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This summer, Mary Truong, Executive Director of the Office for Refugees and Immigrants, participated in the Women2Women’s Refugee Panel at Wheelock College on July 28. Women2Women (W2W) is an annual conference in Boston that builds a network of promising young women (ages 15-19) from around the globe, engages them in the issues that define their lives and provides them with the tools, relationships and opportunities required to lead.

As a former refugee, Truong shared her firsthand experience and the tremendous challenges she faced when she and her family arrived in the U.S. from South Vietnam in 1975.  From acquiring a new language to adopting a new way of life and custom, and navigating through her teenage years, Truong and her family required a great deal of support.

Executive Director of Office of Refugee Mary Truong with young women from the conference

Executive Director of Office of Refugee Mary Truong with young women from the conference

Truong passed on the message to the 100 young women at the conference who represented 30 countries, that without the help from government institutions, local refugee resettlement agencies, and sponsors, she and her family would not have become self-sufficient and achieved the American dream they enjoy today.

Responding to several delegates who asked what they can do to help, Truong emphasized the need to reach out to communities to raise awareness about the refugees and to educate people about different customs, cultures and traditions of incoming refugees. Truong gave as an example her own experience, when she was asked if she had eaten spiders or lions in Vietnam.

“The notion that someone from Vietnam is less civilized because they come from a country with vast jungles, was promoted by the media, and misguided many people,” said Truong. “These sorts of misrepresentations continue to happen nowadays.”

Trying to fight these stereotypes, reaching out to newcomers and giving the message that there is hope, are all ways to help refugees and immigrants. At the end of the 11-day conference, the young delegates selected for the program must come up with an “action plan” to tackle a key women’s rights issue in their home country.

Truong described how the path to self-sufficiency is long, but achievable — through hard work and motivation. The first and second generations usually have to work the hardest to adapt to American life, to pave the way for a third generation whose biggest challenge may be complacency, she said.

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