Maria De Grazia Big Sisters Circle graduation lunch

Maria’s Story


Maria came to Houston as a refugee almost 7 years ago. Her Italian parents moved to Venezuela before Maria was born. They made a life there. Maria and her siblings grew up in a loving environment in a house full of books, and in 2013 Maria graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication & Journalism. With her upbringing and education, she was looking forward to a successful career.  

By that time her father was politically active and in outspoken opposition to the government. Maria’s family became the target of persecution and the situation became unsafe. Maria left home with $200 in her pocket and a small backpack. 

Arriving in the US was hard. Maria had no friends, no independence, no English. Making her application to stay was expensive and she had to borrow money.   

“I cried a lot at this time” Maria recalls. “I missed my friends. I had a full life back home. I was active in our neighborhood even then, always helping people. In Houston I couldn’t even help myself. Staying motivated was so hard. I was so lost that first year.” 

At first Maria worked in a restaurant. She found a local church and made her first friends. She practiced her English and took every language skills course she could find. Then she started helping out in a clothing store which offered plenty of English practice. “I just kept going, and little step by step I made progress.” 

Maria’s brother heard that Amaanah were looking for a Spanish-speaking tutor to work in schools on a short-term contract. As soon as he mentioned it, Maria jumped at the opportunity. “This was a dream for me – I could be helping people again, and it was a paying job.” 

Maria started in January 2021, when covid was still having an impact. Her English classes were all online and she was working with elementary-age children, all newcomers from South America. “I made basic lessons to get them started and I also helped the teachers. I was making a difference to these children, being a friend to them in their situation.”   Maria turned out to be the ideal person for Amaanah and her contract became fulltime employment. 

In her three years, Maria has worked across most of Amaanah’s programs

“She’s a fast learner, resourceful and committed.” Says Jida Nablusi, CEO. “She has become a source of hope and inspiration for many of our clients.”

Today Maria is a fulltime Program Manager focusing on the Women’s Empowerment Program and Big Sisters Circle as well as supporting Amanaah’s CEO. Maria is full of smiles, kind and caring when she talks about her work. She helps the women find their feet in Houston, matching them with Spanish, Farsi or Arabic speakers who guide them to practical resources and provide emotional support. 

A favorite task is a home transformation.

“I had a single mom recently, with two children,” Maria explains, “they had an apartment but they were sleeping on the floor, they had nothing. I put a budget together and called in my volunteers. Two of them took the family out for a entire day, while the rest of us picked up furniture and home essentials. We spent the day putting everything together and making her apartment more like a home. I will never forget her face when she walked in at the end of the day, we all cried”.  

The work can be draining, and Maria’s friends are a source of love and laughter. “I’ve met some amazing people in Houston.”  

And the future? For this coming year Maria will continue helping people. She wants to reach more people, to grow her programs, to put more smiles on the faces of these refugee women who arrive so lost. She wants to grow her own jewelry business and for that to be successful too. “I never stop dreaming, because if I put my energy into that, then I will make it work.”  

  • “When I arrived there was no support or help for refugees, I felt so stuck. Through Amaanah I can help people, and through my experiences I can show there is a good life here. I know how these women are feeling because that’s where I was myself”. Maria De Grazia

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