Stories of Change

Najiba, Naser and their daughters in Pennsylvania.

What a Difference a Year Brings

One year ago, Najiba, a young mother of 6-month and 3-year-old girls, was preparing to leave the mountainous hamlet in Afghanistan, where she’d lived her entire life. Left behind would be her widowed mother and a brother who has a disability. Another brother would soon escape to Iraq.

Soon Najiba would be joining her husband, Naser, a security guard for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, in a desperate attempt to flee Afghanistan before being detained by the Taliban.

The family made it through the chaos at the airport and onto a flight to Qatar. After a short stay in that nation, they arrived in a foreign country — the United States of America. The next few months, the family was in a holding pattern, housed at a military base as they awaited resettlement.

As they waited, the wheels were turning in central Pennsylvania. Three Protestant churches in Mechanicsburg united in September to form a Church World Service Welcome Team. As they were ironing out their organizational structure, they began collecting furniture, household goods and other items for the unknown family they would be supporting.

Meanwhile, Church World Service was hiring staff to open a new office in nearby Harrisburg. In early February, the team learned their family of four would arrive shortly. When Najiba, Naser and their children met members of their welcome team at Harrisburg International Airport on Feb. 5, they became the first sponsored family arranged by the Harrisburg office.

A lot has changed since then. Najiba, who spoke no English when she arrived a year ago, is thriving and happy in her ESL class, with a vocabulary that is growing daily. She’s also provided some family income by baking her delicious flat bread and selling it at festivals.

Naser has just started a new job, having upgraded from the one he landed shortly after arriving in his new hometown, Carlisle. Two weeks ago, Naser passed his driving test on the first try and is planning to soon purchase a car with money saved from his work and donations from the three churches. The eldest daughter excitedly pranced into her first Head Start class in the spring and is eager for the start of the new school year.

Most importantly, Naser and Najiba met with a pro bono immigration lawyer on Monday to sign the federal forms needed to receive Special Immigrant Visas for the family — which will be their pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Despite the sorrow they feel at leaving their families and home village behind, the family has adjusted well to the upheaval in their lives. They have the friendship and support of other Afghans who also settled in Carlisle — as well as the forever support of their friends on their Church World Service Welcome Team.