• Maria Eliades

All About Community: An Interview with Kaoutar Afif


Kaoutar Afif came full circle: The development intern grew up coming to Astoria for years before interning at CIANA. Pictured in Athens Square. Photo: Maria Eliades

What attracted Kaoutar Afif, a Summer 2019 Development Intern, to CIANA was location. The Roosevelt Island native grew up coming to Astoria with her parents to connect with the large Moroccan diaspora. The Barnard student speaks about her experiences growing up on the island and her work for CIANA with Director of Development and Communications Maria Eliades.

Maria Eliades: It’s interesting to me that you come to us from Roosevelt Island. Could you talk to me about what it was like growing up there? What was the community like?

Kaoutar Afif: It’s different from what the rest of the city is like. I grew up in Roosevelt Island but I went to middle school and high school in the city. Roosevelt Island was a very small, communal, residential space. You’d go outside and see almost everyone you know. It would be impossible to go outside without seeing your family, friends, your friends from school, and just anyone. I used to be able to go outside and run around all day with my siblings and my friends. That shaped my childhood a lot.

The island’s definitely changing a lot now because there has been a lot more luxury condos being built and a lot of places being driven out. The rent is getting too high. It still has that communal feel but not quite. The demographic has changed exponentially over the past few years.

ME: How does it feel coming from that and working from Astoria?

KA: It’s interesting because I see them paralleling each other. Astoria was really close to my heart when I was living in Roosevelt Island because it’s very close to my parent’s house. They spend a lot of time here because there’s such a big Moroccan diaspora. So it’s interesting going to Astoria now and seeing a lot more luxury condos and high-rises. I remember seeing a bunch of family and mom and pop stores, but now a lot of them have shut down. I remember the streets just being less crowded. I remember being able to run around a lot more and go to parks but it seems like more people are moving in as well.

ME: Why did you decide to intern at CIANA specifically?

KA: I’ve always had a great interest in immigrant and refugee populations. It feels very personal to me because of my family history. I remember during the academic year, I was trying to find one where I could focus on that, so somewhere in a smaller, local community where I really could get to know clients and get to know people. I didn’t really want to feel disconnected from the work I’m doing. That’s something I definitely felt before in places I’ve worked in that have been larger and in which I didn’t really get to do any hands-on work.

CIANA struck me because of its location. Astoria is home to such a large immigration population and immigration patterns in Astoria have always been interesting to me, especially Greek and Egyptian immigration. The intersection of those two things: being in a small, close-knit neighborhood, being aware of its vast history, and also being able to work with immigrant populations. That’s something that really stood out to me.

ME: What has been your favorite assignment during your summer with us?

KA: I really enjoyed working with Edinam (CIANA's Summer 2019 Communications Intern), CIANA’s summer communications intern. I really liked doing collaborative stuff when I would get to work with Edinam on flyers and other work. I liked putting the information together and getting to choose the designs. Also, when I went with you to the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) New York City Members Round Table, I thought it was a great experience and getting to see in-person what those meetings look like, what the NYIC focuses in on, and getting to meet other immigration advocacy and direct service organizations.

One of my other favorite things was getting to practice my Arabic because that’s something I have not been putting too much time into and I think CIANA gave me a really great opportunity to put out information in Arabic for people that need it.

ME: How do you think CIANA has helped you with your career path?

KA: I’m interested in government but also non-profit work and I think this was a really great chance to see how both of them work together. I think that will definitely help me going down the path when I, hopefully in the future, work in non-profit or in the government which that’s where I see myself going. I think I have an insider’s take on how those relationships work and I think that’ll really help me going down the line.

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