GRAND REPIDS, Michigan (GRES) – Afghan families in Grand Rapids reunite with their new neighbors after fleeing the only home they ever knew.
Friday night’s event in southeastern Grand Rapids linked refugees to longtime members of the community.
For families who have been away from Afghanistan for so long, the night brought a taste of their culture with traditional food, music, games and dances.
The special night was hosted by Freshta Tori Ian, a health advocate for the Afghan community of the nonprofit organization Treetops Collective. Last year, her own family evacuated Afghanistan.
“I want the Afghan community to feel a sense of belonging here,” she said. “They may have lost their homeland, but this is a new beginning.”
When the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan last year, leaving power to the Taliban, Afghans fled to save their lives, and came here to start all over again.
News 8 spoke to several Afghan refugees, including a young girl.
“I hope (hopefully) that Afghanistan will one day get rid of the war,” she said through an interpreter. “(I) are tired of violence. Now that (I) am here for the community … (I want) to be much closer to them and (I want) to help. (I) am ready to be a member of their communities. ”
Tori Ian estimates that 400 Afghan families live in Grand Rapids.
“They are having a lot of difficulty,” Tori Ian said. “Language barrier, acquaintance with a completely new culture and way of life.”
She said many are still struggling to find work, despite a master’s degree or many years of experience at the U.S. Embassy.
“Now that they’re here, even those who speak English very well, they can’t find a job,” she said. “They are constantly being pushed to start work at the plant level.”
When a refugee from Kabul moved here, he could not believe how peaceful life was.
“Every day (I) woke up,” the man said through an interpreter. “So much peace and quiet. Something (I) didn’t feel so much at home. ”
He previously worked with Americans in Afghanistan, selling American flags. When the Taliban came, he had to leave his company and his business.
Maria Popal, another Afghan refugee, brought her family here for a better future, as many feared for their lives at home.
“Everyone just tried to stay in the house, not to go outside because of the bad situation,” Popal said. “They’re afraid something will happen to them.”
Christy Carlin Knech, who has lived in Grand Rapids for 20 years, was in contact with an Afghan family through her church when she tried to flee last August.
“We didn’t know if they would work,” said Carlin Knech. “It was four days all day all night waiting, hoping and praying.”
The U.S. military has evacuated a family who arrived in Grand Rapids.
“They were walking right down the street from our house,” Carlin Knech said. “Our children go to the same school. “They need to acclimatize to new monetary systems and new ways of structuring the school, and for us it was a great exchange and an opportunity to learn what it means to be a new neighbor.”
For a ten-year-old boy, he hopes to return home one day.
“I want Afghanistan to recover, and I hope we can find a wonderful home,” he said.
Tori Ian said that this is a holiday of Afghan culture – one of many that will be. They want to have women’s evenings and socializing with henna in the coming months.
“One of the things that was a struggle was human communication,” added Tori Ian. “So many of these refugees are desperate to build this relationship.
“If you can take them out for coffee or even just go to their house, knock on the door, ask, ‘How are you?’ Let me introduce you to the city! ”