Spokane Non-Profits and Community Leaders Welcome New Arrivals from Afghanistan
Editor’s note: Only the first names of the Afghan women who spoke at the event are used for security reasons.
A correction to this story was made on Dec. 12
Several Spokane community leaders and non-profit organizations came together for the “Welcoming the Afghan Community to America” event Saturday (Dec. 11), at the Women’s Club, and many recently-arrived Afghan people showed up to receive that welcome.
Months in the planning, this event brought together Mayor Nadine Woodward, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Corker, Spokane Public School Board Member Nikki Lockwood, and several leaders from various area non-profits to not only welcome the refugees, but to let them know about several local resources available to them.
However, before each non-profit and community leader spoke and shared their services, four newly-arrived Afghan women told the audience their stories of why they left their country.
One of the storytellers was Baseera, who through an interpreter, told the audience that she lived with her grandchildren when Kabul fell to the Taliban. She realized then that she could not live there anymore. Now that she’s in the U.S., she wants to help her children still living in Afghanistan to come over here as well.
Naghmana Sherazi, the co-chair for Muslims for Community, Action and Support (MCAS) and one of the emcees of the event, thanked Baseera for sharing her “powerful story.”
“Welcome to Spokane, and I’m sure you will be treasured and helped and loved the way that you should be,” said Sherazi.
The last to share her story was Hawa, who worked closely with the military to provide cultural support. Her tale includes waiting in the line outside the airport for two days after the fall of Kabul with two of her younger sisters before they were able to get on a plane, eventually arriving in Spokane four months later.
According to Karen Stromgren, co-chair of MCAS, organizers intentionally featured women’s stories.
“We wanted more women to be able to show that they’re not afraid,” said Stromgren. “We wanted to be as welcoming for women as we possibly can and show them that they don’t have to stay home and hide. You can come out. You can be like everybody else.”
After the women shared their stories, Woodward read a City of Spokane Proclamation of welcome to the Afghans.
“It is important that those Afghans who aided the United States and our allies are protected and provided safe harbor, and the City of Spokane is honored to have welcomed so far, at least 100 families from Afghanistan over the past several years, and we stand ready to welcome 300 more individuals to be resettled here in the coming months,” Woodward read aloud.
She continued, “I, Nadine Woodward, Mayor of the City of Spokane, on behalf of the citizens of Spokane, do hereby renew our commitment to being the most compassionate city and welcome the refugees from the War in Afghanistan as they resettle and make Spokane their home.”
The program then continued with the local non-profits in the area.
From Mamdouh El-Araag who shared about the Spokane Islamic Center to World Relief Executive Director Mark Finney who gave a quick lesson of the various legal statuses of immigrants in America and the path to citizenship each provides, the guests were able to hear in their own language how the Spokane community can give them help when needed.
Other non-profits whose leaders spoke at the event were Bridges Not Walls, Refugee Connections Spokane, Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and Spokane Public Schools.
Joan Braune ended the event by building bridges between the audience members with questions and those who could answer them. She is on the steering committee of Bridges Not Walls, is a professor at Gonzaga University and works with the Institute of Hate Studies.
She was pleased with how many Afghan people who are new to Spokane showed up to receive this welcome.
“I think it’s really important and really valuable that the community really makes a public show of welcoming new communities to prevent prejudice and misunderstanding,” said Braune.
For Stromgren, who credits Braune for planting the seed for this event last September, she thinks this occasion was just as much for Spokane citizens.
“It’s for the Afghan community to bring their own culture and be able to teach the Spokane community their culture,” said Stromgren. “So we can understand one another and nobody is afraid of one another.”
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