Sosan Najem can understand the plight of Afghan refugees arriving in America to start a new life.
A former Afghan refugee herself, Najem is spending Thanksgiving away from her family, helping the federal government in its efforts to help newly arrived refugees resettle in the region and beyond. She also helps refugees as a volunteer in a church in the canton of Manheim.
Najem’s family fled Afghanistan more than 30 years ago following the Soviet invasion of the country and the unrest that followed. Fearing for his life, Najem’s father, who was a government employee in oil production, decided to flee with his wife and four children.
“This is the reason we came,” Najem said. “We had our visas and came to the United States as immigrants with nothing more than our luggage. We left everything behind.
The family settled in Maryland, where Najem’s parents eventually bought a house. Najem and his siblings all graduated from college.
But Najem has never forgotten her roots, and more than three decades later, she is helping a new group of Afghan refugees fleeing her homeland after her government fell in August.
“My heart is broken and words fail me because there is no future for them” in Afghanistan, said Najem, 42. “I have the impression that no one is listening. When I watch the news, I feel hopeless. I think there will never be democracy in Afghanistan.
At least 36 Afghan refugees who fled recent Taliban takeover have resettled in Lancaster County, Church World Service (CWS) told LNP | Lancaster online. CWS is one of at least two local agencies that help resettle refugees upon arrival in the United States. Bethany Christian Services is also working with the US government in the relocation process.
Najem has spent the past 20 years helping refugees from other countries as they start a new life in America. After obtaining the necessary permits, she helped resettle recently arrived Afghan refugees.
Today, Najem is spending Thanksgiving at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey sharing a meal that includes lamb – a staple in Afghanistan – and turkey with Afghan refugees.
“I love my family and we have many reasons to be grateful, but I feel I need to be with the refugees at the base,” she said before going to the military base. better known as Fort Dix.
Najem said she was recruited by the US military to serve as a humanitarian aid specialist at Fort Dix. His job at the military base is to help and advise newcomers in their native language on life in America. She also assists the Department of Defense and the Transportation Security Administration at airports as needed.
“A call from God”
As Najem’s passion for helping refugees arriving in the United States has taken her across the country, a program at Highland Presbyterian Church in Manheim Township allows her to volunteer closer to her county home. of York.
The Afghan Highlands Refugee Initiative (HARI) provides support to resettlement agencies such as CWS and Bethany Christian Services.
“This initiative was started as a result of a call from God,” said Tom LeCrone, program director. “I had the gifts and the talents to help, so I knew I had to do something. “
LeCrone said he was fortunate enough to meet Najem through mutual acquaintance.
“We share the same passion to help Afghan refugees, especially women and girls,” he said.
LeCrone said four Afghan refugees recently visited the HARI donation center to select furniture and household items. Among them were Shirzad and his 9-year-old daughter, Ayeshah. (LeCrone said Shirzad would only provide her first name and her daughter’s.)
Shirzad fled Afghanistan with Ayeshah shortly after the fall of the government, but Shirzad’s wife and two sons remain in the country’s capital, Kabul, according to LeCrone.
LeCrone said Shirzad looks forward to having a better life here, especially for Ayeshah, who is enrolled in a school. The Taliban banned women over 12 from getting an education shortly after taking control of the Afghan government.
Najem knows the dangers women face in Afghanistan. This is one of the main reasons she has spent nearly two decades helping refugees resettle in the United States.
“I want to reach out and help as much as possible, especially Afghan women and children,” she said.
Afghanistan was ranked the second most dangerous country in the world for women – behind Yemen – according to the 2019-2020 Women, Peace and Security Index. The index is published by the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University and the Peach Research Institute in Oslo.
“Women there are at risk at all ages,” Najem said. “They are taken as wives or raped, even little girls. On average, they get married at 18. If they are over 40, they are taken as slaves. They can never go out without a male escort. It breaks my heart. I can’t wait to see something good happen to our wives and children.
As he moved to Lancaster County, LeCrone said Shirzad was worried and feared for the safety of his family in Afghanistan.
“Give them hope”
Ghulam Alizada arrived in the United States as an Afghan refugee over 20 years ago, choosing to leave because of the Taliban.
“Back then, we had the same problems as today,” said Alizada, who lives in the canton of Manheim with his wife, their three children and her mother. “Innocent people are suffering. “
Alizada, who said he was in his mid-forties, volunteers with the HARI program at Highland Presbyterian Church, where his multilingual skills come in handy. He speaks Dari, English, Russian and Turkish.
“When I came here, Highland sponsored me and helped me find a job. I have found the people of Lancaster to be good and welcoming people, ”said Alizada. “Now I can do the same for other immigrants to give them hope, because if you take away hope, it just doesn’t make sense. “
LeCrone wants information about central Pennsylvania included in the resources refugees receive when they arrive at military bases, and he’s working with Najem to put together materials about the area that can be distributed there.
In the meantime, Najem takes care of answering calls for help wherever it is needed.
She recalls going to the Philadelphia International Airport to help with translation and data entry when recent Afghan refugees started arriving in the United States. She said she spent a week at the airport, where she said she slept in her car.
But she knew it was important to help her Afghan compatriots.
“I am a refugee,” Najem said. “I am an immigrant. I know the process.