‘We are better because they are here’

‘We are better because they are here’

Five stories about Afghan evacuees making new lives in Vermont

Gul, Sakina, and family: A new garden grows

BRATTLEBORO — Gul was a police officer and scout for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Raised without schooling in a rural area, his family continues to farm in the hills outside Paktia. His wife, Sakina, has no schooling, and his daughter had only just begun school - though his sons were excellent students and sportsmen.

In August 2021, his commanding officer called him and told him to gather his wife and children and to find him at the airport. Now, 8{1/2} months later, Gul works, the children attend school, and the family has harvested a huge garden. All can now read and speak at least some English.

Sakina, the mother, bakes bread daily and has learned to sew. Gul is recognized as a Halal butcher and has slaughtered sheep and goals for the community. Step by step, they are making a home for themselves. -Lise Sparrow, lead of the family's St. Michael's Episcopal Church Interfaith Refugee Ministry Co-sponsorship Group

Nasima: A new generation, a new community

What struck me most about the Sakhi family was their hospitality. They wanted nothing more than to sit and talk, even with their limited English, and their hospitality worked magic in their first community on Chase Street.

Their youngest daughter, Nasima, learned how to ride a bike, and she loved coming home from school and cycling laps around the neighborhood. She'd stop and engage with everyone she met, taking an interest in whatever they were doing.

One neighbor said she was tending to her flower garden and asked if Nasima wanted to help. Nasima spent the next hour happily weeding and communicating with barely any English.

Another neighbor, Sue, brought a cake over to welcome the family, which began an exchange of food that went on for weeks and extended to every other house on the street. The neighborhood actually began to know each other more as the Sakhi family introduced neighbors to one another.

The Sakhi family brings to Brattleboro a spirit of hospitality that builds on our welcoming community and extends it in ways we've only begun to see. -Rob Szpila, co-lead of the Rotary Club Co-Sponsorship Groups and Support Teams

Nada: Member of the award-winning Afghan Women's Robotics Team

Nada moved into my house with several other young Afghan women, looking for a sheltering home run by a woman who could get them used to the independence women in Afghanistan rarely know.

The big kitchen became common ground, as Nada is the primary cook and only I knew where I'd put all the kitchen tools and provisions. Always, I was rewarded with a high smile when “she got it.” We still meet at that kitchen table daily to schedule, ask questions, work on lessons, share photos on cell phones.

Things I never would have imagined have brightened my days: Nada's graduation from Brattleboro Union High School with honors in STEM. A party to celebrate with Nada's Afghan feast. A trip to Holyoke Mall to find “professional looking clothes.” On Mother's Day, becoming “Mama” when they greeted me with a balloon and a bouquet. They are just what I would have wanted in my children, had I had any.

And as if two jobs and classes at Greenfield Community College are not enough, Nada's beginning a business - importing saffron, grown and packaged by her uncle. You may soon be able to buy it at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

As a family, we have shared this journey into a world of constant learning, unexpected experiences, and starting a family from scratch. -Linda Hay, with her All Souls Unitarian Church Support Team

Ebrahim and Amir: Working for the community

Together, Amir and Ebrahim have introduced new Americans to the work environment here - how to find, get, and keep a job.

After reuniting here with his sister, cousin, nieces, and nephew, Amir joined the search for meaningful work as soon as the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation started employment orientation sessions.

In Afghanistan, Amir worked for non-governmental organizations focused on refugees. He had done many of the things that we would need to do, like cultural orientation, health assessments, housing and employment searches. BDCC realized that Amir was ready-made for the task in front of all of us.

Ebrahim arrived in Brattleboro with his wife, daughters, and a great deal of professional experience. His most recent work was managing a cultural center that introduced America to Afghans - in a way, he was the face of our country in the region. So he knew us well before he arrived here.

As we worked over his resume and his goals with his co-sponsor team, Ebrahim came to realize that he not just wanted but needed to be of service to the Afghan community.

With BDCC, Amir has been supporting refugees in finding work and adding to their skills. With ECDC, Ebrahim has provided advise, translation, document preparation and, occasionally, transportation.

These two leaders - and many of the new Americans that they served - have become great additions to our community. We are better because they are here. -Jeff Lewis, employment volunteer and co-lead of St. Michael's Episcopal Church Interfaith Refugee Ministry Co-Sponsorship Group.

Kamilla and her sewing circle

This summer, a group of Afghan women started sewing together. They had left behind their family, homes, belongings, and communities, but not their cultural identity and traditions. We in Vermont are invited to be enriched by seeing these creations stemming from their rich culture.

These women gather several times each week at the Multicultural Community Center in Brattleboro for classes to advance their sewing skills - whether as beginners or experienced seamstresses.

The sewing room hums with the sounds of sewing machines, chatter, and laughter. Traditionally, Afghan women socialize separately from men, so this class provides them some kind of camaraderie and mutual support.

Putting all this learning together is their sewing team instructor, Kamilla. She knows so much about traditional Afghan clothing, as she and her husband Akram ran a garment factory in Afghanistan.

Kamilla's magnetic, outgoing personality allows her to teach with warmth, kindness, dedication, and patience. She oversees the learning needs of her students and the individualization of each of their projects. And she expresses pride in her students' work.

Kamilla is now a recipient of the Vermont Folklife Center's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, as a master to teach future sewing apprentices. -Jean Davis, ECDC sewing team volunteer and member of the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community Co-Sponsorship Group

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