On Black Friday, Said Hashimi took his nieces and nephews to Walmart to get winter clothes. His oldest nephew is 6 and had just started school that week, a major step in the traumatic two-month transition he and his family have made from their home in Kabul—via Qatar, Germany, Washington D.C. and Indiana—to their new home in Northeast Philadelphia.
“Do you know why I’m not going to school today?” the boy asked his uncle. “Because this is the American new year!”
“I said No, the new year is coming, but this is a different holiday,” Hashimi laughed. “He is learning.”
Hashimi, who moved from Afghanistan to Philly about two years ago, is an Afghan resettlement case manager for Nationalities Services Center (NSC). His brother’s family, who arrived here about a month ago, is among the 35 clients he’s currently supporting in setting up their new life in the States—in our city.
“All along the way there has been so much stress,” Hashimi says. “Being far from family and now the pressure on them not knowing the language well… anyone that I talk to I can feel the stress that they have gone through.”
After living with Hashimi for a couple weeks, the family recently moved into their own place. Hashimi walks his eldest nephew to school, as they are waiting on the School District of Philadelphia to process his paperwork so he can ride the bus. He takes his brother to get groceries since he doesn’t yet have a driver’s license. (He’s currently studying for his second permit test.) “He is finding his way,” says Hashimi.
As are the roughly 400 other Afghan refugees NSC has received from various military bases over the past few weeks. They plan to welcome about 100 more in the coming weeks. HIAS Pennsylvania has received about 60 Afghan individuals here in Philly—they expect to receive a total of 100, says Anneke Kat, community engagement specialist. More than 75 volunteers have been helping HIAS PA provide Afghan families with support in some capacity—grocery shopping and delivery, assisting with airport pick-ups, home setups, delivering essential items, and so on, Kat says.
These folks are now working on their first steps of resettlement: applying for work authorization, social security cards, drivers’ licenses, health insurance and food stamps; enrolling kids in school; finding housing; finding jobs.
Hashimi says the biggest pain point is helping families find housing, especially in the growing Afghan community of Northeast Philadelphia where many prefer to resettle. Exacerbated by Philly’s affordable housing shortage and delays in acquiring the documentation many landlords require (like a social security card and pay stubs), the process can be frustratingly slow. NSC is currently putting up more than half the families they’ve received in a Center City hotel.
Finding jobs is a challenge, too—though with so many employers short-staffed, Hashimi says he’s helped folks find work at places like grocery stores, Walmart and delivery services like Amazon. But of course, many of his clients have specific skills and would prefer to work in their field. One, for example, is a chef who wants to start his own restaurant. “He is quite experienced,” says Hashimi, “But I asked him to wait—maybe first [he] works in a restaurant somewhere, learns the process and then slowly studies so he can have his own business.”
RELATED: An Afghan refugee who worked for the U.S. government relates his family’s harrowing experience fleeing the Taliban, making their way to the U.S.—and finding a welcoming home in Philadelphia
Hashimi’s brother, Rashad, is also trying to find a job in his field—he worked in refugee support programs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. For Hashimi, though, finding any job is most important. “He needs to pay the rent after two months and he came with nothing,” he says.
It has been a long and traumatic journey for folks like Rashad and his family, many who left spouses, siblings, parents behind and brought—quite literally—only the clothes on their backs. “All along the way there has been so much stress,” Hashimi says. “Being far from family and now the pressure on them not knowing the language well… anyone that I talk to I can feel the stress that they have gone through.”
As they arrive here in Philly, Afghans need our support—now more than ever. They need housing (and all that makes a house a home); winter clothes; English classes; cultural orientation; driver’s licenses; jobs; healing and hope. Here are some meaningful ways you can help.
How to help Afghan refugees in Philly right now
Offer a spare room, apartment or house
If you’re a landlord—or know someone who is—and have an opening, reach out to Eduardo Esquivel ([email protected]) or Anneke Kat ([email protected]). If you have an empty home you’d like to offer for free or rent, reach out to Adi Altman ([email protected]).
If you have a spare room, sign up with Airbnb’s Open Homes program, which HIAS Pennsylvania has partnered with to provide temporary housing for their clients. (Hosts have full control over when and who they accept, and would liaise with a HIAS Pennsylvania PA staff member around specific housing requests before making the decision.)
Reach out to your representatives and urge them to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow those resettling to apply for a green card after a year. HIAS Pennsylvania also recommends urging congress to waive the sponsorship requirement which mandates that the humanitarian parole applicant find a person or institution to sign an affidavit swearing that they will provide sufficient support so that the applicant will not need to access any public benefits.
RELATED: A Philly school teacher and veteran who helped create literacy programs in Afghanistan reflects on the incredible people he encountered—and urges help for those who are arriving in our city
Refugees receive $1,225 in “welcome money” from the federal government to support all their needs, including food, housing and clothing—as you can imagine, it doesn’t go very far. Help local resettling agencies fill in the gaps; donate to Nationalities Service Center’s Transforming Welcoming Fund and give to HIAS Pennsylvania here.
Think of the many, many things that would be unfamiliar to you if you’d just arrived from a very different place and culture. Take gift cards, for example—a common donation. An Afghan family may not know how to use it, how to get to the store, how to look for sales and get the most for their money, says Hashimi.
You can give or help folks shop for winter clothing; get furniture and kitchen supplies; show them how SEPTA works; deliver groceries; offer rides to appointments, and so much more. To work with HIAS Pennsylvania, create a volunteer profile and sign up for an info session. (Nationalities Service Center is not currently accepting volunteers as they’ve already received overwhelming support.)
RELATED: Philly-based tech startup Needslist crowdfunds humanitarian aid for the 25 million refugees worldwide. It is a game-changer in how we all can be part of the solution
Businesses, offer your services
If your business can donate goods, appliances, or services—cell phones, laptops and housecleaning are especially needed—reach out to Adi Altman ([email protected]) to coordinate.
Do you speak Dari, Pashto, Urdu or Farsi? Sign up with HIAS Pennsylvania to provide interpretation.
Most organizations don’t have storage space to keep your old couch, but you can donate to the nonprofits they source from. HIAS Pennsylvania frequently works with Philadelphia Furniture Bank, which connects clients with a full home’s worth of furniture and new bedding, and Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles, which offers fast and free pick-up and delivery at low or no cost.
RELATED: South Philly artist-activist Michelle Angela Ortiz works to empower immigrants and galvanize the public and lawmakers into action through compassion
Provide pro bono legal services
HIAS Pennsylvania works with pro bono lawyers who donate their time and services—even if you don’t have specific experience working in immigration, they can train and support you. Sign up to help here.
“I assume these people will be quite great—professionals—in the future,” says Hashimi. “But right now they need some support.” If you need to fill positions at your company, consider hosting a job fair for Afghan refugees. Coordinate with Jackie McCann ([email protected]) at NSC to make it happen.
Header photo courtesy European Union/ECHO/Pierre Prakash/Flickr