As you thank this week, take a moment to express your gratitude to the generous people who are helping to welcome and resettle the Afghan refugees. They represent the best of the American spirit: kindhearted and open-minded, a spirit that might waver and fade in Washington, DC, but flourish in communities across the country.
Indelible images of desperate Afghans fleeing their homelands flooded television and computer screens for several weeks this summer. Then the pictures are gone, but the real people behind those pictures remain – about 73,000 of them, now integrating into American life. They face serious problems – primarily a severe shortage of affordable housing – but the kindness and commitment of their new neighbors has been overwhelming.
“All over the United States, Americans from all political backgrounds are showing up to welcome the Afghans who aided the American war effort in one of the largest mass mobilizations of volunteers since the end of the Vietnam War,” reports the New York Times.
“In rural Minnesota, an agricultural specialist worked on visa applications and provided temporary housing for newcomers, and she set up a halal meat processing zone on her farm,” The Times continues. . âIn California, a group of veterans sent a welcome committee to the Sacramento airport to welcome every family that arrives. In Arkansas, volunteers sign up to shop for groceries, make airport transfers and welcome families to their homes.
âWe’ve never seen anything like it,â added Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, executive director of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Xenophobia is still deeply rooted in the American character, and fanatic buffoons like John Bennett, the chairman of the Republican Party in Oklahoma, want to ban Afghans from entering their states. But in a national ABC / Washington Post poll, 68% supported accepting refugees, and only 27% opposed it.
âEven the most right-wing isolationists in our sphere recognize the level of responsibility America has to people who have sacrificed themselves for the sake of the nation,â Caleb Campbell, an evangelical pastor in Phoenix, told The Times. “It’s a galvanizing moment.”
Here are some of the people who do:
Caroline Clarin, who lives in a conservative rural county in northern Minnesota, has helped relocate five Afghan families, sometimes paying for their passage and providing temporary shelter, reports The Times. “I was concerned. I’m in an absolutely fiery red area,” she said. But the community “has been extremely welcoming to them.”
Homes Not Borders, a non-profit organization located in the Maryland suburb of Washington, DC, has established nearly 40 homes for about 170 refugees since August. A Post reporter observed volunteers cleaning and furnishing two apartments for a family of eight. âThey assembled bunk beds, hung murals and cleaned some of the kitchen appliances in the apartments over a four-hour period,â the Post said.
One of the contributors to this effort, Manizha Azizi, was an Afghan refugee herself in 1985. She began volunteering after seeing reports of Afghans fleeing Kabul. âI kept coming back,â she said.
Perhaps 50,000 refugees are still accommodated in military bases; Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh, Indiana, hosts several thousand. Vox interviewed a volunteer, Lori Joundi, who said that many members of the local Muslim community were involved in the effort: âThere was a lot of support, it’s just that because of the number of people and the enormity of all their needs – I don’t want to call it a scarcity problem. But you basically take care of an entire city, don’t you? 6000 is a small town.
Khadija Wazeen, a physician before leaving Afghanistan, still lives at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. When her glasses broke, she went to the next town to buy replacements. As Vox reports: âBut the cheapest frames were $ 25. They didn’t have the money. Another customer heard and offered to buy them. When the women went to pay, Wazeen cried.
DePaul University of Chicago will host 10 Asian University for Women students and cover all of their costs. “We are fortunate to be able to support them,” GianMario Besana, the school’s associate rector, told the campus newspaper. âThey come to see us after a serious trauma. Once they get here, we want them to have some degree of normalcy. “
As you count your own blessings this holiday season, remember the refugees – and your fellow Americans who make them feel so welcome in their new hometown.
Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University.