World Refugee Day 2020: the story of one Afghan family

by LSSNCA Community Outreach Director, Dana Lea

On May 7, we shared a professional development post in our e-newsletter featuring Mohammad Wais Formuly. Formuly arrived in the U.S. during the midst of the coronavirus in March of this year. In Afghanistan, Formuly was a professor of political science and international relations. Unfortunately, when many refugees and immigrants arrive in the U.S., their degrees and certifications must be verified or recertified to start back in the same career field. Given his interest in resuming a career in his same field, Formuly is looking at attending a PhD program. To help him understand the process of application and testing requirements here in the U.S., his case manager, Jillian Furey, connected him to a former LSSNCA staff member, Alex, who is currently pursuing a PhD at American University. 

Since featuring this virtual networking experience, Formuly has agreed to share more about his background. Stories, like that of the Formuly family, allow us to help our supporters better understand the circumstances our refugee and immigrant clients have had to flee to the U.S. because of. In addition, many of our clients share their stories and journeys with us because they want to help Americans understand them and to pave the way for future refugees and immigrants to be embraced by their new communities. 

When asked what he wants Americans to particularly understand about Afghan refugees and immigrants coming to the U.S. Formuly said: “We move to the United States with the wish to become productive citizens not only to serve this country but also to become able to help Afghanistan and the world one day. Therefore, I wanted to tell them that we, as immigrants, are interested to talk to them, know about them, and exchange ideas with them to settle in this country, learn from one another and become citizens of this country. We, as newly arrived immigrants, need their social and psychological supports to adapt in this country and not to feel being separated from our native country.”

Below is the journey which led the Formuly family to Maryland. I have tried to keep much of this story in Formuly’s own words. 

The Formuly family in Maryland. 2020.

Mohammad Wais Formuly is a 34 year old man from Kabul, Afghanistan and currently lives in Maryland. He is highly educated having obtained a diploma in business administration from Kardan University and a bachelors in political science and masters in international relations from Khatam al-Nabin University. Formuly has career experience in many sectors including work with a media group as a youth housing project coordinator, work as a financial officer for a literacy project of the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF), and as a professor in higher education. Most recently, Formuly was a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Kardan and has been published several times. 

Formuly’s wife is quite impressive, as well. She has two degrees in Law and Dari Literature. In Afghanistan, she was working as a teacher in a private high school. Together they have two children. His daughter is interested in becoming a future lawyer like her mother. Both their daughter and two-year old son like to play soccer and watch cartoons. 

Many of the decisions Formuly has made in life, including coming to the U.S., were in the best interests of his family and children. His hopes for life in the U.S. include living in a country and community that is “free from any kinds of discrimination and inequalities. Just like other American families, I want my wife, my son, my daughter, myself, and other immigrants to have all the opportunities and facilities to grow and develop in order to become a productive citizen of the United States and for the world.”

“I hope that the school my son and daughter will be attending help my children to realize their full potential, skills and talents so that they become able to find their academic, career and life interests and paths. I also hope my children in whatever way they may choose be able to serve the United States and their motherland Afghanistan in the best possible way. In addition, I hope my wife and I also be able to accomplish our career and educational goals, however, we feel this might be somewhat difficult during the initial stages.”

in lecture
Formuly giving a lecture at Kardan University, Afghanistan.

Although, Formuly says he loves his mother country greatly and was happy with his career, he chose to move the family to the U.S. to find a more peaceful place to live. His decision was made based on four major reasons: 1. he was largely tired of seeing his country in a prolonged 40 years of war; 2. the lack of personal, social, legal, political, and economic security in Afghanistan; 3. the existence of terrorist groups at large; and 4. his belief that everyone has a right to live a peaceful life. Therefore he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), which would allow his entire immediate family to move to the U.S. The SIV application process was complex, costly, and time consuming but after 5 years, his family was granted the visas. 

As a reminder, an SIV is a special classification of immigration that applies to three categories of persons: 1. Afghans and Iraqis who have served overseas alongside American soldiers in their respective countries; 2. religious workers; and 3. those seeking employment-based visas with special circumstances. Formuly qualified for an SIV because he worked for four years with the Literacy Project of the ANSF, which was funded by the U.S. government and NATO. Formuly says, “the ANSF Literacy project was designed to educate Afghan Security Forces with the basics of education, promote education, and mutual understanding and peace in country, while we all know that the extremist groups will never tolerate such initiatives and developments in my homeland – Afghanistan. Therefore, these extremist groups have always strived to target to murder employee of such programs and to their family members. As a result of being employed with the US-Government project, life threatening risks were created to me and for my family.”

Not only did his work with a U.S. funded program put him and his family at risk, Formuly’s work as a professor teaching political and social security, and economics put him directly in conflict with the ideals, goals and interests of extremist groups. Not only did these jobs put his own life at risk, but also his family members, including his sisters who are women’s rights activists and studied in the fields of political science and law. Additionally, his brother worked as a social worker and received a U.S. embassy scholarship for the American University of Afghanistan. Despite these risks, Formuly and his family members “always endeavor for the progress, advancement of science and knowledge, especially in the field of higher education and academia of my country, Afghanistan.”

Leaving Afghanistan was a disruption in his career and life plans, but Formuly keeps a positive outlook. “I had a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment when I was able to teach the young generation and taking part in the development of my country. I moved to the U.S. with the same intention to get a PhD in political science and to serve back the U.S., Afghanistan, and other countries through my knowledge and expertise. Although I am very hopeful and optimistic about my move to the U.S., I feel a little bit of a challenge. I realized that I have to start everything from the beginning here. For instance, I have to find a job despite that it may not match my educational background, work experience, and career interest to make a living for my family. This will also negatively affect my career in the long-run because I will be away from my expertise and specialization.” 

Before moving to the U.S., Formuly’s perception of the U.S. was that it was the only “hegemonic country in the world in the areas of politics, economy, security, and culture at the international level. And that the U.S. has been able to provide all positive facilities and opportunities of life for its citizens and shape its cultural structure in such way that no gender, religious, racial, economic, social, linguistic and other differences are valued, but all Americans are equal and all have equal rights.” He has largely found his expectations to be true, despite encountering a few challenges: high cost of living, little value given to immigrants’ educational background and work experiences, and large differences in culture and social life. In addition, the Formuly family did happen to move to the U.S. in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic causing further issues in the job hunt and social isolation. 

Kardan university
Formuly was an esteemed professor at Kardan University, Afghanistan.

Despite these challenges, the hurdles his family jumped over to get to the U.S., and worries over family members that remain in Afghanistan, Formuly has hope. “For my family and me, it would take some time to adapt to a new culture, a new country, diverse people, and a new system to start pursuing our goals.”

To discover ways that you can support and welcome refugees and SIV holders in the DMV, check out our website! Household and furniture donations are needed for us to welcome new families into a home, we have multiple volunteer opportunities, and financial assistance is vital to our work as a non-profit. Thank you for standing With Refugees!

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