In Utah, two main organizations are working to help resettle the state’s 765 expected Afghan refugees — the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City and Catholic Community Services of Utah. They secure housing, supply food and connect refugees with services including employment counseling.
Aden Batar, the migration and refugee services director of Catholic Community Services, said his organization also offers legal services to families, since many arrive without a valid immigration status.
“We need a lot of support, and any monetary donation we can get, so our legal team can continue,” Batar said. “We have the manpower, but I think we are lacking the financial resources that we need to provide the legal services for the families that are arriving.” To donate, visit CCS’ or IRC’s website.
The International Rescue Committee is currently seeking volunteers, including online youth tutors and housing support volunteers, which help refugees set up their new homes.
The organization also is seeking volunteers to help distribute food through “Spice to Go,” an incubator that assists refugees interested in starting a food business, offering training and commercial kitchen space. For more information, visit: rescue.org/volunteer.
IRC and CCS also coordinate efforts with local organizations like the Utah Muslim Civic League, so volunteers can provide services and donations to families. Utahns can support those efforts through the Afghan Community Fund.
Supporting Afghan women
Another organization, Afghan and Middle Eastern Women of Utah, has helped new families learn English and how to drive. But its founder, Fatima Baher, formed the group to help women in particular, with workshops on self-esteem and trauma resiliency.
“Those women, they came from areas that were in war,” she said, noting that some have seen family members hurt or killed. ”I’m trying just to help them relieve some of the pain.”
She also hosts yoga and Zumba classes for women, to meet friends and bring them joy, she said.
Baher first arrived in Utah from Syria 15 years ago. She and her family had never heard of Utah before, she said, and navigating the cultural shock was difficult. But they adjusted, thanks to those around them.
“I wanted people to feel like Utah’s their home,” Baher said. “Because what I went through, I am 100% sure that other people [are] going to go through these kind of things.”
Baher’s group is seeking financial donations as well as outerwear and basic household items. Those interested in donating or volunteering can find more info at amewu.org, or through the organization’s Facebook Page.
Building friendships, building trust
The Baskerville Institute, run by executive director Bahman Baktiari, aims to build friendships across communities. The institute primarily centers on Iranian-Americans but is working to help with Afghan resettlement, Baktiari said.
“Resettlement agencies are doing the frontline efforts, trying to make sure the immediate needs are met, but long term, we want to build a community,” said Hamza Yaqoobi, a leader from the Afghan Youth Collective, which works with the Baskerville Institute.
The goal is to introduce families to each other, who may become friends. “We’re focusing on doing a lot of community events, trying to build trust with refugees,” Yaqoobi said.
Those interested in volunteering with the Baskerville Institute can visit baskervilleinstitute.org.
While trying to find a way to make refugees feel welcome, Heidi Bradley, a member of the Christian Science Society of Salt Lake City — which also partners with the Baskerville Institute — found an answer through conversation: spices.
Through the “Afghan Spice Project,” she and other volunteers use donations to buy spices including turmeric and ginger from Afghan import markets, then assemble them into kits. They label the spices with a description in Dari, a language widely spoken Afghanistan.
Project volunteers, with assistance from the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, then distribute the kits to arriving families, placing them on the kitchen counters of their new homes.
“My favorite part is sharing love,” Bradley said. “We just want to help these refugees feel welcomed, accepted and loved as they arrive in Utah.”
Those interested in donating or volunteering to assemble kits can visit their website.