When Amadou Hamady ’10G came to the United States from the West African country of Mauritania in 2002, he was starting over, knew no one and didn’t speak English. He didn’t know that eight years later he would be helping other refugees settle into a new culture and a new life in America.
Hamady is currently the director of the New Hampshire chapter of the International Institute of New England (IINE), an organization that helps refugees and immigrants prepare to become engaged, productive members of their new communities. He assumed that role shortly after graduating from UNH with a master of social work (MSW) degree.
“Helping people has always been a calling for me,” says Hamady, who at home in Africa spent a lot of time advocating for human rights. “Coming to America, I didn’t know I would be doing social work. I realized that you can actually be professionally trained to help people.”
The IINE assists more than 400 people each year through services that include refugee resettlement, education resources for citizenship, job preparation, health services navigation and education and literacy programs. Though fewer refugee immigrants have come to New Hampshire so far in 2017 due to international travel bans, those who do settle here have Hamady and his team eager to help them. In addition to his fundraising and outreach efforts, he spends a great deal of time listening to the stories his clients — many of whom arrive in America from war-torn countries — want to share. The IINE launched a live storytelling series called Suitcase Stories in Manchester in which refugees share their stories in public forums.
What Hamady likes to share with newcomers to America — whom he calls the “new Americans” — is the importance of finding support. When speaking of his own success, he largely credits the faculty and his peers at UNH. “When you feel like you are supported, that’s when you really feel like you have a chance to succeed," he says. "That’s the environment in which a lot of immigrants shine.”
He has stayed connected to UNH through internship and fieldwork opportunities at the IINE for current students.
This past year, MSW student Kim Blank interned at the IINE, providing case management support for clients throughout their resettlement process. Her favorite part, she says, was the opportunity to work with clients from such diverse cultures. And she’s quick to point out that working under the supervision of Hamady made her experience that much richer. “Amadou is intensely compassionate,” she says. “He brings such a unique perspective to the field of social work, especially in New Hampshire."
“Refugees want to work,” says Hamady. “They want to contribute to the community.” To that end, the IINE engages with more than 50 employers in New Hampshire that provide employment opportunities for refugees — in healthcare, manufacturing and many other fields.
He adds, "We believe we are a nation that certainly wants security at home but also cares about refugees. We are hopeful. We are optimistic.”