Six months after tens of thousands of Afghans fled their home country amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the Taliban’s takeover, some are beginning to put roots down in the Monadnock Region, with community volunteers collaborating to help ease the transition.
A few dozen local volunteers have partnered with a regional refugee resettlement agency to welcome Afghan refugees to the Elm City.
WelcomeNST, a group that initially organized “neighborhood support teams” to welcome Afghan refugees to Massachusetts, partnered with Ascentria Care Alliance and expanded its efforts across New England.
The Team Monadnock Neighborhood Support Team was formed earlier this year and welcomed its first family over the weekend, according to the group’s co-leader, Eric Swope of Harrisville.
“It’s an exciting and very busy time,” Swope said Monday. “It’s kind of heartwarming how many people in the community banded together to help out with this.”
Over the last few months, the group worked to raise money and identify housing. While the neighborhood support team did consider different towns in the Monadnock Region, they ultimately found a place in Keene, which offers walkability and some public transportation — helpful features, Swope said, in case the new neighbors do not have driver’s licenses.
Once the group found a place for a family to call home and confirmed folks would indeed be coming to Keene, it took about a week and a half to gather donated household goods, ensuring the home had everything the newcomers would need, Swope said.
After a group of members from the Keene Immigrant Refugee Partnership started brainstorming late last year about how to help, they decided to reach out to Ascentria, Swope said, and later formed the neighborhood support team. So far, the group has raised more than $12,000, which includes a $5,000 matching grant from Ascentria.
Anyone interested in donating to the Team Monadnock NST can do so by visiting https://bit.ly/3hIYGQz.
Swope said the group is thrilled to be welcoming new neighbors to the area, adding that he expects — and hopes — to have one or two more families come to the area.
“We’re recognizing that the Afghans who are coming [to the U.S.], many of them have helped the U.S. military efforts … at great risk to themselves,” he said. “They’ve uprooted with pretty much nothing, and we want to do our little part to help.”
In addition to helping prepare for the arrival of refugees, neighborhood support teams, like the one in Keene, provide ongoing support to families, Swope explained.
The kind of support an NST offers varies depending on the needs of the family, Swope said, but can include help navigating the legal system, finding dental and medical services, learning English and enrolling in school, Swope said.
“It’s going to be a fairly comprehensive level of support until they get established,” he said. “... And we also want them to know we’re happy that they’re here.”
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan erupted in August when the Taliban seized control of the government amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled the country, according to media reports.
Swope added that this can feel like a particularly poignant time for humanitarian efforts. Watching the Ukrainian refugee crisis unfold can make feel people feel a little helpless, he said. So taking action at the local level is a good opportunity to make a difference in families’ lives.
“We can’t help everybody,” he said. “But we can help a few people.”
There are many factors Ascentria takes into account when resettling folks, according to Sonya Taly, the agency’s community services director. For example, a person’s professional experience can impact where they are placed, or if they have relatives who have already settled in the U.S. they’d like to be near. For Keene, Ascentria considered small families and college-aged individuals, she said.
The Team Monadnock Neighborhood Support Team is still accepting volunteers, Swope said. People interested in joining should register at WelcomeNST.us and Ascentria.org and specify they would like to join Team Monadnock.
Across the river, community organizations have been mobilizing to resettle the 92 refugees who moved to Brattleboro area in January and February, according to Joe Wiah, director of the Brattleboro branch of the Ethiopian Community Development Council. Of those, 25 are currently in temporary housing on the School for International Training (SIT) campus, while the rest have moved to long-term housing in Brattleboro and surrounding towns.
Several community organizations and volunteer groups have collaborated to help with the resettlement process, Wiah said Monday. In addition to temporary housing, SIT has also provided English classes and cultural orientation.
Members of the community have also stepped up. There are 12 co-sponsorship groups, Wiah said, which consist of seven to 10 members who help with things such as transportation, accessing health care, searching for housing and obtaining a driver’s license. Each co-sponsorship group is assigned to a family, and they work together to help for nine months, Wiah said.
But even with the community’s support, there have still been challenges, Wiah said. Securing long-term housing is challenging, he said. This is also the first time refugees have moved to the Brattleboro area, so building up infrastructure and services to address the needs of refugees is an ongoing process.
Overall, he said he’s grateful to the community for the support and help so far and hopes to see it continue.
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