,” developing recipes. The partnership with Sodexo is "really tailored to the goals of every woman in the program," she said.

Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Dean of Students, said: “We are proud of our diversity and want to celebrate everyone. … A university campus is a great opportunity ”. She said that UNH is part of the “fabric of our community, so supporting our local community is very important.”; 203-680-9382

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