Do you pray for something to happen or for something not to happen? By all of the wrong things happening, Sana’s prayers were answered. Who would want a truck to break down on a freeway somewhere between Moreno Valley and Fresno, California with their entire home packed up in it? Or to be told that the apartment that they would be moving to with their 4 young children wouldn’t be available for another 2 weeks because the previous tenants left a mess and they needed extra time to get the apartment in shape for them? All of this happening when you know that you need to be out of your apartment by the next day!
Sana, her husband Ali and their 4 children moved to California from Afghanistan almost a year ago. Her husband was a carpenter who worked with the American military. He was issued a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). Many such visas were issued because Afghans who supported the U.S. efforts in their country, were targeted by resistance groups. Ali doesn’t have a higher education and doesn’t speak much English; however, he’s very proud of his work with the American military and proudly displays his certificates in carpentry.
Like other refugees, this family received bare bones support. Ali desperate for work stood outside of Home Depot trying to pick up odd jobs to pay some bills. His wife sold some baklava (a sweet layered dessert) to friends in the area. They couldn’t pay their rent and were advised by friends in Fresno that it would be more affordable and there was a better chance to find a job.
Still, in their hearts, they didn’t want to go. Sana was studying English, their 3 older children were settled into their school, and they had made friends here. I’m her English teacher and I was one of the many people who was very sad to see them leave, but I felt like my hands were tied. On Thursday, our class ended at 11:30 am and we all said goodbye to her.
An hour or two after class, I heard about the series of unfortunate events: the truck breaking down, the apartment falling through, and the family potentially becoming homeless the next day. I also heard that they had slept in their empty apartment with no blankets and no heat the night before.
That same afternoon, a former student and fellow Afghan said that her husband could probably get Ali a job. With a job in sight, I could start to see that it was possible for them to stay. I started calling around to see who could potentially help. After a number of desperate calls, I finally reached Owaiz Dadabhoy and Dr. Ahmed Almikhtar from Uplift Charity in Anaheim (almost an hour away) and they calmly reassured me that they could probably help this family. They would send a caseworker to visit the family in the morning.
I soon found out that there is a huge difference between paying month-to-month and signing a year contract for an apartment--a couple of hundred dollars per month. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for their apartment, but when you’re barely scraping by and you don’t have a steady income coming in, you live month-to-month…..or with this family, day-to-day.
Mohammed, the caseworker from Uplift Charity, a refugee himself from Iraq, arrived at their home Friday morning. He assessed their situation and soon helped them sign a one-year lease for their apartment. We heard that the truck loaded with all of their belongings would return in a couple of days. Blankets and food were bought by Uplift Charity and towels and other basics were donated by community members.
When I visited the couple that day they were so relieved and so grateful. Sana expressed how happy she was that they weren’t moving to Fresno. When I left them, they were excited to go and pick up their kids at school to tell them and their teachers that they’d be staying.
Sana’s prayers were answered. She was staying home. They are still waiting to hear about the job, but, I believe that they feel more confident now that they are connected with so many people in the community. This couple is resilient, capable and hard-working.
Why am I saying all this? Sadly, this kind of story isn’t that rare. Many refugees move to the U.S. with the dream of a safe life and opportunities for themselves and their children. However, the reality is that resettlement agencies are overloaded and often can’t even provide the minimal support that is expected of them. Take a minute to imagine yourself moving to a new country where you don’t know the language, you don’t have any contacts, you need to get yourself and your family established, and you need to find a job immediately. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.
It’s great that the U.S. is accepting refugees. We need to continue doing this, but at the same time, we can maybe help make the transition easier. Currently, there is a gap--at least, in the Inland Empire. Fortunately, individuals and organizations are stepping up to fill the void. Students, community members, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions are coming together to support these families as they start their new lives.
In the end it was nothing short of a miracle how everything came together. But, if you think about it, it was a collection of small efforts, a few phone calls, the right introductions, and good intentions. I would urge everybody to take a small step, pick up the phone, introduce yourself, and we can make more miracles happen to the people who need it the most.
*names have been changed to respect the family’s privacy.
By: Sherry Mackay & Selin Nielsen, CoFounders