The Challenge of Resettling Afghans

I moved the family from New Haven within a week and got them an apartment on Boulevard near South Highland Street.  This was in 2006.  I then sent out a broadcast email to all the churches and synagogues in the area for furniture, pots and pans, dishes, mattresses, TV, etc.  My large deck was the drop off.  I also asked for gift cards so the family could buy any incidentals at Walmart.  I also leafleted my neighborhood.  The mother and children (4) were Hazara and spoke Dari.  Their husband/father was killed by the Taliban for being Hazara.

 

I received a ton of supplies and about 20 $100 gift cards.  I had a moving truck and we moved the furniture to the apartment in two loads.  We had a fully furnished apartment with everything you could want including china and silverware.  The Quakers were extremely well networked and provided a lot of support.  I started clothing drives once I learned the children's sizes, especially since they arrived in October with no winter clothing.  People in my area were very generous with giving away their children's outgrown clothes to the family.  They always knew to just drop off at my deck daily and I'd pick it up.

 

However, this has been a learning curve for me especially at the beginning.  Being a child of refugee Jewish parents (not from Europe) my parents focused on learning, doing well in school and study for myself and my two brothers as I think did all the Holocost survivors who later married and had children in the USA, with whom I grew up in the 1950"s.

 

For me it was a learning curve in the priorities of Afghan culture.  This may not apply to all because there was no husband here and the Afghan refugees in New Haven taunted the wife/mother because she had no husband which is why we moved them away from New Haven.  According to Afghani culture if a mother remarried she would have to give up her children by her first husband.

 

I unconsciously assumed that the mother's values would be the education of her children.  I was wrong.  Her oldest girls were 14 and 13.  I tried to get them baby sitting jobs but the mother refused.  "What if an Afghan man should see them being escorted home by the man whose children were being babysitted at the end of the night?"  Accompaniment by a male who was not your father/brother/husband is forbidden.  So no babysitting jobs.  I got the eldest son who was at Hall a kitchen job in a nearby restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights.  That worked out.  

 

The children had grown up in such poverty that sharing was a problem.  I had collected a lot of age appropriate toys and games.  I brought over 3 Hello Kitty dolls.  I noticed  the next day that the dolls were fought over by the children and were torn apart and in the garbage.  

 

The mother had been married when she was 14.  She was 29 when she moved to West Hartford.  Her priority for her girls was to arrange good marriages with Afghan men.  The girls were against this.  The youngest two sons were at Charter Oak getting good grades and were taunted for this by the eldest son.

 

None of the children had any kind of formal education in Afghanistan.  This was not a problem for the youngest 4, ages 14 down to 8-who were placed by their schools in appropriate classes where they were with other foreigners facing the same hurdles.  The oldest son 15 had real problems at Hall because I guess if you don't learn some educational context by that age (like reading or writing Dari) it makes it almost impossible to teach a child a new language including reading and writing.

 

I got a job for the mother at Severance Foods, which actively took in refugees.  Since the oldest son never learned to read and write English, upon graduation from Hall (without a degree) he went to work with his mother at Severance Foods.  I used to buy them monthly bus passes and they were good at familiarizing themselves with the bus system to get to work.

 

After the daughters graduated from Hall they enrolled in Manchester Community College.  Again, they commuted by bus.  They were never on board with an arranged marriage with Afghan men.  Then they transferred to Central for their 4 year college degree.  The two younger boys followed the same path as their sisters and one of the boys who was academically inclined (and withstood the severe taunting by his two brothers for doing well in school) eventually enrolled in an advanced program in Mathematics.

 

The rent was high for their floor in their 3 family building on Boulevard ($900 at that time).  Once the children had graduated from the West Hartford school system I moved them to a cheaper apartment in Newington.  At that time I enrolled the mother in remedial education for foreigners so that she could learn to read and write.  I then enrolled her in a GED program and tutored her 3 times a week so she could pass.  She received her GED. 

 

Over time they have become accustomed to culture in the Hartford area.  The mother wants her daughters married off to Afghans but the daughters have no intention of doing so.  It's been a long haul for me, and I blame myself for assuming that my immigrant values would be this family's which was clearly not the case.  

 

The biggest problem with the boys at first was to prevent them from destroying property.  Having had nothing in Afghanistan, playing in a backyard with trees and a basketball with hoop ended in pandemonium with other neighborhood children.  That was a big hurdle for the boys, to learn to play fairly with their neighbors.  The girls always remained indoors and cooked and cleaned so dinner was ready when their mother returned for work at about 7.  She was out of the house from 7am-7pm weekdays.

 

The Town of West Hartford was able to help out.  I got a Town Social Worker assigned to her case.  She helped enroll the family in the Husky program and Food Stamps.  I also took the mother to the West Hartford Food Pantry once a month.  There was also a fund for a certain number of months for widows so that was extra money coming in.  

 

I took the children on Saturday afternoons to the Noah Webster Library downstairs in the children's room to learn to play with other children and to look at the books. I think that and school helped to "socialize" them into the rules of play in our culture (which is not to fight over things but wait your turn).  I think playing with other children at the library helped them since I could offer them ongoing suggestions.  I would also sit them around me and read to them.  Clifford the Dog Stories, Curious George stories.

 

When I became convinced that they would not destroy property and could share with each other I applied for their library cards.

 

This was a time intensive involvement on my part, especially for the first 5 or 6 years.  I think I had to learn their mindset of coming from nothing to abundance and get them to believe that there were enough toys to go around.  They did not have to fight over them.

 

Afghanistan in 2005 is not Afghanistan in 2021.  But keep in mind that the children especially are coming from scarcity to a land of abundance and that is a very hard learning curve, learning to share.  That took several years.  Also dealing with an uneducated mother who had her own superstitions, traditions and jealousies is a real learning curve.

 

Since I was single, the mother took my acts of kindness as signs that I was trying to take her children away from her.  It took many sessions, with the two daughters translating and basically being on my side as someone who just wanted to help to convince her that I was all right.  A fellow female who just wanted to help them out was a very very foreign concept for the mother.  It would be unheard of in Afghanistan.

 

Let me know if there are more specific questions.  I'd be happy to answer them.  There were so many things we had to work through.

 

Best regards,

Charlotte

The Challenge of Resettling Afghans

I moved the family from New Haven within a week and got them an apartment on Boulevard near South Highland Street.  This was in 2006.  I then sent out a broadcast email to all the churches and synagogues in the area for furniture, pots and pans, dishes, mattresses, TV, etc.  My large deck was the drop off.  I also asked for gift cards so the family could buy any incidentals at Walmart.  I also leafleted my neighborhood.  The mother and children (4) were Hazara and spoke Dari.  Their husband/father was killed by the Taliban for being Hazara.

 

I received a ton of supplies and about 20 $100 gift cards.  I had a moving truck and we moved the furniture to the apartment in two loads.  We had a fully furnished apartment with everything you could want including china and silverware.  The Quakers were extremely well networked and provided a lot of support.  I started clothing drives once I learned the children's sizes, especially since they arrived in October with no winter clothing.  People in my area were very generous with giving away their children's outgrown clothes to the family.  They always knew to just drop off at my deck daily and I'd pick it up.

 

However, this has been a learning curve for me especially at the beginning.  Being a child of refugee Jewish parents (not from Europe) my parents focused on learning, doing well in school and study for myself and my two brothers as I think did all the Holocost survivors who later married and had children in the USA, with whom I grew up in the 1950"s.

 

For me it was a learning curve in the priorities of Afghan culture.  This may not apply to all because there was no husband here and the Afghan refugees in New Haven taunted the wife/mother because she had no husband which is why we moved them away from New Haven.  According to Afghani culture if a mother remarried she would have to give up her children by her first husband.

 

I unconsciously assumed that the mother's values would be the education of her children.  I was wrong.  Her oldest girls were 14 and 13.  I tried to get them baby sitting jobs but the mother refused.  "What if an Afghan man should see them being escorted home by the man whose children were being babysitted at the end of the night?"  Accompaniment by a male who was not your father/brother/husband is forbidden.  So no babysitting jobs.  I got the eldest son who was at Hall a kitchen job in a nearby restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights.  That worked out.  

 

The children had grown up in such poverty that sharing was a problem.  I had collected a lot of age appropriate toys and games.  I brought over 3 Hello Kitty dolls.  I noticed  the next day that the dolls were fought over by the children and were torn apart and in the garbage.  

 

The mother had been married when she was 14.  She was 29 when she moved to West Hartford.  Her priority for her girls was to arrange good marriages with Afghan men.  The girls were against this.  The youngest two sons were at Charter Oak getting good grades and were taunted for this by the eldest son.

 

None of the children had any kind of formal education in Afghanistan.  This was not a problem for the youngest 4, ages 14 down to 8-who were placed by their schools in appropriate classes where they were with other foreigners facing the same hurdles.  The oldest son 15 had real problems at Hall because I guess if you don't learn some educational context by that age (like reading or writing Dari) it makes it almost impossible to teach a child a new language including reading and writing.

 

I got a job for the mother at Severance Foods, which actively took in refugees.  Since the oldest son never learned to read and write English, upon graduation from Hall (without a degree) he went to work with his mother at Severance Foods.  I used to buy them monthly bus passes and they were good at familiarizing themselves with the bus system to get to work.

 

After the daughters graduated from Hall they enrolled in Manchester Community College.  Again, they commuted by bus.  They were never on board with an arranged marriage with Afghan men.  Then they transferred to Central for their 4 year college degree.  The two younger boys followed the same path as their sisters and one of the boys who was academically inclined (and withstood the severe taunting by his two brothers for doing well in school) eventually enrolled in an advanced program in Mathematics.

 

The rent was high for their floor in their 3 family building on Boulevard ($900 at that time).  Once the children had graduated from the West Hartford school system I moved them to a cheaper apartment in Newington.  At that time I enrolled the mother in remedial education for foreigners so that she could learn to read and write.  I then enrolled her in a GED program and tutored her 3 times a week so she could pass.  She received her GED. 

 

Over time they have become accustomed to culture in the Hartford area.  The mother wants her daughters married off to Afghans but the daughters have no intention of doing so.  It's been a long haul for me, and I blame myself for assuming that my immigrant values would be this family's which was clearly not the case.  

 

The biggest problem with the boys at first was to prevent them from destroying property.  Having had nothing in Afghanistan, playing in a backyard with trees and a basketball with hoop ended in pandemonium with other neighborhood children.  That was a big hurdle for the boys, to learn to play fairly with their neighbors.  The girls always remained indoors and cooked and cleaned so dinner was ready when their mother returned for work at about 7.  She was out of the house from 7am-7pm weekdays.

 

The Town of West Hartford was able to help out.  I got a Town Social Worker assigned to her case.  She helped enroll the family in the Husky program and Food Stamps.  I also took the mother to the West Hartford Food Pantry once a month.  There was also a fund for a certain number of months for widows so that was extra money coming in.  

 

I took the children on Saturday afternoons to the Noah Webster Library downstairs in the children's room to learn to play with other children and to look at the books. I think that and school helped to "socialize" them into the rules of play in our culture (which is not to fight over things but wait your turn).  I think playing with other children at the library helped them since I could offer them ongoing suggestions.  I would also sit them around me and read to them.  Clifford the Dog Stories, Curious George stories.

 

When I became convinced that they would not destroy property and could share with each other I applied for their library cards.

 

This was a time intensive involvement on my part, especially for the first 5 or 6 years.  I think I had to learn their mindset of coming from nothing to abundance and get them to believe that there were enough toys to go around.  They did not have to fight over them.

 

Afghanistan in 2005 is not Afghanistan in 2021.  But keep in mind that the children especially are coming from scarcity to a land of abundance and that is a very hard learning curve, learning to share.  That took several years.  Also dealing with an uneducated mother who had her own superstitions, traditions and jealousies is a real learning curve.

 

Since I was single, the mother took my acts of kindness as signs that I was trying to take her children away from her.  It took many sessions, with the two daughters translating and basically being on my side as someone who just wanted to help to convince her that I was all right.  A fellow female who just wanted to help them out was a very very foreign concept for the mother.  It would be unheard of in Afghanistan.

 

Let me know if there are more specific questions.  I'd be happy to answer them.  There were so many things we had to work through.

 

Best regards,

Charlotte