Here’s how Utahns can help their new Afghan neighbors

Several organizations are working to house and support new Afghan arrivals in the hive state.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteers with the Afghan Spice Project, collecting spice sets of Afghan spices for refugees in the Salt Lake City store on Friday, November 19, 2021.

In Utah, two major organizations are working to help resettle the state’s 765 expected Afghan refugees – the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City and the Catholic Community Services in Utah. They secure housing, provide food and connect refugees with services, including employment counseling.

Aden Batar, the director of migration and refugee services for Catholic Community Services, said his organization also offers legal services to families, as many arrive without a valid immigration status.

“We need a lot of support and any money donation we can get so our legal team can continue,” Batar said. “We have the workforce, but I think we lack the financial resources we need to provide the legal services to the families who arrive.” To donate, visit the CCS or IRC website.

The International Rescue Committee is currently seeking volunteers, including online youth counselors and housing assistance volunteers, to help refugees establish their new homes.

The organization is also looking for volunteers to help distribute food through “Spice to Go,” an incubator that helps refugees interested in starting a food business and offers training and commercial kitchen space. For more information, visit: rescue.org/volunteer.

The IRC and CCS also coordinate efforts with local organizations such as the Utah Muslim Civic League so volunteers can provide services and donations to families. Utahns can support these efforts through the Afghan Community Fund.

Support Afghan women

Another organization, Afghan and Middle Eastern Women in Utah, has helped new families learn English and drive. But its founder, Fatima Baher, formed the group to help women in particular with workshops on self-esteem and trauma resilience.

“The women they came from areas that were at war,” she said, noting that some have seen family members injured or killed. “I’m just trying to help them relieve some of the pain.”

She also hosts yoga and Zumba classes for women to meet friends and bring them joy, she said.

Baher first arrived in Utah from Syria 15 years ago. She and her family had never heard of Utah before, she said, and it was hard to navigate the cultural shock. But they adapted, thanks to those around them.

“I wanted people to feel like Utah is their home,” Baher said. “Because what I went through, I’m 100% sure of other people [are] will go through that kind of thing. “

Baher’s group is looking for financial donations as well as outerwear and basic household items. Those interested in donating or volunteering can find more info at amewu.org or through the organization’s Facebook page.

Building friendships, building trust

The Baskerville Institute, run by CEO Bahman Baktiari, aims to build friendships across communities. The institute focuses primarily on Iranian-Americans, but is working to help with Afghan resettlement, Baktiari said.

“Resettlement agencies are making the front-line efforts and trying to ensure that immediate needs are met, but in the long run we want to build a community,” said Hamza Yaqoobi, a leader of the Afghan Youth Collective, which works with the Baskerville Institute.

The goal is to introduce families to each other who can become friends. “We focus on making a lot of arrangements in the local community and trying to build trust with refugees,” Yaqoobi said.

Those interested in volunteering with the Baskerville Institute can visit baskervilleinstitute.org.

‘Sharing love’

While trying to find a way to make refugees feel welcome, Heidi Bradley, a member of the Christian Science Society of Salt Lake City – who also collaborates with the Baskerville Institute – found an answer through conversation: spices.

Through the “Afghan Spice Project”, she and other volunteer donations use to buy spices including turmeric and ginger from Afghan import markets, and then collect them in sets. They label the spices with a description of dari, a language prevalent in Afghanistan.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heidi Bradley and Mohammad Tamim Solhadost, a refugee from Afghanistan, help assemble spice sets filled with Afghan spices at the Salt Lake City store on Friday, November 19, 2021.

Project volunteers, with the assistance of the International Rescue Committee and Catholic community services, then distribute the kits to arriving families and place them on the kitchen tables in their new homes.

“My favorite part is sharing love,” Bradley said. “We just want to help these refugees feel welcome, accepted and loved when they arrive in Utah.”

Those interested in donating or volunteering to collect sets can visit their website.

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