These were traits that they would need and use when in April 1975, Ho-Thanh and five of her brothers and sisters escaped from Viet-Nam in a cargo boat crowded with refugees.
After a week on the boat with very little food or water, they arrived in the Philippines and were taken to a refugee camp run by the US Navy. A few months and several camps later, they landed in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Once they arrived there, they waited again until a church and family sponsored them and helped them to start their new life.
When asked when was the first time she really felt safe through this ordeal, Ho-Thanh replied, “When I went to work here. It was the first time when I got my job and I went to work, at that time I realized that we are not going back. We are here for good and we are not fighting.”
Two years after arriving in the United States, Ho-Thanh met and married her husband, Bang, and they set out to make a life together in America. They have raised two children, Michael and MaryAnn. Through the years they have constantly looked to both their Vietnamese heritage and American traditions to find the best of both culture to build their life and family.
“When I had my own family, we decided…which part of Vietnamese culture is good we keep and which one is not good we have to let go. And we did the same with the American culture; what is good we adapted, we took it in and we kept it and what is not, we let it go. I don’t know that I did a good job. I don’t know that I did it right, but that’s how we see it as a family.”
Now, Ho-Thanh looks to give back to her community in the way she knows best – by offering a helping hand to women who are now in the position in which she once found herself. PAIRWN grew out of a need to offer newcomers the help and support she needed and received, to help to make the transition to their new ways of life as smooth as possible. Ho-Thanh’s mother taught her to be strong, to be respectful and to help others. She continues to live by those tenets today.
“I really feel blessed that I came, and now I feel that it’s my turn to give back to the community. The best thing that I think I can give back is to help the new immigrants — and whatever I can do I will. The Pennsylvania Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Network is the part of that: using what you have learned to help out the newcomer.”
Ho-Thanh speaks to groups all over the world. To book Ho-Thanh for a speaking engagement please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Selma Testa came to the U.S. in 1996, from a war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina. After spending 2 1/2 years in a refugee camp in Croatia, her parents decided that the United States would provide the family with better and safer opportunities. The family came to Lancaster, PA not knowing English, and experienced culture shock from being immersed in a completely new culture. Selma started interpreting and translating for her family at the age of fourteen. After high school, she attended Millersville University and received a BSE in Social Studies in Education, with a concentration in Sociology and Anthropology and minor in African American Studies. Selma has taught Social Studies in an urban local middle school in Lancaster for four years while working on a degree in Community Psychology and Social Change (M.A.) at Penn State. Now she works as an Adjunct Faculty teaching Sociology, Psychology, and Cultural Diversity courses at PA College of Health Sciences. She hopes to implement preventative and empowering programs for immigrant and refugee women through PAIRWN. She sees the need to mentor these women in reaching their full potential and in becoming less socially and culturally isolated.
Betty Itunga has worked as a human rights activist in several counties including Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda prior to coming to the United States in 2006, with her husband. In Kenya, her native country, Betty was an Accounting and Finance graduate, yet she needed to switch professions when she came to the United States due to more opportunities within the nursing field. Now, a licensed nurse, Betty is working in the Harrisburg area and raising four boys. Betty Itunga is grateful for the opportunities and companionship that PAIRWN has provided her for the past several years. While in the United States, Betty was in need of prenatal care, and through a referral from PAIRWN, she was able to receive this care in spite of not having insurance at the time. She has attended multiple events that PAIRWN provides including a Women’s Health Conference and Diversity Luncheon that have served to lessen her homesickness. She has joined the PAIRWN board after graduating from PAIRWN’s Young Leaders Training Workshop. She enjoys interacting with other immigrant and refugee women and spreading her contagious optimism and encouragement to others. She hopes to grow PAIRWN’s network that will help women reach their full potential.
Yolimar Marquez Hernandez was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She is the youngest of a family of nine siblings. Growing up she was surrounded by a loving family and her cousins are her best friends. She came from a humble upbringing and her parents had only a basic education. However, her parents always motivated her and her siblings to study and work hard for their family. She recalls often being found helping her father in the kitchen.
After completing an Associate Degree in Business Administration, Yolimar entered the workforce for a major corporation. She soon found herself thinking, “now what should I do next?” In 1995, her oldest brother migrated to the United States. It was the perfect time for Yolimar to get away and take a Sabbatical year – a chance to explore her possibilities and travel for self-discovery – so she followed her brother to the United States.
During a church retreat, Yolimar met her husband. They started a family and still after almost 20 years he is Yolimar’s best friend. In 2004, Yolimar became a U.S.A. citizen and completed an ESL program at the Harrisburg Area Community College. It has been 20 years since Yolimar left Venezuela, yet connecting with her Latino roots and cultivating her life in the USA is crucial.
In 2008, after her father passed away, Yolimar honored her father’s memory of being in the kitchen by enrolling in a culinary program and following her passion for cooking. She is still currently on a journey of self-discovery, but the journey is no longer alone. Yolimar is a devoted mother to Emanuel and Isabel, a spouse to JR, a gardener in training, a Foodie, a hard working employee of Highmark, her father’s daughter, and most importantly a child of God.
Patrick Maxwell is a senior at Lebanon Valley College pursuing dual degrees, a B.S. in International Business and Economics and a B.A. in Global Studies. Patrick’s main research interests include the role of technology in economic and political development, international political economy, and international development as a whole. Patrick is an avid reader and enjoys constantly learning new things and has a heart for travel and new cultures. Primarily, Patrick will serve as the secretary for PAIRWN, but he will also work on heading grant proposals as well as increasing Board efficiency.
Paul E. (Rick) Oppenheimer is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania who has served two years in the Army. He has worked for fifteen years with several companies at successive levels of responsibility in industrial engineering. He has living in Lancaster since 1966. In 1968, he started Management Consulting Services, Inc., serving small and mid-sized family owned businesses in the areas of strategic planning, industrial engineering, human resources and management advisory services.
In 1992, while continuing his consulting practice, he started as a Group Chair for Vistage International, Inc., forming and facilitating CEO groups that meet monthly to increase the effectiveness and enhance the members’ lives. Now running three groups, he discontinued his consulting practice in 1997 and has no current plans for retirement. In 2005, he received the Vistage Cope Award, performance recognition given annually to one Chair world-wide. His vocation has become his avocation providing huge psychic income.
He served on the Boards of the Fulton Theater, Assets Lancaster (past Chairman of the Board), the Deer Ford North Condo Association, Ware Center Advisory Council and the University of Pennsylvania Grappler’s Club. He was an 18 year member of the Board of Lancaster Symphony Orchestra (Past-Chairman of the Board & on the Orchestra, Strategic Planning and Search Committees) and now Co-Chair the LSO Senior Advisory Council. In the past, he has been National President – Association of Management Consultants; Philadelphia Chapter President – Institute of Management Consultants; President – Rotary Club of Lancaster; Vice President – YMCA Board; and for 35 years on the Alumni Secondary Schools Committee as an interviewer of UPenn applicants. He enjoys mentoring Assets (A Service For Self Employment Training and Support) graduates and others who are in various stages of developing their own micro-enterprises. He has been equally, if not more, successful in his personal life.
Amy Skillman is the Academic Director of the Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability at Goucher College, where she also teaches in the program. As a folklorist, Skillman’s has occurred at the intersection of culture and tension, where paying attention to culture can serve to mediate social change and cultural equity. She has advised artists and community-based organizations on the implementation of programs that honor and conserve cultural traditions, guided them to potential resources, and developed programs to help build their capacity to sustain these initiatives. Drawing on extensive research and documentation, Skillman has developed a variety of public programs that bring awareness to issues of importance in these communities. Her work has included an oral history/leadership empowerment initiative with immigrant and refugee women in Central Pennsylvania, a Grammy-nominated recording of old time fiddlers in Missouri, and a yearlong arts residency with alternative education high school students rooted in the ethnography of their lives. Skillman recently curated a major traveling exhibition that examines the role of folk arts as a catalyst for activism in communities throughout Pennsylvania. She received her MA degree in Folklore and Folklife from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor of Arts from St. Lawrence University in a self-designed major focusing on Cultural Minorities and the Immigrant Experience.