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Empowered Women International: An American Group Using Art and Business to Help Women Refugees 

Shelley Gollust, Karen Leggett and Nancy Steinbach


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Barbara Klein. On our show this week…

We answer a question about Alaska…

Play some music from Smokey Robinson…

And report about a program to help refugee women in the United States.

Empowered Women International


Two creative women work together in the Washington, D.C. area to help immigrant and refugee women in the United States. Faith Lapidus tells us about them and their organization.


Marga Fripp came to the United States four years ago from Romania because her young son needed emergency medical treatment. She stayed in the United States. She started an organization called Empowered Women International, or E.W.I., in Alexandria, Virginia.

Miz Fripp’s organization helps immigrant and refugee women meet each other and start their own businesses. The group also holds classes to help these women understand how to start and run a successful business.

Empowered Women International organizes events where women sell their own art. In two thousand four, one hundred women took business and personal classes from E.W.I. Thirty artists received business and personal advice.

Many Americans give money and time to help organizations like Empowered Women International. One of them is Kate Campbell Stevenson, an actress and singer. Her performances have provided money for E.W.I. Miz Stevenson’s one-woman show is called “Women: Back to the Future.” She plays the parts of famous American women in history who have succeeded. She says in her opening song that their lives teach lessons to women of today:


Your life is a story, it's scripted by you.

By the new things you learn, by the things that you do.

You can reach for the stars. You can help others, too.

You can learn from the past so our futures come true.

Miz Stevenson performs stories about women who worked hard to realize their dreams. For example, she talks on stage while she changes the color of her face and puts on the kind of pilot’s hat worn by Bessie Coleman. Miz Coleman was a poor, black woman from the southern United States during the nineteen twenties. She wanted to learn to fly an airplane. And she did.

Kate Campbell Stevenson also plays the parts of women like Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt. And Abigail Adams, the wife of President John Adams. Miz Stevenson says her show is a message of hope.


So reach for the stars. Let yourself shine.

I know you can do it one step at a time.

Dig deep down inside, polish the glow.

Your story’s within you.

Now let it grow.



Our VOA question this week comes from two listeners. Munna from Bangladesh asks if Alaska is a state of the United States. The short answer to that question is yes. Prinya Plabodiwatt from Thailand asks why the United States bought the territory of Alaska from Russia.

The United States bought that land in eighteen sixty-seven, during the administration of President Andrew Johnson. When Russia offered it for sale, Secretary of State William Seward quickly prepared a treaty of purchase.

The United States paid about seven million dollars for the land. It was decided to call the area Alaska, after the Aleut Indian name for part of the area, Alakshak.

Many Americans at the time criticized the purchase. They said seven million dollars was too much to pay for what they thought was a worthless piece of frozen land. They said the deal was foolish. They called it “Seward’s Folly”.

Those critics were proved wrong. Americans found work in Alaska’s salmon fishing industry and its gold and copper mines. In later years, Alaska’s oil, natural gas, trees, fish and animal skins made the area extremely valuable. Today, history experts consider the sale to be one of the greatest deals any country ever made for territory.

Why did Secretary Seward buy Alaska? He had wanted to buy the area for a long time. American traders and business leaders knew that the area was rich with minerals and animals. They said owning Alaska would improve business in the Pacific coast states. Political leaders said the purchase would be good for the United States because it would end all Russian presence in North America. And they said it would help guarantee friendly relations with Russia.

The people of Alaska first asked to be part of the United States in nineteen sixteen. That request was rejected. They asked again in the nineteen fifties. In nineteen fifty-eight, Congress approved the Alaskan statehood act. Alaskans became American citizens after they voted to accept the measure. The date was January third, nineteen fifty-nine.

Alaska is the largest of all the states in territory. It is above northwest Canada. Alaska and Hawaii are the only states that do not share borders with any other states.

Smokey Robinson


Many pop and soul singers have recorded albums of their versions of so-called standards. These are love songs by great composers like Cole Porter and George Gershwin. These songs were popular more than fifty years ago. The latest to record such songs is Smokey Robinson. Mario Ritter tells us about his new album, “Timeless Love.”


Smokey Robinson is best known for the songs he recorded for the Motown record label during the nineteen sixties. At the age of twenty, Robinson started writing and recording songs as the leader of his group the Miracles, and later alone. He has had more than seventy top hits. And he has written hit songs for others.

Now, at the age of sixty-six, Smokey Robinson is honoring some of the great songwriters who came before him. Twelve of the thirteen songs on his new album, “Timeless Love,” are his versions of standards. Here is one of them, “Night and Day.”


Smokey Robinson writes about these songs in the notes to his album: “This was a labor of love and joy. I love these songs. I grew up hearing them from as far back as I can remember.” Here Robinson sings “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.”


We leave you now with another song from “Timeless Love” by Smokey Robinson: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”



I'm Barbara Klein. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Shelley Gollust, Karen Leggett and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.