STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In honor of Black History month, a spotlight is being shone on Amina Diop, of Mariners Harbor, an outstanding Staten Islander who immigrated from Senegal in 2006, who is doing great work for the community and abroad as part of her role at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center, where she expanded donations program.
In 2018, as she was finishing her Master’s degree in International Affairs at Brooklyn College, Amina when she was hired at JFK8 in Staten Island in 2018 as an associate on the ship dock. She rose through the ranks and currently trains, mentors, and coaches new employees to grow their careers at Amazon. But part of her heart was still in West Africa.
Driven by the economic and gender parity and issues affecting her native country, Amina is a passionate advocate for gender equality, female empowerment and climate change. She has found a way to combine this passion with learnings from her Master’s and Amazon’s resources to make a meaningful impact on communities in need, expanding a donation program and working with local Staten Island organizations to distribute essential products to the community.
This effort included a partnership with Rotary International, starting with donations to local schools’ STEM programs, and with Amina’s guidance and leadership, expanded overseas.
Thanks to Diop, JFK8 has donated more than $10,000 worth of feminine hygiene items to rural villages in West Africa that don’t have the same access to these products, using her connections to the Rotary Club to add that organization to Amazon’s roster of partners.
“I’m passionate about gender equality – something that’s still lagging behind in West Africa – and I believe that women’s rights are human rights,” said Diop. “I know what the women there have to go through, and Rotary has the network to support the rural villages where feminine products like pads are considered a luxury.”
“Thanks to the generosity of Amazon, the Rotary Club of Staten Island distributed over 250 cartons of personal hygiene products, toiletries, toys and non-perishable food to 13 organizations that serve people faced with food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment, domestic violence as well as the well-being of immigrant workers and their families,” said a spokesman for Staten Island Rotary.
SILive caught up with Amina Diop for an interview, edited for length and clarity.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY AND COMING TO AMERICA
“I grew up with the smell of algae under the hot sun, sound of rolling waves, warm sand under my feet and taste of salt on my lips. My mom, Yvonne, is a retired financial advisor; and my dad, Elimane, is a retired engineer. They were high school sweethearts and pioneered in their families a fight for an equal society regardless of origin, sex, or religion. In fact, my dad is Muslim from a poor origin and my mom Christian from a wealthier family.
“They went through many upheavals to tackle all the taboo surrounding interfaith marriage and give their children an extraordinary life. They have raised six girls and one boy to respect, look beyond differences and not to be afraid to stand up for what we believe in.
“I moved to USA in June 2006, when I was 26, following my heart and dreams. I felt in love with Staten Island the first day I have set foot off the Verrazzano Bridge. My daughter was born here, and I have fostered many positive relationships with people.
“Starting a new life alone is incredibly challenging, normally language and cultural differences were supposed to be my first barriers because I speak French, Wolof and Bambara (African Languages). But I worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I was speaking American English and I was used to navigate multicultural environment during my several international trips.”
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR EDUCATIONAL AND PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND
“I have earned a Bachelor and an MBA in Senegal; however, it was challenging to land a qualified job. So, I’ve decided to go back to school and I’ve earned a second master’s degree in Political Sciences-International Affairs in Brooklyn College in 2018.
“Finding suitable employment was my main challenge when starting life in a new country. I have faced a catch-22 situation almost impossible to break: getting my international experience and credentials accepted, and relevant local work experience.”
“For someone who came from a family with a strong support system, navigating a new environment where there was no one to cheer me up when I felt rejected made me feel lost, alienated, and disoriented in the beginning. But I was able to shake myself out of any self-pity by joining community groups that offer personal and professional support to adjust to my new life.
“For over 17 years I have been consulting for international organizations such as the UN and the African Union, and collaborated with African and European Governments in West Africa. My areas of focus are Gender Equality, SRHR, Climate Change and Education.
“In 2018, I started working at Amazon after an assignment with the African Union and the UN in Mauritania. I was two months away from graduating with my second master’s degree and needed new challenges. After, 12 years living in the USA, it was still challenging to fully integrate the US labor market with foreign credentials, especially African credentials.
“At Amazon, I was able to learn new approaches, sharpen my operational saw, and most importantly working into making an impact in my community. I started as an associate on the ship dock and quickly proved myself. I’ve been recently promoted to the learning department, where I have the opportunity to train, mentor and coach new employees on how to grow their careers at Amazon.”
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE JFK8 AMAZON FULFILLMENT CENTER DONATION PROGRAM
“The donations program at JFK8, Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, started in early 2020, during the peak of the pandemic. Last year we donated nearly $1 million worth of products to local organizations like Project Hospitality, Community Health Action of Staten Island (CHASI), Staten Island University Hospital, World of Giving, and the Rotary Club of Staten Island – a partnership which I facilitated.
“Last year, I worked with the donations team at Amazon to extend its program to include the Rotary Club. Throughout the peak of COVID-19 and the holiday season, we were able to donate more than $260,000 worth of products to the Rotary Club of Staten Island, which went towards STEAM initiatives at local schools and food / hygiene items for more than 10 local organizations in need.
“Then, this year we took it a step further and worked with Rotary International and Youth Women for Action (YWA Senegal) to start shipping feminine hygiene products to West Africa, where women and girls don’t have easy access to these items. So far, we’ve donated more than $10,000 worth of these hygiene products.
WHY IS WEST AFRICA YOUR GEOGRAPHIC TARGET? HAVE YOU TRAVELLED THERE?
“Our main geographic target is West Africa and our pilot project will be deployed in two rural areas in Senegal. I visit regularly these areas and donate personal care and feminine hygiene products to women and girls in villages. I hope to travel there again this spring.
“In the north, the population is facing the rise of the sea level and the salinization of the soil ultimately leading to loss of cultivable land and increase of poverty. This population created one of the first climate change refugees in Senegal.
“In the south, women and girls face violence from rebel groups and are not able to have access to any kind of health or sanitary products for months.
“Menstrual hygiene is one of the most challenging barriers for over 80% of girls and women in West Africa to be able to achieve their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Facing misinformation, myths, and deep-rooted taboos that project menstruation inherently shameful, women and girls in rural areas lack adequate access to feminine hygiene projects and basic facilities. Therefore, using unsanitary alternatives such as mattress foam, rags, dry weed, etc.”
“This situation leads to perpetuating the poverty and quality of education: lack of feminine hygiene products and facilities seriously impact girls’ education and women livelihood as they miss school and work to manage their menstrua at home for about 50 days/year or drop out. Also, unsanitary alternative usage leads to infections or disease such as reproductive tract infections.”
PLEASE EXPLAIN AMAZON’S ROLE IN THE DONATION PROGRAM
“Amazon is providing all the product that we’re donating on a regular basis. In the short term, with Amazon support, this project will be able to provide to at least 500 women and girls sanitary pads, tackle misinformation of menstruation through training and social change approaches for female youth.
“Teenage girls are the main target of this program, and with the support of Amazon, this program will be able to break the cycle of misinformation and provide accurate information to girls so they can make knowledgeable decision regarding their sexual and reproductive health.
“In the long term, I aim to align the project to the United Nations SDG Goal 12: Sustainable Patterns of Consumption and Production. Feminine hygiene products produce a considerable amount of waste, with poor sanitation and scarcity of clean water regular feminine hygiene products can create an environmental burden in the targeted communities.
“YWA Senegal is rooting to increase and share knowledge with women organizations network on making reusable pads, sanitation and hygiene. The goals are to drastically reduce waste and create new business generating incomes for these communities. We are expecting to receive donation of raw materials, operational and logistical support from Amazon. I strongly believe that Amazon can make a tremendous change in the world.
“Working with Lynne Florio, a general manager assistant who started the donations program at JFK8, has allowed me to link my passion to my work at Amazon. I know Amazon can make many positive changes in the communities they serve and around the world.”