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A Taste of Togetherness

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a big group of happy people.”

I turned to greet the smiling guest who patted my shoulder as she said this. I had to agree.

It was May 11, 2024, and the second annual Taste of AsylumWorks was underway. The room—a window-laden space enveloped by trees—was a feast for the senses. Children frolicked in colorful garments, the scents of meticulously prepared food filled the air, and guests shared hugs and handshakes with those around them.

Nearly 175 AsylumWorks clients, donors and supporters, staff, and volunteers milled about, sampling home-cooked foods from Iran to South Africa and swapping stories. Eighteen client chefs stood proudly behind their dishes, each outfitted with a chef hat and apron. Some chefs couldn’t wait to tell me about what they cooked, the story behind the dish, and what it meant to share it with so many people. Others simply smiled and fixed me a plate. I sampled Salvadoran pupusas, Afghan mantu, Tajik samsa, and two kinds of Ethiopian injera before my appetite rudely indicated I was too stuffed to try anything else. An unfortunate fate to miss out on thirteen other ravely-reviewed dishes simply due to stomach capacity.

As the Development Program Manager, my role at AsylumWorks is donor-facing; I don’t work directly with clients. Instead, I hear the stories of their trials and triumphs through our program staff. I get to shake their hands or give them hugs when they visit the office. I share vignettes of their accomplishments with grantors and donors and on the organization’s LinkedIn, often knowing their names without ever having met them. 

I talked to Fadil, an asylee from Afghanistan. Just weeks before the event, I learned that his asylum was granted. The warmth of his hug and the depth of his smile stayed with me for the entire evening. Taye gifted me a take-home box full of food, whose face I knew from promotional photos we’d used of him and his family. Now, his friendly face also had a voice and a story connected to it. I witnessed the unbridled joy of a 9-year-old Ethiopian girl as she won a Barbie DreamHouse during the event raffle, my inner child jumping up and down alongside her. 

Taste of AsylumWorks celebrates and uplifts the individuals and families who come through AsylumWorks’ doors each day. These newcomers work with us to overcome a multitude of circumstances that challenge their ability to build safe, dignified lives. But sometimes, the most important thing we can provide them is a space to gather, meet one another, and simply forget their troubles for two hours.

It’s one thing for me to tell the stories of our clients through reports, newsletters, or social media posts as part of my job. It’s another thing entirely to watch their stories unfold in an environment built to celebrate their diversity, strength, and resilience. Taste of AsylumWorks provided the rare opportunity for me to connect with them just as human beings, rather than as clients.

*Client names have been changed

By Abby Guen, Development Program Manager

Contact Information

1718 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009

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