It takes a village to sponsor a refugee family – The Morning Call
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan just over a year ago, we witnessed the heartbreaking sight of desperate families rushing to board American planes.
Some of these people, the luckiest, managed to get on board. Many others have been left behind. Still others clung so desperately to the wings of these planes that they ended up falling and dying.
As I watched these scenes unfold, little did I know that one of these families who made it on board would soon be a part of my life.
The family I would eventually meet arrived in the Lehigh Valley in early 2022 as refugees sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. The husband and father had been a soldier alongside the United States during the war. He arrived with his pregnant wife and their three children. Our first meeting was in their second-floor apartment on a balmy February afternoon. We could only communicate through a telephone interpreting service which translated between my English and their mother tongue, Pashto.
For several years after my retirement as an educator, I volunteered in classrooms at the Allentown Literacy Center where adults were learning English as a second language. But when COVID-19 caused the building to temporarily close, a friend informed me of tutoring opportunities through Bethany.
Shortly after my application was approved, I was told of a newly arrived family from Afghanistan who needed a guardian. I had to visit them every week to help the parents learn English. Although I recognized my role as essential, I also understood that I was a small piece in a very large puzzle. I quickly fell in love with the expression “it takes a village to settle a refugee family”.
Before the family arrived, many preparations had to be made. Housing had to be secured, food and clothing donations had to be collected, and a meal had to be prepared for their arrival. Once settled, there was still more to do. Medical appointments had to be arranged and transportation provided for shopping and other essentials. Someone should help them navigate government requirements and benefits, and the children should be enrolled in school.
It would also be necessary to find a job so that the father could start providing for the needs of his family. Much of this rested on the shoulders of caring volunteers from Bethany and the local Notre Dame Club.
Unfortunately, about 78,000 allies, the majority Afghans who served in the American war efforts, experienced a different outcome. Matt Zeller, former CIA officer, army captain and founder of the organization No One Left Behind, was recently interviewed on “PBS Newshour”. Asked about the fate of our Afghan wartime allies who never got on planes, he replied: “In other words, they will be murdered.”
The Afghans who acted as interpreters are particularly threatened by the Taliban. Their efforts were crucial because a mistranslation could be a matter of life and death. About 40% of those remaining, he estimated, have disappeared. Even if the Taliban don’t kill them, he continued, the ongoing famine probably will. He claimed President Joe Biden had the power to fix this “tonight, now.”
In addition to this, citizens can help by supporting the No One Left Behind Foundation, whose goal is to ensure that allies and their families are evacuated safely. In 2021, the group helped evacuate 493 Afghans and provided $493,000 in resettlement assistance. The Afghan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in August by Senator Amy Klobuchar, would provide evacuees with a pathway to lawful permanent residency. Currently, they only have a two-year temporary authorization to stay in the United States. Let your state and local officials know that you support this act. Additionally, you can support local charities like Bethany as a donor or volunteer to help refugees feel at home in our community,
Each week as I visit our sponsored Afghan family, I reflect on the many obstacles they face. There is the long, slow task of learning a language, and the isolation and cultural dissonance they must feel. They will likely face bias and misunderstandings along the way and may struggle to find satisfying work. Yet it is gratifying to know that they are blessed with a network of caring people willing to offer them hope and opportunity. Just as we honor our American veterans who fought in the war against the Taliban, we owe our protection to our Afghan allies who fought alongside them.
Lynn Shelly is a resident of South Whitehall Township.