Meet Amel: ILI and IPP Graduate Builds a Community to Give Back
Amel moved to Philadelphia in July 2015 from Algeria on The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program). She has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and speaks four different languages—Berber, Arabic, French, and English. In Algeria, she was working as a pharmacy technician. When she arrived in Philadelphia, she took on a job as a finishing operator. In this role, she worked in a company with a lot of diversity and had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people.
It was never in Amel’s plan to leave behind her family, friends, and a successful career. It was a difficult choice to process yet she reflects on it positively. “It was a really, really hard decision to make. But I thought about it in a different way. And I said, maybe there is a challenge for me in exploring a different country,” she explains. “I think having a new experience in a totally different country—with a language barrier, a cultural barrier, all the barriers you can imagine—will make me grow. Moving here made me actually become a totally independent person. And I love the diversity in the United States as well.”
Amel never gave up improving her English language skills, even though she was working full time. Evening classes that would work with her schedule were tough to find. She discovered The Welcoming Center through a few of her colleagues that had found jobs with the help of the center’s programs and services.
“After two years of being in Philadelphia, I went to The Welcoming Center to look for English classes,” she remembers. “It was really, really hard for me to find English classes in the evening. But The Welcoming Center advised me about organizations I could connect with, and I chose the Center for Literacy (CFL). I went there and I was enrolled in evening classes.”
It was during this time that Amel’s English instructor advised her to enroll in TWC’s Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI). To get to know the program better, she attended an ILI graduation ceremony at City Hall. She recalls, “I attended the graduation, and the Mayor of Philadelphia was in attendance and that for me was mind blowing. I loved hearing immigrants speaking about their experience—how they started their journey, and how they are now becoming leaders and having an impact in the community. And I remember my teacher turned to me and said, ‘I know that you can do it.’ And so I joined the sixth cohort of ILI.”
After graduating from ILI in June 2020, Amel decided to join TWC’s International Professionals Program (IPP). IPP is designed to match foreign-educated professional with meaningful employment. It works to build the necessary skills to secure professional employment in the U.S.
Amel learned a lot during her time in IPP. “I learned how U.S. jobs interviews are, how to prepare for a job interview that helps you to get a job, how to search for a job, how to build your resume, your cover letter, and complete your LinkedIn profile.” She also learned to cast a wider net when applying for jobs. “Before IPP, I thought that every time I read a job description, if I found something that didn’t match with me, I didn’t apply. So yes, IPP was a very good experience.”
With everything Amel learned in IPP, she reflects, “I think I learned everything the hard way. I wish I had heard about and joined IPP when I first moved to the U.S. because I learned so much about the job search process. I used to think if I wanted to go back to working in the pharmaceutical industry, I would have to go back to college to get a degree from the U.S. But joining IPP, it made me understand that we have all of these skills, and our skills are transferable.”
Amel is hopeful for her future. She hopes to find employment in her field, specifically a job as a biologist or a biochemist working in a research laboratory. She says, “I think I can do better in the job search. Because, what held me back was that I thought that I had to get a biochemistry degree in the U.S. to find a job in this field. IPP has made me hopeful. And that has made me motivated to look for a job in my field.”
As Amel continues her job search, she continues to give back to immigrant communities in Philadelphia. In March 2021, she joined up with fellow French-speaking graduates of ILI to launch the Centre Francophone de Philadelphie, a group that aims to help French speakers grow their networks in Philadelphia.
The initial idea was to start a group for Algerians, but Amel saw an opportunity to launch a broader group for French speakers that would help individuals build even larger networks. “I said, why don’t we make it for all the people that share one language; it may be their first language, or their second language. So, this way, we can have people from Africa, France, Europe, the Caribbean, and all the people that speak French. And they will be connected and their integration in the city will be much easier.”
Amel’s vision is to create a support network for French speakers from all around the world to provide resources that can help them integrate into Philadelphia. She knows that immigrants bring a lot to our cities, and she wants to help provide the necessary tools for their success. “I believe that immigrants are not always here to ask for help. And I believe that as immigrants we bring a lot with us. We bring our culture, our knowledge, our skills. And I think those values have to be shared with others. We are here to help.”