Wednesday, June 20 is the U.N.-designated World Refugee Day, a time set aside to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.”
Members and friends of the cathedral’s Team Peg welcome group have had the opportunity to witness that strength, courage and perseverance first-hand. After three months of activity, often fluid and fast-paced, our outreach to help launch a refugee family from Afghanistan in their new homeland is winding down. The family — Dad, Mom, six-year-old son, two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and six-month-old boy — arrived on Thursday, March 1. Our first task was to pick them up at the airport — transporting six people, car seats and luggage to the three-bed, two-bath apartment in Oakland where they now live with the Dad’s already-resettled brother. The arrival logistics were complicated — but nothing like the five-hour taxi ride to the Kabul airport, or the 20-plus hours on a plane — they had just endured. It was understandably quiet on the short drive to their new home.
That Sunday, just when they started to decompress, the little girl got sick and had to be hospitalized for two days. But, thanks to the medical talent at Children’s Hospital Oakland, the sustenance of faith and the promise of a life far from the violence and conflict of their native country, the family forged ahead.
By Tuesday we were ready to make the rounds of offices to comply with all the government requirements — social security numbers, work permits, social services, clinic visits, etc. Throughout March, April and May our Team Peg members juggled schedules, rented cars, transported furniture, took the family clothes shopping. We offered them their first taste of blueberries, showed off some fantastic bay views, delivered diapers (courtesy of Bayview Mission) and collected a set of tools to make the dad feel more at home. The kids have books, toys and games to soothe and amuse them, an introduction to childhood American-style. They even have two new “best” friends — Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, whose later addition inspired the little girl to twirl around and around in circles of delight.
We will now be having only occasional contact with the family, but they will always be in our hearts and prayers. As Team Peg member Jim Simpson remarks, “We know there are challenges to come, but today they have a roof over their head, Dad has a job, Mom is learning English, the little boy is enrolled in school, the baby is healthy, the little girl is blossoming. They came to us with nothing, yet we are the richer for having welcomed them.”
Our heartfelt thanks go out to the wider community who supported us with their time, talent and treasure! And to the folks at Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay, who connected us to the family and attentively guided us all along the way!