It Takes a Community by Barbara Beyna (GNCH Volunteer)
Shahla came to the US with her husband and 5 children as refugees from Afghanistan. After taking a treacherous trip from southern Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran, they arrived in Turkey and were placed in a Turkish refugee camp. There they waited three years for immigration papers to bring them to the United States. They came to Maryland with the assistance of IRC (International Rescue Committee), at the beginning of Autumn and were given housing in an apartment complex that housed other immigrants and refugees.
I met Shahla in the early winter of that same year when she asked for an English tutor through another woman with whom I was working. Shala invited me to meet her family and share tea and pistachios. I used this time to assess her level of English with the help of her husband who spoke very broken English but could understand basic questions.
Their apartment was sparsely furnished with broken donated furniture, threadbare rugs but a well-supplied kitchen and beds for everyone. They were “settled”, the three older children were attending school and doing well, Dad was attending English classes four days a week and looking for a job, and Shahla stayed at home with the two youngest children. As winter was approaching, I asked if the children had clothes and coats for the winter and was told that they received coats from a kind person. I asked Shahla if she needed a coat and she showed me a spring time raincoat, I asked if that coat kept her warm and she relied “Nae mishkal” (no problem). I then asked if she would like a warmer coat and a big smile came upon her face.
So off I went to my community list serve to request a woman’s black winter coat, size medium, wondering if it would be as easy to get an adult coat as it was to get children’s coats. Much to my amazement in a matter of 30 minutes I received offers of three coats that would be delivered to my home the next day. A lovely brand name black woolen coat fit Shala perfectly.
At a Christmas party that year I saw the woman who donated the coat that was given to Shala, and showed her a picture of Shala wearing her donation. I began to tell her about the family and the saga of how they came to live in Maryland. Slowly four other people joined in the conversation asking questions about immigrants and what they might need. I told them how amazed I was at the generosity of the people in our community and how quickly they respond.
The response of one person in the group brought a lump in my throat. “All you have to do is ask.