More Westonians Welcoming Afghan Refugees: How to Get Involved

Volunteer giving an Afghan baby a snuggle

After the post last week about the work St. Julia’s is doing with three Afghan refugees, the Owl was contacted by another group which is also assisting the Afghan community, this time in Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire.

In October 2021, when the Afghan refugees were about to arrive, a non-denominational team was formed with residents of Weston, Waltham, Belmont, Concord and Ipswich. All told, the volunteers with All Hands on Deck currently number fifteen though they add more each week. One of the volunteers is hosting a family, and many more are volunteering in Manchester, New Hampshire, where 80 refugees are settling given more access to affordable housing. There was no Afghan community there to welcome them, so the culture shock has been incredible.

The All Hands volunteers are partnering with other groups as well including the Islamic Center of Bostton and other mosques in the area, including Andover’s. One church in Manchester is assisting through access to a church thrift store –volunteers pick up the Afghan family, and help them shop there for household goods and clothing–particularly warm winter clothes. Volunteers are also helping prepare and deliver food to refugees in hotels, as they wait for apartments.

Community kitchen

Recently the group has moved to bringing the Afghan women together to cook–calling the group “Cooking Connections.” The Afghan women are given access to a commercial kitchen at a church in Manchester where not only can they make their favorite foods, but they get back some of the sense of community they lost when they moved here. In March, the community will celebrate togther Nowruz, a traditional festival of Spring that starts on the day of the vernal equinox. The name ‘Nowruz’ comes from the ancient Avestan language meaning ‘new day’ and the festival symbolizes the rebirth of nature, new life and new beginnings (source: Afghanaid). This is a new beginning indeed.

The All Hands volunteers are looking for donations of many items that “fill the gap”–teapots, new underwear, and “slender” clothing–it turns out many Afghans are slender, and many American men are…not. The volunteer group is also hoping to receive donations of new or gently-used “heavy duty” sewing machines. Many of the Afghans are major sewers/seamstresses–one man is a tailor. Any sewing supplies and fabric donations are also welcomed.

Fabric shopping

Some of the other work undertaken by the volunteers includes conversation circles which supplement English as a Second Language classes. The group has recruited retired teachers given the popularity of the conversational opportunities. Part of the English-language training is practical–refugees practice their English during the shopping trips to the thrift store.

Finding employment for these folks is the next challenge. Many of the refugees are from the Afghan military, some were helicopter pilots. They are from diverse areas in Afghanistan, and diverse backgrounds. The challenges are many for these displaced men and women.

One of the other major needs is for immigration lawyers to help these refugees through the process. Because money is tight, the volunteer group is hoping to find low-cost or pro bono volunteers in the lawyering field.

Want to help? Take a look at the list of “wanted” items and see what you might have around, or be willing tto buy new (underwear for one). Gift cards and cash donations are also quite welcome. Volunteers are always needed. Please send an email to Hansi Dean if you’d like to help out: hansidean@aol.com.

Act local for those who need it.

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