MEET THE TEAM

IMG_1572_edited.jpg

FERESHTEH GANJAVI

FOUNDER

Fereshteh is a former Afghan refugee, community advocate, public speaker, Founder, and Executive Director of Elena’s Light, a nonprofit based in Connecticut. Additionally, she works for the Refugee Council USA. Her passion lies in empowering Refugee families through health education, personalized ESL tutoring, and cultural community exchange programs. Her ultimate goal is to advocate for education, insurance, and employment rights for everyone regardless of their immigration status.

DIRECTORS

IMG_6947_edited.jpg

Varsha Jorawar

DIRECTOR OF PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Varsha is a senior pursuing a degree in Political Science at Southern Connecticut State University. She is a prospective law student who found her passion in helping Refugees. As a Guyanese immigrant herself, Varsha understands how it feels to be catapulted into a foreign country with nothing but hopes and dreams. By working with Elena's Light, she is able to have a direct impact on the immigrant/refugee community and ease the burdens that come with having that status.

 
 
image1_edited.jpg

Rachel Schaffer

DIRECTOR OF PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Rachel is working towards her degree in Social Work at Southern Connecticut State University. Having spent five years of her career in childcare and within schools, Rachel saw the disparity between the extensive needs of families and the lack of resources made available for their success. She is now committed to working on implementing actionable change for those who are in need. With a strong emphasis on social justice, Rachel has taken on many leadership roles within her university, including helping to publish research on the impact of COVID-19 on the New Haven community and its people of color. She is honored to be a part of Elena’s Light and help make a difference.

Health and Wellness Team

WechatIMG25.jpeg

Luning Zhang

HEALTH ADVOCACY COORDINATOR

Luning Zhang is currently a Master's student studying Global Public Health at NYU. She got her BA in Environmental Studies with a minor in Spanish. She took lots of curriculums such as
Epidemiology, Social Health Behaviors, Healthcare Policy, etc., which focuses on public health issues and the strategies to solve those public health challenges. She believes that the population’s awareness of health and healthy living habits are crucial factors to improve the population’s health as a whole. Especially for vulnerable groups of people like women, children, and refugees. She aims to help those refugees and provide a healthier living environment for vulnerable groups.

B7772261-5C1F-4519-BAD4-9E8C6CB36B79(1)_edited.jpg

Minahil Gilani

HEALTH & WELLNESS COORDINATOR 

Minahil was born and raised in Pakistan. She completed her BSc in Biology from Southern Connecticut State University in May 2021. She has been a peer academic tutor at Southern for three years which provided her with a diverse range of experiences when it comes to helping students. She has been a research associate for the department of chemistry at Southern for two years, where she worked on the project of antibiotic resistance. She wrote her honors thesis regarding the quantitative research she performed there. Being an immigrant herself, she understands the struggles of residing in a different country and adapting to its culture. The aspect of connecting with people and helping them by being a resource attracts her immensely. Now she plans to embark on the journey of exploring public health and its diverse specialties and pursuing an MPH in the future.

Social Media Team

bio2014l_h8420hr.jpg

Emily Gordon

EVENT SPECIALIST

Emily is a longtime editor, writer, and marketer who works in the communications department of the Yale School of Management. She's proud to host live online events and fundraisers for Elena's Light that showcase the important voices of former refugees and other experts. She attended Barnard College and New York University and lived in New Haven.

profile pic.png

Alissa Glaeser

SOCIAL MEDIA & MARKETING COORDINATOR

Alissa Glaeser is a social media and marketing volunteer. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Communications with a focus on digital media at John's Hopkins University. She aims to uplift marginalized communities using gaming and other media tools.

IMG_1306_edited_edited.jpg

Carlamary Santiago 

SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIST 

Carlamary Santiago is a social media volunteer, as well as Elena’s Light Artisan Market Coordinator. She is currently pursuing her bachelors in Human Behavioral Science with a focus on trauma at Grand Canyon University online. She looks forward to a future of helping others build brighter futures for themselves.

ESL Team

IMG_8432.heic

Madison Ramsby

ESL COORDINATOR

Madison Ramsby is a senior at Southern Connecticut State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Political Science, Spanish, and Public Relations, with a minor in Linguistics. In her degree, she has focused on the impact of language use and communication as it relates to political and societal issues. Through her own experiences with language learning, she knows the challenges that many people face in this endeavor and is driven to use her knowledge of applied linguistics to find ways to make this process as easy as possible for others. Madison believes that languages are like doors to new worlds and she hopes to use her position as an ESL Coordinator at Elena’s Light to help open these doors for as many people as possible, so that everyone has an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

5E7303AF-027E-4E64-A6AC-3EC985DC32C0_edi

Ronahi Saeed

ESL COORDINATOR

Ronahi Saeed is an ESL Program Coordinator here at Elena’s Light. She recently graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a major in Sociology and a minor in psychology. Ronahi has extensive knowledge about the social development, structure, and functioning of social society and dynamics. Through means of empowering women and uplifting families, Ronahi helps women reach their full potential through the ESL program. Her research on mental health wellness has curated her drive in helping women in and out the program. Ronahi also came to this country as a refugee from Kurdistan with her family in 1996 as part of a rescue mission. This humanitarian mission resulted in Ronahi’s dream to grow up and help refugees. She knew from her own academic achievements and refugee experience that supporting women will inspire greatness. Ronahi spends much of her free time writing her poetry book’s manuscript, “Flowers in the Dark”

IMG_1738.jpg

Laiba Akhtar

TRANSLATOR

Laiba is a senior at Yale University pursuing a major in chemical engineering and a Russian language certificate. She's originally from the KPK region of Pakistan and grew up in Oklahoma with her parents and siblings. As a Pashtun, Laiba is fluent in Pashto and since coming to New Haven, she volunteers as a Pashto translator and interpreter with different groups in the area. Outside of academics and interpretation, Laiba participates in various mentoring and advising programs. After graduation, Laiba hopes to do research for a year and then apply to medical school. 

Legal Advocacy Team

IMG_2862 (1)_edited.jpg

Sadikshya Ghimire

LEGAL ADVOCACY COORDINATOR

Sadi is a junior at Yale University majoring in Political Science and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. She is an immigrant from Nepal, and her experiences have shaped her passion to advocate for migrant and refugee rights. She is especially interested in the question of citizenship and belonging and how that relates to race and ethnicity. She is involved in other organizations that serve migrants, including IRIS and Migration Alliance at Yale. As an intern at Elena’s Light, she hopes to advocate for refugees and consolidate various resources to ease their transition and experiences in the U.S.

 
IMG_8432.heic

Madison Ramsby

LEGAL ADVOCACY COORDINATOR

Madison Ramsby is a senior at Southern Connecticut State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Political Science, Spanish, and Public Relations, with a minor in Linguistics. In her degree, she has focused on the impact of language use and communication as it relates to political and societal issues. Through her own experiences with language learning, she knows the challenges that many people face in this endeavor and is driven to use her knowledge of applied linguistics to find ways to make this process as easy as possible for others. Madison believes that languages are like doors to new worlds and she hopes to use her position as a Legal Coordinator at Elena’s Light to help open these doors for as many people as possible, so that everyone has an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

IMG_8298.jpg

Chenyi Li

LEGAL AND POLICY ADVOCACY COORDINATOR

Chenyi is a graduate student pursuing the Master of Public Health at New York University concentration on public health policy and management. She joined Elena’s Light with the hope to help those in need and raise public awareness about a refugee group that helps women and children.

Grant Team

IMG_6723.jpg

Isabella Mandell

GRANT WRITER

Isabella is a rising sophomore at Brown University planning to concentrate in International and Public Affairs and in Education. She loves tutoring and assisting in classrooms in New Haven. While working with an attorney to draft an application for asylum, she saw the unjust roadblocks present in immigration/refugee law, and she values the work that Elena's Light is doing in providing resources to ease transitions and build refugee autonomy.

IMG_0067e.jpg

Madison Laprise

GRANT WRITER

Madison is a rising sophomore at Yale University, pursuing a degree in Cognitive Science. She is someone who values local engagement, and was heavily involved in her hometown's school system as a Board of Education representative. As someone who has lived in Connecticut her entire life, she is excited about making an impact on the New Haven community through Elena's Light. 

barbobrien.png

Barbara O'Brien

GRANT WRITER

Barbara is an attorney experienced in immigration law and general legal services. She has represented refugees in obtaining their green cards, becoming naturalized citizens, and reuniting with loved ones. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she understands being the “different one” in a place. Her volunteer work with Elena’s Light involves grant management and general corporate governance.

Community Engagement 

IMG_3011_edited.jpg

Yasmeen Abed

Program Development Coordinator

Yasmeen is a sophomore at Yale University majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies. She is passionate about refugee rights, particularly the education of refugee women and children. She is the co-president of the Refugee and Immigrant Student Education organization which provides tutoring services to refugee children in the New Haven area. She hopes to bring this experience to her role as a Program Development Coordinator for Elena's Light. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, trying new foods, and exploring New Haven.

Muna's Photo (1).jpg

Muna Mah

Artisan Market Coordinator

Muna is a recent graduate from Southern Connecticut State University, receiving her BSPH from Southern's College of Health and Human Services. She was inducted into the Eta Sigma Gamma Health Education Honor Society and she was the 2021 recipient of the Public Health Award for Excellence. During her time at Southern, Muna was appointed as a student researcher by her professors on a research project that would survey undergraduate and graduate students basic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic in the following categories: Childcare,
Food insecurity, Housing, Academic success/ Career services, and Mental health. She has also worked as a student worker on an opioid awareness campaign that was grant funded by the
Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative. Coming from an immigrant entrepreneurial family she has enjoyed being given the platform to uplift and empower immigrant and refugee women through their handmade crafts on Elena's Light Artisan Market initiative. Muna will be pursuing her MPH in Epidemiology at Columbia University this upcoming Fall 22 Semester.

IT Support

Screen Shot 2021-05-25 at 10.12.36 PM.png

Mahboob Sharafi

Information Technologist

Mahboob is born in Afghanistan and has worked with USAID-funded projects for Afghanistan both primary and higher education for 16 years. He feels honored to work with Elena’s Light as he is largely motivated to play a role among a group of people whose works with immigrants allow them to get closer to their dreams and goals.